CC: Hi Francesca. Can you start by telling us a bit about yourself and the work that you do?
FM: I’m a Haitian-Dominican Italian-American trauma-informed somatic psychotherapist, mindfulness teacher, antiracism educator, and relational life coach. I work with adults, couples, groups and organizations/leadership teams to understand how our neural programming, early caregiver experiences, adaptive attachment styles and behavioral patterns, and implicit and unconscious learnings can be understood from a somatic (physiological and neuroscientific) perspective.
Using the relational field and embodied mindfulness, I work with clients to invite new subcortical learnings and understandings about micro, macro, and mezzo level beliefs. We work together to find the original locus of where the traumas are stuck in the bodymind, while using the felt sense, access to life force/energy (often, of anger!) and limbic uncouplings as a pathway to deactivation, release, and post-traumatic growth. We ground our work in inner dignity, self-esteem, respect, gratitude, and basic goodness to be able to scaffold uncomfortable experiences through a relational holding space as well as create a nourishing environment for deep and lasting transformation.
CC: Francesca, I loved learning about your other creative pursuits… from poetry to art to podcasts. How does your work in the trauma field inform your poetry – and your poetry your therapeutic practice?
FM: Thank you! Recently I was interviewed by PBS about the intersection of my work in supporting trauma transformation and my artistic experiences as a narrative poet (click here for interview). I shared that I used poetry as a way to work through my own trauma healing and still use it to process life events as they unfold, (as is the case with recent poems I wrote about Covid and about racialized trauma).
Often, when you hear the attachment therapists and neuroscientists talk about sustainable recovery and post traumatic growth, it has a lot to do with a person’s inner felt sense (a modality I’m certified in, via my Indigenous Focusing Oriented Therapy and Focusing Oriented Therapy trainings) and subsequent sense of themselves, or limbic learnings, that are evoked in metaphor: imagery, sound, touch, taste, smell, etc. Poetry is evocative, as all art is – it takes us out of our left brain logical “encyclopedic” learning and invites us into curiosity, flexibility, and less rigidity. It’s a “beginner’s mind” type of place where we can both know our direct experience, but also invite what it means to us and how it lives in us: the significance of it to us.
As Dan Siegel says, we can become more integrated by creating a coherent narrative of our life. Once we’re able to make sense of things, while it doesn’t change the past, we feel much better. That’s worked for me, and for others, and I invite others to try it as well using poetry or other forms of creative expression and therapy.
While the poetry is more about the internal healing (although poetry shared widely is also transformative and can move entire populations), my podcasts are about the more externally-facing social justice component of the imbalances we feel (or don’t feel, which can be equally problematic depending on our melanin levels) within us as individuals reflected in the systemically unbalanced world we inhabit and are a part of.
In my podcasts I speak to clinical psychologists and researchers on racial trauma like Drs. Janet Helms and Amer Ahmed. I recently taped a new episode with Dr. Bruce Perry on neuroscience, collective and aboriginal healing, and the challenges of western psychology and what the medical model gets wrong. I also speak to antiracism educators like Dante King and Dr. Jacqueline Battalora who ‘have all the receipts’ as to the ways in which whiteness was constructed and legally codified and sustained, and how its morphed over time from overt to more embedded and covert oppressive systems.
All of these are important to me and not different or separate from the inner clinical work I do with clients. Mindfulness moves us from ignorance and defensive assumptions and shame, to celebrating our own dignity and that of others, and becoming embodied agents of personal and social change. The podcasts aim to bring out those conversations to the public sphere so folks can continue to contemplate, learn, lean in, and possibly act towards personal and collective healing and liberation.
CC: Can you tell us more about #Wise Girl and Rerooted? How did your podcasts come about? And, how can our members tune in?
After leaving Harvard as an undergrad I was a bit lost and ended up in sales for a Fortune 500 company. I got kicked out for padding my expense reports and realized that was just one of the ways my trauma manifested… feeling like I was owed, and not really getting what I felt I deserved. My ACE score (ACES childhood trauma scale) and insecure preoccupied attachment style, or as the Buddha might say, insatiable craving to be liked, to be better, to compete, to have more “whatever,” clouded my moral compass, personal integrity and good judgement. I also was drinking a lot.
After that I ended up taking an internship at a local TV station in Boston and found I enjoyed the combination of journalism and being on TV, so for the next 17 years I worked as an anchor and reporter for the likes of local stations from NY to FL to CT, to networks like Bloomberg and PBS NewsHour, as well as international stations owned by Nigerian and Turkish enterprises. The podcast is a response to my pivot away from formal journalism, and being part of the media, to being trained in somatic and mindful healing approaches. I still wanted to ask people things, I still was curious and wanted to learn the “why” behind the “what”, so I started asking the folks whose books I read or whose trauma models I’d studied if they’d talk to me. I asked my mentor Jack Kornfield what he thought, and he said something like, “it doesn’t matter if only 5-6 people tune in, try it anyhow.” That was how #WiseGirl began, and a year and a half ago, Ram Dass’s Be Here Now network picked it up for distribution and we renamed it ReRooted, which for me is the way we heal – to remember our connection to the earth and all living things and our innate belonging to one another. Since then, I’ve interviewed the likes of Drs. Peter Levine, Pat Ogden, Stephen Porges, and many more.
CC: How did you hear about the ISSTD? And, what led you to join the ISSTD as an SEP member?
FM: I was probably googling trauma modalities, organisations, and such, or came across a training that was offered – I can’t remember exactly. I joined ISSTD and ISTSS, who surprisingly gave me an award last year for Advocacy and Service because of my clinical work and the podcasts. I suppose I never really understood there was a WHY behind what we do. I thought we were just stuck with what we were given: with “who we are” as our personality. Somatic modalities, neuroscience, and attachment theory gave me a rich framework to understand the why – what Dr. Marshall Rosenberg of Nonviolent Communications calls the NEED – that creates the WHAT…. And then from there, mindfulness enabled me to invite in the alternative to the old Catholic guilt assumption of original sin, which was the Buddhist understanding of a person’s innate basic goodness, and invited me to question whether my thoughts of unworthiness about myself were real but not true.
This framework has helped me enormously and I joined ISSTD to see how others were dealing with trauma and disassociation. While some folks in the organization may not see things quite the way I do, (intertwining spiritual and collectivist views, as I eschew many of the tenets of the medical model of individual western psychotherapy), that’s ok. We’re all on our path and I appreciate anyone’s commitment to personal and collective healing. It’s really beautiful to know there are international communities of support out there, and hearing from folks about shame and attachment theory in Belgium like Doris Dhooge, for example, was a gift – I would have never known she existed had I not attended an ISSTD conference online a few months ago and we met privately after and she’s a real gift.
I feel we have a cultural soma and in general, societally, an insecure attachment style which in the west, is generally avoidant. To invite us into the reparative, repetitive, trusting holding container that we need societally and socially is one of the ways in which organizations like ISSTD can help: we create community and scaffold one another’s experiences, especially when we look more deeply at the basic inequities embedded in our racialized world, as I’d talked about previously in an ISSTD article here. I hope we can continue to be in allyship with one another, providing a secure base from which to transform and grow. I hope this community can lean in to how it can continue to do this within itself, as well as through individual practitioners engaging with clients and communities worldwide.
CC: Thanks for taking the time to chat with us, Francesca – and for sharing a little bit about the amazing work that you’ve been doing!
To connect with Francesca, visit her website at https://www.maximeclarity.com/ .
For more on Francesca’s trainings see this month’s News You Can Use.