Therapist/Reiki Master Melds Traditional and Eastern Disciplines to HealBy Bryan Ethier, as published in the Main Street News,January 19, 2006 (Edited version)

A Reiki Master and licensed clinical social worker in Old Saybrook, now Essex and New York, Cynthia Chase practices traditional and alternative psychotherapies, including what she calls Reiki Fusion and Guided Light Therapy. Her life and style of counseling changed 20 years ago, when she had a near-death experience. Here she discusses the life-altering incident and how she melds Eastern and Western philosophies and practices in her work.

MSN: What is your greatest challenge as a therapist?

CHASE: Many people who come to see me are depressed or anxious and feel a lack of meaning in their lives. Within just one generation we’ve moved into a materialistic world in which we’re expected to find happiness in money and the kinds of material products that money can buy. On the one hand, technology enhances communication, but on the other hand it alienates us from the kind of personal contact that was taken for granted just a few years ago. Everyone has their own television, cell phone, iPod, computer or laptop. We are literally “hooked up” but not connected. Both adults and adolescents are coming in with the same questions: what is the real meaning of my life? At a certain point, most people hit a wall and wonder, what is really going on here?

MSN: Do you think that as a society we’ve hit a wall?

CHASE: Yes, I do. What are we really doing? What are our true values? What is the meaning of our lives? The crisis is manifest in the dire headlines in the news. As a society, we’ve become extremely individualistic, often to the exclusion of making a place for family and community ties. Even within families in their own homes, there is often a common thread of isolation and alienation. Although we may not consciously be aware of it, I believe we deeply miss and need the sense that we are connected to each other. We also need a sense of spiritual connection; this doesn’t have to mean organized religion, but rather a sense of belonging and relationship to something larger than ourselves.

With the advent of the automobile, the development of roads, affordable air travel, and the ubiquitous nature of the media that connects us to all parts of the world, we are freer than ever to inhabit the larger world. Yet we are estranged from our own inner world of feelings and from the fulfillment that comes through thoughtful and caring relationships with ourselves, each other, and what I call “Spirit.” The value our culture places on individualism has become so extreme that most of us, on some deep level, feel alienated and isolated. We try to connect, but if we sit quietly with ourselves, we might discover a feeling of fullness and connection at the core.

MSN: How do we get people to sit quietly and listen?

CHASE: I feel that part of my work is to slow down the process so that the inner voice has a chance of being heard. When we are able to set aside the surface chatter for a moment, it’s possible to listen to the inner voice that tells us what is truly going on inside. “How do I really feel about myself, about the people I’m involved with, about the meaning of my work and my life? What is missing?” Then that quiet voice has an opportunity to be heard.

MSN: How do you deal with a culture that usually ignores its collective inner voice?

CHASE: I deal with it one person at a time. If I think of the larger universe of feelings of isolation and alienation, it can be overwhelming. So I focus on one person at a time, moving at that person’s pace, listening in order to understand; in this kind of caring space, a shift can happen. I am eternally optimistic, because we have the tools of healing already within us.

MSN: How is traditional psychoanalysis different from the approach you use?

CHASE: My original training was based on psychoanalysis, in which the therapist actually says very little, seeking to provide a safe and accepting atmosphere in which the patient goes on a solo journey with the analyst as witness. I later took training in a more interactive form of therapy. For our time, and given the ways in which we have evolved since the time of Freud (the founder of psychoanalysis), I find that it is more helpful to interact, seek clarification, and give feedback as well as to offer “interpretations.”

MSN: How do you feel about antidepressant drugs?

CHASE: For people with mild depression or anxiety, psychotherapy alone is often able to provide a great deal of help and relief. But when you have been hit very hard by life, your brain can actually become biochemically imbalanced. In those cases I find it very helpful to refer a client to a psychiatrist or primary care physician for evaluation. With appropriate medication, the person’s bio-chemical makeup can return to a more normal state; at that point they are in a better position to develop the coping mechanisms and skills they need to handle life’s challenges. Many people can ultimately go off medication. I also often evaluate whether herbal or homeopathic approaches may be helpful, with those natural products of the earth often stimulating less side effects.

But the real question is, why are so many of us depressed? Why is this problem more serious and more widespread than it has been in previous years? I believe the structure of our lives—the fabric of family, community and spiritual life—has broken down. Our culture overvalues money and material goods—and in the long run these can’t fulfill our deepest needs. When you feel you’re all alone deep down inside, it’s devastating.

MSN: You use a combination of therapeutic techniques. Is traditional psychotherapy outdated?

CHASE: Not at all. There is a tremendous need for psychotherapies; that need is not going away. By adding the positive, preventative approaches from complementary and alternative models, we are able to marry prevention with treatment. Essentially, these modes of thought and techniques—which come from the East and from the indigenous cultures of our own country—work on an energetic level in a way that connects us to our deeper energies and frees us from blockages and pain. What I mean by that is this: when we experience disappointment, trauma, and loss, our bodies actually hold on to these memories (in the form of energy that is held in the body), even if we suppress or consciously “forget” the events. Energy is held in different parts of our body, and these painful memories can guide or direct our behavior, even if we are not consciously aware of it. The analytical or cognitive mind is unaware, unconscious, but the information is in the body ready to be reactivated.

