Susan Belitsky, MEd, MSW, CAGS, Israeli Teaching License
MSW is a Masters in Clinical Social Work, MEd in Recreational Therapy, Certificate of Advanced Graduate Study in Expressive Arts
I call my practice The Hollow Path as a way to express the way I walk and work in the world. I provide the place; and together we find the path. I am a Clinical Social Worker and Recreational Therapist with a sincere determination to help bring relief from trauma and to inspire Social Action. I love the natural world and what it has to teach us. I love neuroscience and the ways in which the theories can help us figure out that kindness and social engagement come with a calm nervous system. I’m fascinated with the ways the body reflects our experiences and waits for healing. My practice is creatively based on trauma-informed therapy.
My approach is relational and experiential and offers ways to approach the hollow spaces within us and our lives that hold the treasures of once again becoming of whole, integrated and true. These foundations enable us to approach these places with a sense of adventure. With the help of animals, expressive art and adventure and choice, along with the offerings of nature, I intend to create opportunities to build trust, claim some mastery, foster connections and help the body and mind to integrate the experiences life has given us.
Hollow is a word that “conjures”. It is also the name of my old companion husky. She’s the gorgeous dogwolf on the photo above and she taught me how to be in the world and how to become a better therapist and a kinder human. Hollow is an empty space. A space between.
It’s the space between notes; the pause in a poem. It’s the place where wolves sleep and bears look for honey inside the hollow of an old tree. The hollow space is where critters live and which many of us fear. It is also an open space. Or dark space…where the answers lie or the bear sleeps. It’s Linus when his blanket is in the dryer and there is nothing to hold onto. Hollow is also a long tunnel of a wood-carved flute and it is the path I most cherish as the therapeutic place into which we must peak and enter to find answers and return to our true selves.
Trauma and hardship can narrow us, and overwhelming experiences can cause us to restrict and avoid the empty spaces of not knowing or being in between. I believe the hollow spaces are wholeheartedly worth entering; slowly, with support, one toe or one moment at a tolerable time. Each of us has our own way of accessing those precious, lost and guarded places within us. Experiential therapy provides the gift of reflection to come as we use activities to access what we need.
See Hollow’s story here
Do you have mental blocks for learning English OR just a different way of learning OR major wild resistance to the requirements of learning English for your first or second Degree?
Communication is vital, powerful and understandably hard. Communication in another language can be a strange alteration of sound, character, and expression of one’s self. The actual capacity for communication is a very personal web of skills and life stories that sometimes supports our ability to catch a new language and sometimes blocks it altogether. As kids and adults, we are scared when we do not perceive that we have a safe effective way to get what we need. As a result, people may give up or resort to acting in ways that make them feel strong and not vulnerable. But this isn’t the way to find our true strength or learn a language. Language barriers feel scary deep inside of us. Language becomes deeply emotional as it is our way to effectively or ineffectively be a part of humanity. Language links us together, and as humans – being together at a primary level ensures our survival. So, in pursuit of survival, our use of words becomes a major source of power and control, for good, bad, and ugly. Then hopefully a source for healing.
As we begin to unravel the barriers to learning languages, we are sure to discover personal and fascinating stories of family and survival. With the emotional side of language acquisition given some space and understanding and support the sometimes-long patterns of failure and shame can dissolve and the real capacity for learning can emerge. The division between learning disabilities and emotional blocks will become more clear and the skill building can be more effective and certainly more satisfying.
School-age students starting to fall behind or who have unusual resistance or barriers to English
College Students facing the unavoidable language requirements
Professionals who want to advance but who didn’t face these barriers earlier in life
I once heard of a tribe that diagnoses illness by asking “When did you stop dancing and when did you stop singing?“
We all have a natural innate way of expressing anything and everything. The laughing and drawing and dancing and moving that we admire is inside every single one of us. The impulse to express ourselves is what makes us alive and human. If we are lucky, we remember that it came out of us naturally when we were young, before it was scared into withdrawal.
