Start-ups…when a vision tempts to become real…can spend considerable time in the gestation stage. This was the case with Natural Mind, a business devoted to Green Mental Health. During my studies with the Mindhance Learning Center, I knew someday I would use the credential as a Holistic Mental Health Coach, but wasn’t sure how. As a former therapist who’d taken several years hiatus to deal with my daughter’s autism, I felt rusty and unsure. One thing I did believe in was the educational aspect of alternative mental health. Natural Mind grew from this urge.

I’d been a Safe Harbor volunteer even since I heard about the organization, when my children were quite small. This LA-based group maintains a fantastic website dedicated to education and outreach. There is extensive research for browsing, a directory of alternative practitioners, and staff to help out individuals with queries and concerns. At that time, the group was very active putting on conferences with alt-med luminaries in the mental health field. When I first joined up, actress Margot Kidder, who played Lois Lane in the first Superman movie, was their spokesperson.

As a volunteer, I was asked to call doctors and other simpatico health professionals, to expand the Directory—a task I did haphazardly to not at all. I was dealing with my own healing crisis, and full-speed negotiating the maze of Special Education, Applied Behavioral Analysis, and every biomed method to cure autism that our family could afford. This was my life. But I was so grateful to know founder Dan Stradford and Safe Harbor were out there, founding more chapters locally and internationally.

Nearly two years ago, I felt a more pressing urge to do something. I was learning and interacting on the Safe Harbor yahoogroup. The outcry against the drugging of America’s minds—children especially—was growing more pointed. Research was de-bunking the efficacy of antidepressants, while drug companies incurred millions of dollars in fines for lying to the public about their products’ safety. What to do in the face of so much Pharma Power?

Education, I figured, would be the mode of my advocacy. I wanted the community I lived in to realize there were resources here besides the route offered by the drug cartel. I also thought to found a Safe Harbor chapter to sponsor the event, in hopes a group could blossom.

I worked alone with zero budget to put on a community event, held at the local hospital auditorium that was attended by 100 people of all types from the community. I have written about this event elsewhere on this blog (“Grassroots Mental Health”).  Our most honored guest was clinical psychology professor from the University of Kansas, Dr. Stephen Ilardi, whose book, The Depression Cure, was debuted that night with the first pressed copies and book-signing ever. We also heard from a naturopath and local natural foods restaurateur and health advocate.

About 3 sessions of the Heartland Safe Harbor chapter followed, but attendance was sparse.  However, I met a woman who was a certified facilitator in a Depression Recovery program led by a doctor from Oklahoma. We hit in off and began planning Natural Mind. She withdrew for three possible reasons (from my point of view):

  • I criticized the author of her program for being a religious fanatic. His textbook was openly hostile to yoga, meditation, and bordered on racist attacks against Eastern philosophies in favor of a fundamentalist Christian perspective
  • She was very busy in her profession and it was prime time for her services in a university town.
  • When I developed the 8-week flow of Natural Mind, either she could not agree with the scope or felt she was losing control of the project.

After founding the Heartland Safe Harbor chapter, it struggled to get off the ground. Once I’d envisioned the outline for the Natural Mind course, I felt on fire. In a few weeks I called up a wellness coach I’d heard about who was a longtime local resident. Initially I approached her for an apprenticeship, then asked her to partner with me to create Natural Mind. She accepted, and we worked together very well in the start-up, entrepreneurial stage.

For our free intro at a liberal church, 90 people arrived, and eventually 30 took the class.  It was an exhilarating experience. We launched with Dr. Ilardi talking about fish oil and Vitamin D. We used an e-book draft that my business partner had written and sculpted it to fit our purposes, which helped people with affirmations, avoiding junk food, taking responsibility for their health, where to find foods for special diets, and the like. Each week there was a chapter with suggested work.

We continued the practice of having guest speakers for at least 2/3 of the sessions. I spoke on the gut-brain connection. My mentor/business partner and co-coach, an exercise physiologist, tackled the subject of movement and restorative sleep. We had healthy snacks each session, frequently donated by small companies that made such foods, and all were gluten and dairy free. We also recorded each session and made them available by mp3.

Our success was helped immensely by a supportive reporter from the local paper which ran a great article. Alas, my business partner could not deal with the mental health angle, wanting to be known as more of a generalist. She left the business, but I continued with a follow-up class, Mindful in Nature, which garnered fewer students and in a way was very experimental for me with experiential offerings from the field of ecopsychology and the practice of meditation.

Summer my efforts focused on getting marketing advice from a wide swath of sources: from the university Small Business Development Center to a marketing firm in KC that focuses on the progressive or “conscious” community in the metro, a consult with an internet marketing specialist, and some free classes on social media.

On September 27, 2010 Natural Mind successfully launched in Kansas City. A great group of students met at Unity Temple on the Plaza.  The medical staff from the Kansas City Holistic Center comprised the instructors, dividing up the entire 8-week subject matter. They gave freely of their time as an embodiment of their ethic of community service.  Nutrition, naturopathy, and holistic psychotherapy were the specialties.

I like the synergy of working with others. For the Kansas City launch I teamed up with a life coach who took the initial Natural Mind course, having a “bipolar” family member—hence she understood the mission and was enthusiastic about the work.  As a coach she works with women in transition: going through a divorce, career change, or taking steps to simplify their lives. It is now a pleasure to have on board the computer wizardry and administrative skills of an upcoming Natural Mind student, who is pursuing her college degree in psychology.

The expansion of Natural Mind continues as plans develop for a new course, “Creative Mental Health: the Marriage of Body and Mind through Art,” with my ceramic-sculptor friend. Thanks to her I discovered the work of Ellen Dissanayake (author of Homo Aestheticus) who proposes the making of art as a biological, species-centered, adaptive need. Hence the view that art is critical—not just a nice pastime that helps, an adjunct therapy—but that creativity is essential to mental health.

It’s always been my friend’s dream to take art out of the stuffy or elitist “professionals-only” realm and use it for healing. This course dovetails well with the goals of Natural Mind, and I look forward greatly to our launch that aims for healing by releasing the repressed artist within.

Ah, the swirling synergy of so many people who believe in this work, that make it all worthwhile. Those of us (coaches, advocates, and loved ones) who feel we must do something to stand up to drug-our-country dogma.  The holistic practitioners, busy by day in their offices, providing education to the public to facilitate individual, informed choice. And the students, some of them on medication for years and fed up with it–others living healthy but still plagued by depression and anxiety. They are the bravest ones, taking the step to look for answers beyond the profit-moguls’ latest Happy Pill of the Year.

Natural Mind aims to instill the spark of belief—which goes beyond “hope,” for it’s time to believe that you can take charge of your mental wellness.  Together, we’re changing one body-mind at a time.

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