For example, those who were abused as children often vow never to become like the abusing parent; yet frequently these individuals find themselves repeating their parent’s behavior. The pain and suffering sustained as a child is held in the body either in the parts of the body that were abused, and/or in the mind itself. When the energy is released, the feelings that were locked inside are also released. This energy that has been freed up can then be directed to other, more satisfying pursuits.

MSN: Do you see people in this country becoming less resistant to traditional Eastern disciplines?

CHASE: Absolutely. An increasing number of physicians and hospitals have as part of their staff and institutional structure practitioners that perform such techniques as Reiki, Therapeutic Touch, hypnosis, acupuncture, yoga, and meditation. Adjunct therapies that are essentially preventative enrich and enhance Western medicine. A high percentage of Americans now use some form of alternative or complementary medicine in addition to what is referred to as alopathic medicine, which focuses on the treatment of disorders, or disease states.

These practices aren’t replacing Western medicine, but they provide tools for creating conditions for optimal health in a preventative way. They also expand the possibilities for healing conditions that already exist. Because many of these approaches have a spiritual base, they can help us to connect to Spirit, a higher power, or God (however individuals define this for themselves).

MSN: What do you tell someone who wants to make changes in their life?

CHASE: Congratulations! We have at our disposal a multitude of approaches that can be tailored to individual needs. By taking the best of the old (preventative) and the new (treatment for conditions that already exist) our options for a healthy and happy life are greater now than ever before in human history.

MSN: What role does the emotion of love play in therapy?

CHASE: This is a very interesting question! In a sense, without the basic feeling of love–that is, love for self and for others–what would be “therapeutic” in the work that we call “therapy?”

Your question reminds me of a defining moment in my life in which I was in an accident, and had a near-death experience. My life passed before my eyes in a series of snapshots: mostly peak experiences of my life, but some of the most traumatic, too, all in a matter of seconds. I felt as if I had been given the opportunity to evaluate my life from an elevated perspective–with a guide showing me the most important scenes. I thought to myself, “I’m glad I lived, and I am ready to die.”

The car flipped over again and instantly I was in the presence of a bright light. I was embraced by an overwhelming feeling of love and acceptance, and I was part of the light. Suddenly, a being appeared to my left: soft, ephemeral, flowing. Compassion and love shone through its eyes, and it spoke to me without uttering a word. “It’s not your time.” Another being appeared to my right. “You have to go back.” In the next moment I was aware of being back in my body.

I was trapped, upside down, legs flipped backwards. The car was upside down, and people were reassuring me that help was on the way. I was devastated! I had experienced something so beautiful, so intense, and so real. It was very, very difficult to be back here on this plane.

My life was forever transformed that day. I believe that it allowed me to recognize truths beyond the shallow physical realities that had completely defined by life up to that moment. Over the years I had to grapple with the immensity of that experience and to understand its real meaning.

It led me to consider two essential questions: Why wasn’t it my time, and why did I have to come back? Eventually I divined the answer: I still had work to do. My job was to share the loving and accepting vision that I had experienced. In time I came to realize that I had been sent back here to continue and expand the work I was doing, to share the love that I had experienced, to bring the essence of the loving light to others.

Since that time, my life has had a whole new meaning–a kind of transcendent meaning. I am here to do my best to make the world a better place and to share what I experienced.

MSN: What do you tell cynics about your near-death experience?

CHASE: Not everyone believes the same things. At the time before my accident, I myself would not have believed it if someone had told me of that sort of experience. I was an agnostic, and no one could have talked me out of that stance. Whether or not an individual believes what I have come to believe is not important. I still bring compassion and a life perspective to my work based on that life-changing vision.

MSN: In a world where so many people believe that their own religion is the only true one, how can people come together?

CHASE: I have faith that at the base of all religions there is a central truth, and that truth is love. The aspect of my work that I call psycho-spiritual practice doesn’t contradict anyone’s religious beliefs–as long as it is based on love. If there is a religion that doesn’t have love at its core, then there might be a conflict. Otherwise, I see none. That’s why I’m drawn to a larger spiritual perspective, because it relieves me from the battle of who is right and who is wrong.

MSN: How have some of your patients responded to Light Therapy?

CHASE: I recently treated an adolescent girl whose boyfriend had broken up with her. This, in combination with the fear that her parents were on the verge of divorce, induced a crisis within her. She was broken-hearted. She revealed that she was cutting herself and had suicidal feelings. During the process of Reiki Fusion (the combination of psychotherapy and Reiki), she was guided through her pain and out to the other side, to an understanding that regardless of her relationship circumstances, she was loved and she still had herself.

By providing a deeply relaxing, safe environment for her to face her fears, the innate healing capacity within her revealed the peace and love for which she longed. Just as our physical bodies have the ability to heal given the proper nutrition and conditions, so our spirit has the capacity to move through the pain and difficulties that challenge us towards the healing power of love, acceptance, and the “light” of transcendence.