This question, “When did you stop dancing and when did you stop singing?” is very interesting. It points to a time in history when something went into hiding. Some part of you. The point of Expressive Arts Therapy is to give access and output to the inner workings and sensitive hidings of our true selves. It is the use of any form of expression for the release and transformation of emotions held in the body. The body is the container of our life. It holds all our experiences along with our unexpressed sorrows, our unfinished traumas, and our unfinished actions. That’s a lot for the immune system and the nervous system to carry. There has to be a way for release and the proverbial letting go. Actually, pre-verbal experiences are particularly hard to articulate and they need other ways to show expression.
The body naturally expresses itself in movement, and if it were to spit out something on paper it would come in the form of images. Images are a direct expression from the body of what’s inside. Using art and movement and music are very human and very natural ways to let out what went in. We experience life with all of our senses, so it’s logical that we would have to engage those senses to release our experiences. And herein lies the beauty of art, movement, and the expressive arts. It’s about expression and then being in relationship to what wanted to be expressed, with curiosity and evolving acceptance. It is not about being an artist. It’s about expressing – and we all do it.
Reorienteering is a concept I created based on various parts of my professional life. I’m a Clinical Social Worker and Recreational Therapist so I put them together and created a nivut/orienteering activity that uses the best of neuroscience, animal wisdom, recreational therapy and trauma-informed treatment all with a body-oriented and actually fun framework. It’s an exploratory look into the process of orienting – while orienteering.
Life offers us many stresses and challenges and how our nervous systems respond determines if experiences are left in our bodies as traumas or released naturally. This cycle in part relies on the orienting response. So, I’ve taken this critical piece, paired it with the sport of orienteering, and created a practice to tone this skill. We’ll go out on the trail, with a groovy orienteering map and find our way through the contours and caves using the images on the map and your sense of where you are in relation to the natural space around you.
Most anyone can do it. It can be replicated and adapted to a wide variety of groups. It’s possible to do it anywhere. This is the essence of Recreational Therapy – and you can orienteer your way through any space. I can adapt the activity all along the spectrum from fun to educational to psychoeducational and to deeply therapeutic.
My hope is to bring awareness to an everyday skill that can bring relief from trauma and the everyday stresses that rattle the nervous system.
I believe deeply that we can learn to navigate our way through our personal nervous system and the greater ecosystem.
Our pets are our companions and our comfort. They are also an expression of how we live our lives and who we might be if the bounds were off. They share our joys and our burdens and sometimes our carrots. They also reflect parts of ourselves back to us, as the outer world often does, but in the special lovable way that only animals can. A dear dog companion can fill so many places in the heart that it’s hard to imagine. Cats free to roam remind us of the agile movers we all have within us. All the ferrets and guinea pigs and chinchillas in our homes and our hearts serve a very significant purpose in our lives.
Our animals can also play a very essential and helpful part of getting the most out of a therapeutic moment. Animal-assisted therapy can take many forms. Their simple presence in a therapy session alters the warmth in the room. Animals can connect us to lost parts of ourselves in a way that only nature can. They remind us of our impulses and our instincts. They show us the impeccable way to effectively use the fight, flight and freeze maneuvers that our bodies have given us for our survival – uninhibited by the human thinking mind. They offer the uncomplicated connection, the unconditional experience. Bring your pet, or I’ll bring mine and let’s see why they found you.
A special focus of care: Grief When Our Beloved Pet Dies. Our Dogs (kelev… k’lev) are like our hearts
Our beloved dogs and cats and other creature pets can be companions on a level that is difficult for many of us to define. Pets are satisfying to the touch and cheerful for the spirit. They fill the voids and aches left by humans and remind us to stay in touch with the joyful moment, the calling of nature and the unconditional heart. Pets offer us the uncomplicated relationship. Their companionship can teach us to love and trust and be, when life may have taught us otherwise. It is no wonder that when they are sick and dying so too is a part us.
