Woman finds peace thanks to integrated therapyFARGO - Alison Kohler suffered from such severe post-traumatic stress disorder it kept her from working and at times even leaving her house. She tried everything traditional doctors and psychologists prescribed, but in January, suicide seemed like the only solution to ending her anguish.
By: Heidi Shaffer, INFORUM
What: Integrated Living
Ownership: Connie Bjerk, certified guided imagery therapist
Where: 1330 Page Drive, Suite 102A, Fargo
Contact: (218) 779-2287
Online: email@example.com; www.integratedliving.com
FARGO - Alison Kohler suffered from such severe post-traumatic stress disorder it kept her from working and at times even leaving her house.
She tried everything traditional doctors and psychologists prescribed, but in January, suicide seemed like the only solution to ending her anguish.
Then she met Connie Bjerk, a certified guided imagery therapist in Fargo.
Just a few months later, she’s taking lessons to ride a Harley Davidson and moving across the country to Arizona on her own.
The cure to her chronic anxiety and depression came through Bjerk’s integrated medicine practices. This alternative style of therapy uses the way a patient thinks to change their energy and can help almost any mental ailment, Bjerk said.
How it works
Bjerk says guided imagery works for everything from phobias, weight loss (or as she calls it “weight release”) to headaches.
She tailors each therapy plan to her patients’ individual needs.
Research shows guided imagery lowers blood pressure, reduces anxiety, alleviates pain and heightens immunity. It’s also been shown to ease nausea during chemotherapy or pregnancy, says Bjerk, who received clinical training in mind-body medicine from Harvard Medical School.
Studies have also shown that patients used one-third less pain medicine and had shorter hospital stays when guided imagery was used before surgery, said Bjerk, who started her Fargo practice this fall and opened her Grand Forks offices in 2008.
Bjerk uses another integrated method called Reiki, an ancient Japanese energy technique used to balance energies in the body. Reiki works on all levels – mind, body and spirit – to help the body heal.
Bjerk is asked by some if her methods work because the patient believes in it or it was simply the last straw. Her answer: Both.
“This works where nothing else will,” said Bjerk, who integrates patients training plans with traditional medicine based on their needs. If a patient needs medication in addition to guided imagery sessions, Bjerk said she knows not to go out of her area of expertise.
Some people question the effectiveness of alternative forms of medicine, but Bjerk said she doesn’t feel the need to defend her practices.
“It speaks for itself,” she said.
PTSD ruled all aspects of Kohler’s life for the past two or three years. She’d been raped and abused when she was younger. A bout of endometriosis that led to a hysterectomy brought back the symptoms of trauma.
When Kohler first met Bjerk in June, she came with three pages full of triggers that sent her into an anxiety attack. She couldn’t be in a crowd, certain sounds put her on edge and her dog needed to be with her at all times.
After work teaching seventh-graders at Jamestown (N.D.) Middle School, Kohler would come home and almost immediately go to bed, a place she barely left on the weekends.
“I was always in fear,” recalls Kohler, who today is bubbly and energetic.
Kohler tried a yearlong, traditional medicine program that was supposed to change her life. At the end of it, she wasn’t doing any better.
In January, suicide seemed like the only solution to her suffering. She continued to seek out help after surviving a suicide attempt.
“There was nothing left to try. I was getting worse and worse. Then I met Connie, and my whole life changed,” she said.
Traditional medicine was focusing on the problems and medicating Kohler’s symptoms.
With Bjerk’s guided imagery, a form of meditation used to help a patient visualize an image in the mind and bring about a desired physical response, Kohler began seeing past the problems and finding solutions.
Within just a few sessions, Bjerk had helped Kohler break some of her worst symptoms.
Part of her therapy with Bjerk was letting go of many of the long-held social expectations for women, such as getting married and having a child.
“We live in the Midwest. We all have this path that we’re supposed to follow,” Kohler said.
Finding she didn’t need to follow that path was liberating.
“Connie really empowers you to become who you are meant to be,” Kohler said.
Within a few months of meeting Bjerk, Kohler packed up and left to take a Harley Davidson-riding course in Arizona.
The first day of classes, Kohler felt that familiar fear creep in. Then she remembered how Bjerk described fear: “Feeling Excited And Ready.”
“And all of a sudden, I’m like ‘This is going to be fun,’ ” Kohler remembered with excitement in her voice. “It just totally changed my perspective.”
This week, Kohler picked up and moved permanently to Arizona, where she owns a Harley and is in a new relationship. She is also beginning to explore integrated medicine as a future career.
“Now I live my life with the possibilities,” Kohler said. “I’m not being controlled by fear.”
Readers can reach Forum business editor Heidi Shaffer at (701) 241-5511