Psychiatrists offer free mental health healing to spill victims

PASS CHRISTIAN, MS (WLOX) - Psychiatrists offer free mental health healing to oil spill victims

By Trang Pham-Bui – bio | email

PASS CHRISTIAN, MS   (WLOX) – The atmosphere was calm and relaxing.  The instructor's voice seemed to soothe all the worries away.

"There's a lot of tension in your body. We're going to get some of the hot spots out," the man told the crowd at the Marsha Barbour Resource Center in Pass Christian.

It was no ordinary yoga class.  It was actually a training program aimed at relieving stress and trauma after mass disasters.

New York psychiatrists Dr. Richard Brown and his wife Dr. Patricia Gerbarg are conducting the three-day workshop this week. They are training 70 mental health and medical professionals on how to use various breathing techniques to cope with the emotional and physical effects of BP oil disaster.

"It calms the emotions and it also quiets the worry centers in the brain and so it is really very calming. People can do this during the day if they're stressed or they have some anxiety," said Gerbarg.  "We developed this program over the course of the last 10 years. We've been studying all different kinds of breathing techniques to try to find those that would be rapidly effective, have powerful benefits, and would be safe."

These techniques were used by the ancient Chinese, Indians, as well as Christian monks. Drs. Brown and Gerbarg have used the methods to help the survivors of 9/11 cope with anxiety, depression, and post traumatic stress disorders.

"Probably folks down here are at risk for the same things. Much of it has to do with inhalation injuries due to inhaling hydrocarbons and things that come out of oil," said Gerbarg.

Gene Foley has witnessed the benefits of these therapeutic sessions. The former New York City fire captain helped with rescue and recovery efforts following the World Trade Center attacks. He is now a social worker.

"I've gotten into yoga. We have a firemen yoga group in Long Island believe it or not. I know that this stuff does work. So I want to be able to utilize this more in my life to deal with various stresses," said Foley.

The health care providers will now use these new skills to train others on ways to heal their minds and bodies.  The program is sponsored by Mississippi Cares International. It's funded by a $100,000 BP Grant.

"I thought what better way to do this then to bring down a method I absolutely knows works, unquestionable, and would not have people on meds, would not have people in years of psychotherapy," said Ellen Ratner with Mississippi Cares.

On Thursday, the psychiatrists will use their breathing techniques to help the homeless in south Mississippi.

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