Grief, we know and expect, comes with the loss of a human companion. Grief, we know, can make us moody, softer, harder and off balance, and it can take a long time before we feel the bounce of our groove again. So when a beloved pet dies it too brings on grief. Sometimes grief is so intense we can’t get off the floor and for some reason, we don’t know why. Well, we know our connection to the dog was strong and yet why is it that we so often seem perplexed that we feel so much pain and loss when they leave us or die. With the loss the value and depths of this relationship are revealed and for others to see. This loss, just as the loss of human connections, brings real, honest and justifiable pain.
It also often brings a lifetime of pains not felt. We live in a culture that values strength and emotional control in the face of unbelievable stress and traumatizing experiences. When the dog dies, it gives us access to the unfelt grief from other times in our lives when we didn’t let ourselves breakdown. Sometimes the grief is the loss of the dog partially because of the void it filled from the disappointments from humans, and the pain is the loss of the pet and the pain of what wasn’t. Loss brings on other loss. It is why we often cry at funerals for other people long departed.
Grief has a way of staying in the body waiting for us to give it its day; or days for mourning. It waits, like undigested food for a way to be processed and then released. But grief often needs a witness, as many cultures around the world offer rituals for public grieving. It acknowledges the pain and loss and helps us to move along the sad path of grief. So too with our dogs and cats and goats and donkeys and birds and other crawling creatures. They are in our hearts and in our minds and bodies, and they are truly a part of us, and their loss is worthy of mourning. And your pain is worthy of an understanding witness.
When I studied Social Work at the graduate level I learned that the essence of Social Work and its Strengths Perspective was to mobilize your strengths and use them in the service of achieving your goals and visions so that you will have a better quality of life – on your terms. (This is paraphrased from a book on the Resources page).
This perspective is the essence of what makes Clinical Social Work different from other forms of therapy. It’s a dedicated search for strengths and then figuring out how to use them well. Look for what worked and figure out how to do it again. It’s not so simple. Look to the Systems and circles around the person – to the environment – to gain information and insight. Look with a wide lens. Each of us is intimately influenced by what surrounds us that either supports or inhibits our sense of being.
The Strengths and Systems essences of Social Work really seeped into my bones as a way of honoring the whole of a person’s experiences in the world and seeing the diagnosis as one informational part of the strong and resourceful person who entered the room for a chance at the therapeutic process. I’m in the life is messy camp and I believe that we need to come into therapy with our messes and our stories …. as well as our strengths. It’s the interaction between our wounds and our resources that makes healing possible.
Sometimes we have access to the wounds. Sometimes we marvel only in the mind. Sometimes we lose connection with the innate wisdom of the human spirit. The trauma-informed Clinical Social Work that I practice will honor the past, present, future, environment, wounds, diagnosis, and the ever-present strengths that are waiting to serve you.
Makes a practice out of the idea that play, recreation, and leisure are an important part of being human
Quality of life includes access to leisure experiences and opportunities for self-development and self-expression. With stress and traumas, our playfulness and participation in the lighter side of life can be inhibited, denied, or abandoned as survival energy takes over. Sometimes we just don’t have access to the resources to explore our interests. We all have innate hobbies and interests and talents to create, play and explore. Recreational Therapy takes the therapeutic value of these activities and uses them with the intention for healing and restoration. It is about using activities for their innate therapeutic value in the context of a therapeutic process.
Therapeutic Recreation is adaptive and aims to take any activity and craft it to allow for satisfying participation of everyone involved. Like wheelchair ramps into buildings, any activity can be adapted to allow access. For those shy, anxious, tired or restricted in any way, sometimes it just takes a thoughtful adapting of an activity to provide access and a good reconnect to what makes you happy, calm, and alive. Restoring a sense of belonging, mastery, independence, and generosity is the right of each and every human being. To enjoy life is a human gift.
If you were given free time and your access to your own pure free will and open resources, what would you do with your time?
Therapeutic Recreation works with the foundations of Experiential Education, Multiple Intelligences, and Multisensory learning. It satisfies the crafter and the athlete and explorer who wants to use these qualities to explore within.
Adventure-Based Therapy is part of this and uses its wonderful concept of Challenge by Choice. You will see many ways that I use these notions of challenge and choice.