Part One

Welcome, Teresa. Thank you for taking the time to talk to us.

The same feelings that are part of a traumatic reaction are exactly the same feelings that can trigger a relapse to substance abuse. We see so many people whose trauma precipitated their initial drug or alcohol abuse. Can you tell us a little bit first about the work you are doing in trauma and addiction—two subjects that are often related.

I have worked both in settings that emphasize treatment of trauma as the primary area of focus as well as in settings where addiction was the primary issue.  In both I have found that the overlapping qualities between addiction and trauma are overwhelming and, much as you stated above, those “uncontrollable” feelings that can be at the core of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) are similar to the “uncontrollable” feelings that lead to self-medication, addiction, and relapse in addiction.  This is often why, also the two diagnosis and issues overlap. 

One of the two elements often exist: traumatic history and PTSD in a person can lead to self-medicating to “escape” which leads to full blown addiction or conversely, the use of substances to a point of full blown addiction can lead to experiences and situations which create traumatic experience (either things people do to get drugs which are subsequently traumatic or what happens to them when they have no natural survival mechanisms or instinctual signs of danger under the influence and end up in dangerous situations).  Whatever the area of primary focus, addiction or trauma, the other inevitably overlaps.

I am also writing a chapter in my upcoming memoir My Embodiment: One Woman’s Journey from Trauma To Healing in Mind, Body, & Spirit (working title) about the post-PTSD experience and the parallels between that and what I have studied in the mindset of recovering addicts; the crossover of both “recovery modes of existence.”  Both can include a compulsive need to “catch up” and “make up for time” and both can become so excessive that they lead to, for the addict, relapse and the for the trauma survivor, regression or collapse from emotional/physical exhaustion.

I have worked in addiction inpatient treatment programs, outpatient PTSD facilities, in private practice and with populations of all ages and backgrounds: international survivors of torture, survivors of human trafficking, combat veterans, survivors of military sexual trauma, survivors of childhood sexual trauma and physical abuse, domestic violence survivors, and recovering addicts from a variety of social stratus and DOCs (drug of choice), as well as persons with eating disorders and disordered eating issues.

With both trauma survivors and addicts I have integrated approaches using anima-bond practices (dogs and horses), mind/body practices (yoga, breathwork, contemplation, visualization, meditation), and creative arts (writing, drawing, cinematherapy, etc.).  I am a trained clinical social worker but also have training in areas of equine facilitated therapies, creative arts, and am a registered yoga teacher. 

You are doing very exciting work with horses and yoga and psychotherapy. Please share with us how you got started doing this.

I was working with combat veterans and survivors of military sexual trauma for the Department of Veterans Affairs and had wanted to explore equine therapies for some time.  I had already been able to integrate yoga programming as well as creative arts therapies for the treatment of PTSD in collaboration with a yoga non-profit called Kula for Karma in northern New Jersey.  I knew that the animal-human bond was profound and wanted to explore clinical applications further.  I had been based out of Secaucus, NJ where there was no local facility to make it feasible.  I relocated to South Florida and found that there was a nearby facility called Vinceremos Therapeutic Riding Center which was trying to create a “Horses for Heroes” program for veterans.  I pitched the idea to them and to my supervisors and the collaboration unfolded.

I brought my background as a psychotherapist and the center brought their horses and trained equine professionals (namely my collaborator, a therapeutic riding instructor and program coordinator, Maurette Hanson).  Together we incorporated the best of both worlds and added in the self-soothing and stress reduction components of yoga breath work as they can be profound for trauma survivors (as they were for myself as a survivor and the PTSD clients I had introduced to the practices).

In the next part of this interview, coming soon, we’ll talk more with Teresa about her therapeutic work with horses.

Teresa Bennett Pasquale, LCSW, RYT graduated from New York University’s School of Social work with a Masters Degree in Clinical Social Work. In 2009 she was awarded the NYU Silver School of Social Work’s “Outstanding Recent Alumna Award” for innovative and creative treatment with trauma survivors. Teresa has worked with international survivors of torture, survivors of domestic violence, sexual trauma, and sufferers of addiction and eating disorders. She spent 3 years at the Department of Veterans Affairs as a trauma therapist for combat veterans with PTSD and survivors of Military Sexual Trauma and has specialized expertise in the treatment of military personnel and veteran populations. She has also worked in residential addiction treatment and speaks on a variety of Mind/Body and Trauma topics.