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FOCUS ON: Shirley Turcotte

by Ellen Kirschner, M.A., Member, USA

Shirley Turcotte is leading a workshop on Focusing and PTSD in New York, Sept. 29-30, 2001. To register contact melinda@focusing.org or to find out more about Shirley's one and two year training programs contact her at sturcotte@telus.net.

"I've always been a social activist," said Shirley Turcotte, founding director of numerous programs and Centres for Focusing and PTSD Canada-wide. A Registered Clinical Counselor and a Primary Focusing Therapist, she is internationally known for her development of safe and effective approaches to healing childhood trauma.

Shirley is also a "Metis," a Canadian of mixed aboriginal and European descent, who has experienced the mental, emotional and social struggles of Aboriginal Canadians. "As a result of government policies, Aboriginal Canadians continue to live in third-world conditions," she said. "There is mass poverty and a legacy of overwhelming intergenerational trauma."

As part of her own healing, Shirley had been "doing Focusing but not calling it Focusing" for a long time. In the early 1980's her friend and professional colleague, Mary Armstrong, taught her the basic form of Focusing developed by Gene Gendlin. "It coincided with my own internal vision quest," she said, "and fit well with aboriginal culture. And it is particularly helpful in the area of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)." Shirley began to teach Focusing for PTSD with "an Aboriginal cultural bent. Aboriginals learn by doing," she explained, "so Focusing was already culturally embedded."

Recognizing that people from outside the aboriginal community had not previously been successful in helping its people, Shirley resolved to find the best healers and helpers within the communities, and add Focusing to their repertoire of skills. "Sometimes they are degreed," she said, "and sometimes they are simply gifted healers."

Seven years ago Shirley introduced the Certification Program in Focusing & Post Traumatic Stress, a rigorous two-year course of study, research and practice in which counselors and therapists are trained in advanced clinical treatment of PTSD. "With PTSD, trauma becomes bonded into people's bodies and lives," said Shirley. "They end up stuck in time in a trauma shock state. To heal, a person must attend to the places that got stressed, unglue and unshock them, and allow them to develop. With Focusing, a person can connect with enough of their authentic self to witness the atrocity and unmeld from those trauma spots, rather than reliving them."

Aboriginals have a particular way of sensing about time that resonates with Focusing, too, Shirley said. Past, present and future interrelate in one field, enabling a person to access any spot at any time. Focusing provides a way to "travel through timelines, allowing a person to separate from the horror and know it is not who they are, but an experience they had."

"There is much speechlessness in those trauma spots," Shirley added, "so you can't be a complacent leader. But you can see on their body things like where their hands have been tied, and you can ask about it. You have to be brave enough to reflect what you see, and say 'I can see you there in that voiceless spot.'"

"I balk at the idea that a person can't make it through," she said in closing. "I hate the idea that a spirit can be ruined when it doesn't get the love it needs. There is an incredible amount that can be generated from within. Yes, you have to trade in your innocence to find the place where the self does not equal the experience. But innocence lost is wisdom found."

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