When Carol Smith Ali was in her early 30s, she was diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome. Feeling tired and depressed, she was given a prescription for Valium, which she says helped with her anxiety and stress, but eventually led to a “foggy” seven-year addiction.
After beating the addiction, however, her symptoms — particularly her anxiety — returned. She tried therapy, which helped her to set goals and to see her problems from a healthier perspective, ” … but it was not an internal experience,” she explains. “It was an outside-to-inside sort of thing, rather than a true intensive experience.” Desperate, she moved on to conventional medicine, but several bad experiences with doctors led her to alternative modalities, such as Rolfing and massage. She found these methods helpful, but nothing seemed to last.
That was when she attended a Rubenfeld Synergy workshop in New York City. The workshop changed her life, in more ways than one: While she was working with a Rubenfeld Synergist, Ali says she had no idea that, several years later, she would be practicing the method herself — and even co-writing, with fellow Rubenfeld Synergist Song Connotes, a book about the method (Healing Journeys: The Power of Rubenfeld Synergy, due out this month.).
Rubenfeld Synergy is a multimodal system that integrates the body, mind, emotions and spirit in a holistic form of therapy. While it incorporates elements of gentle touch, verbal dialogue, imagination, metaphor and — when appropriate — humor, the Rubenfeld method adds up to something more than just the sum of its parts. It was originated by Ilana Rubenfeld, a Juilliard-trained conductor. The seed that became Rubenfeld was planted as she learned to track multiple musical-instrument lines simultaneously. Applying this to life, she learned to address the complex, multifaceted interaction of elements that combine to make up the intellect, the emotions, the memories and the physical aspect of a human being.
Ali’s own turning point with Rubenfeld Synergy came when she discovered a sense of creativity that had previously eluded her. “The imaging [in those sessions] was very heavy,” Ali says, “very creative.”
Her work with a Rubenfeld Synergist helped her to become aware of the connection between her imaginative, feminine side and her more vigorous masculine aspect — leading to a new sense of balance and a power that helped manifest facets of herself that she had kept hidden. The efficacy of the method moved her to complete a six-year training regimen and open her own Rubenfeld Synergy clinic here in Asheville.
Designed to bring out those oft-hidden emotional scars — the ones that affect our lives without our even knowing it — the Rubenfeld technique is particularly effective at communicating with the prerational, ineffable, almost physical reactions to the harsh realities of life in the modern world. “Rubenfeld is known as the grandmother of body-centered therapy,” Ali maintains, adding that it incorporates an eclectic but finely tuned combination of Gestalt, Feldenkrais and even hypnotherapy in its cache of techniques.
Sonja Contois came to the method in much the same way as Ali. “I had felt in my kinesiology and hypnotherapy practice that something was missing,” she says. Discovering Rubenfeld Synergy, she recognized that the whole was being treated, rather than the isolated parts.
Contois is a firm believer that when a person experiences a trauma, they experience it with their entire body. “An accident yesterday can be ingrained in the tissues today,” she explains, something many modalities either fail to recognize or fall short of addressing.
“This is one of the few truly holistic methods I’ve seen,” Contois says. “I considered myself a holistic practitioner before this, but now I think those methods are more complementary. They complement each other. Rubenfeld Synergy is something unto itself.”