Counseling and Wellness After '8/12' in Charlottesville

Sep 20, 2017

One month ago three people died in Charlottesville in a violent day of white supremacist hatred and violent clashes with counter-protesters.  But how does the community heal after such a trauma? Several groups are providing free counseling and wellness services to the residents of Charlottesville who have been affected in one way or another by the violence of that weekend. WMRA’s Marguerite Gallorini has more.

[Crowd shouting]

Political anger and frustration persist in Charlottesville – as does the community’s need to process the tragic events of that day, and heal. That’s why free counseling and wellness services are being offered around town.  

[Zen music]

Soft music and tranquility greets anyone entering Common Ground Healing Arts.

ELLIOTT BROWN: We do acupuncture, yoga, massage, and meditation on a pay-what-you-can ranges basis.

Elliott Brown is the Executive Director of this non-profit wellness center located on the second floor of the Heritage Center in Charlottesville. She saw the benefits of this therapy herself.

BROWN: I was down at the rally on August 12th and - never really experiencing trauma much myself - I wasn't aware of the power of the body work that we do on that level. We had set up some free services in conjunction with the Women's Initiative; I went over there and had some body work - specifically called zero-balancing, it's kind of massage but it has some energy work in it as well. And so once I had that, I thought everybody needed to have access to that.

That’s how the idea of creating the Cville Wellness Fund came up.

BROWN: Our goal is to be able to offer free services to everybody who needs it, but the money has to come first, so we're slowly rolling that out and people are receiving services. We've raised a little bit over $2000... We've quietly set this off because we don't want to compete with the other go-fund-me accounts that some of the victims have put up.

Cali Gaston, an acupuncturist who has been working at Common Ground for three years now, thinks it is a wonderful initiative.

CALI GASTON: I think that the intervention early on after trauma so that it doesn't lodge in us is very important, and the five-needle protocol that we use is the same thing that Acupuncturists Without Borders uses - they used it after Katrina to work on first responders - it's a very lovely way of helping support somebody. It's sort of like hitting the reset button.

Not far from Common Ground, you will find an old house on 4th Street called On Our Own. It is a peer-based non-profit, and here the mood is very convivial.

CYNDI RICHARDSON: Yes, the yellow house of miracles. We're a small mom and pop, but we do big things. Cyndi Richardson is a certified peer support specialist at On Our Own.

RICHARDSON: A traditional therapist may say "Tell me how that makes you feel." Here at On Our Own, we say "I know that's how that feels, this is what I did when that happened to me." See, there's a common bond, so that's what we do: we provide support through our experience.

Since August 12, Richardson says they’ve had to amp up their groups.

RICHARDSON: We have fragile beings here. We have found that, so many times, we go through things and we are told "it's not that bad, get over it, you'll be okay." We found what that does: it compounds, and it builds and it builds, until you explode, in one way or another - mentally, physically: it's going to come out. So why not come out in an easy, releasing way?

Bill Johnson, who’s come to On Our Own for about 7 months now, has seen a huge difference.  He especially likes how the members of this house are connected beyond social categories.

JOHNSON: The socio-economic differences outside the house are no longer present in the house - or racial differences, religious differences, whatever artificial ways that we separate ourselves. There's much more connectivity with being human, shared experiences.

Another provider of more traditional therapy is the Counseling Alliance of Virginia, a community-based, outpatient mental health clinic in n orthern Charlottesville. They also provide massage therapy, and Reiki, says Gene Cash, the CEO and Executive Director of the center.

GENE CASH: What we're seeing right now, just recently is first, the initial reaction to August 12: the anger, the frustration, the disbelief. And right now we're starting to see people, we'll hear from people more about "Oh, I thought I was doing okay, but these thoughts, these memories are starting to intrude, I think I need to come in and talk to somebody."

That’s for the individual sessions they provide. But they also have group support sessions on Tuesday nights.

CASH: 8-12, as they call it, that was an event. What I'm looking to capture is the momentum that's been going on for years in this community – of communicating how we can help heal every day, not just from 8/12.

For more free counseling and wellness therapy options, you can visit the Facebook page of the Community Mental Health and Wellness Coalition.