The Greater Houston Healing Collaborative – A Psychosocial Disaster Response

NOTE: The contents of this page are reposted with permission from the Center for Mind-Body Medicine (CMBM). If you have any questions about the Greater Houston Healing Collaborative or the Center for Mind-Body Medicine, please email Rosemary Murrain, CMBM Managing Director, at

Although the flood waters have receded, the FEMA applications have been submitted and most of the mucking and cleaning is now finished, the emotional and psychological healing from Hurricane Harvey continues.

Eager to help Houstonians recover, the Center for Mind-Body Medicine (CMBM) reached out to our program graduates in the area and received an immediate and enthusiastic response from Gwen Brehm, M.Ed., LPC, the Founder and Executive Director of Houston’s Center for Mind Body Health. Gwen reached out to her friends and colleagues in the mental health community and we soon joined with the leading Houston-based behavioral health and social service organizations – the Institute for Spirituality and Health (ISH)the Menninger ClinicHouston Galveston Institutethe Jung CenterThe Center for Mind Body HealthCompassionate Houston and Healing Circles Houston – to create the Greater Houston Healing Collaborative.

In late November 2017, with funding provided by the Greater Houston Community Foundation’s Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund and The Rotary Club of Houston District 5890, the Collaborative began organizing a community-wide trauma relief and resilience building program for persons impacted by Hurricane Harvey in the City of Houston and Harris County, Texas.

The goal of our Collaborative is to disseminate CMBM’s “train the trainer” model of self-awareness, self-care and mutual support to Houston-based therapists and counselors to first decrease their own symptoms of stress and trauma and then to teach them to effectively implement the model in their communities.

The mission of our Collaborative is to disseminate CMBM’s “train the trainer” model of self-awareness, self-care and mutual support to Houston-based therapists and counselors to first decrease their own symptoms of stress and trauma and then to teach them to effectively implement the model in their communities.

Gwen Brehm, CMBM alumna and founder of the Center for Mind-Body Health in Houston, talks about the impact
of the work and the Greater Houston Healing Collaborative she help form to bring mind-body skills groups training to
100 Houstonians to heal the community post-Harvey.

An Enthusiastic Response

Through intensive outreach and marketing efforts, the Collaborative partners recruited an impressive cadre of mental health counselors, therapists, school counselors, and religious and spiritual leaders. Within just three weeks, more than 150 people had applied for the scholarship positions available for the 3-phased, intensive training. The trainees mirrored Houston’s diverse cultural, ethnic, religious and socioeconomic communities, with native languages including Korean, Chinese, Spanish, Portuguese, Vietnamese and Farsi. More than 25 local behavioral health and social service organizations and institutions were represented (see below).

Passion and Commitment

The program kicked off with a 4-day initial Professional Training Program (PTP) on December 7-11, 2017. Ninety-six (96) attendees learned the comprehensive foundation for CMBM’s approach – the biology and psychology of stress and trauma and the research supporting it – and experienced mind-body techniques in both small and large group formats. Then they immediately began outreach efforts to share their new skills with people in their workplaces and communities who were affected by Harvey. We created a Facebook page for them to interact, ask questions and exchange ideas with each other and our team. This remains a very active forum for them to seek guidance, share their successes and to exchange creative ways to market their groups through their networks and other social media sites such as NextDoor.

On January 4-7, 2018, 79 participants returned for the 4-day Advanced Training Program (ATP). Here, they learned how to lead small Mind-Body Skills Groups (MBSGs) as well as Mind-Body Skills Workshops (MBSWs) with members of their community. They each had the opportunity to put their knowledge to practice – leading groups and teaching the techniques with their peers and with support and guidance from senior CMBM faculty. The commitment and enthusiasm of our Houston colleagues is palpable. They have been highly focused on learning this model, engaging with us and with each other with impressive motivation, inquiry and dedication to serving their fellow Houstonians as soon as possible.

“It was amazing how fast we were able to put our group together. Now we have people asking about our group and wanting to join. Looking forward to this amazing journey we will have with our group members and I am humbled that I can be part of this big initiative to bring healing to our community.”

– Susan Kamfar, MD, M.A.Ed
(posted in Greater Houston Healing Collaborative Facebook group)

Currently 78 program graduates are organizing and co-facilitating an 8-week series of Mind-Body Skills Groups (MBSGs) and will also lead a Mind-Body Skills Workshop (MBSW) within their community or institution. Throughout this stage, trainees receive weekly phone supervision with clinical guidance, mentorship and support from CMBM senior Faculty as they integrate the model into their work in Houston’s schools, clinics, hospitals, churches and social service organizations.

The Greater Houston Healing Collaborative itself is organizing as a permanent body, creating a charter for membership and structuring to position itself as an effective framework to provide long-term, sustainable mind-body programs, as well as rapid response in future disasters, for the entire Greater Houston area.

Next . . .

A two-day Leadership Training Program scheduled for March 9-10, 2018 will equip 20 of the most gifted, committed participants to provide ongoing supervision in this model to their trained colleagues in Houston. This leadership team will act as ambassadors for the program and will provide ongoing mind-body programs within their institutions. This training will assist them in creating a strong and cohesive network of support for all trainees and will provide the foundation for expanding the work throughout the Greater Houston area.

“After Harvey, I was unable to cry; I was so afraid my tears would be overwhelming. Today I was able to cry- but they were tears of joy and relief for the compassion and support shared through this process. Thank you CMBM and your healing work.”

– LaVonne Carlson, UT Health HCPC

Expected Results

Each trainee will provide an intensive 8-week long MBSG experience to a minimum of 40 of the most traumatized Houstonians within the first year – a total at least 4,000 beneficiaries.  In addition, each trainee will reach several hundred more Houstonians through MBS Workshops and individual and family sessions.  This means that CMBM-Collaborative trainees will have a positive impact on the lives of 10,000-20,000 Houstonians in the first year alone.

The leadership team and the trainees with whom they continue to work will provide ongoing enhancement to the programs of all participating organizations.  They will as well have the potential to be the foundation for the kind of far-larger training and service program that CMBM has helped to develop in other traumatized communities.

Evidence from studies published in peer-reviewed journals strongly suggests that children and adults who participate in the mind-body skills groups will experience significant decreases in levels of stress, PTSD and depression and increases in functionality, hope and optimism.  This means that thousands of Houstonians will continue to use these simple, practical tools to restore balance to their lives, cope with the challenges of recovery, and enhance their long-term health and wellbeing.  This program, which will bring together leaders from throughout the Houston area, may also serve as a catalyst for collaboration and community-building.

The CMBM Model

The Center for Mind-Body Medicine’s model directly addresses the debilitating symptoms of post-traumatic stress and provides significant protection against its long-term negative effects. As participants in CMBM programs use the techniques of self-awareness and self-care that we teach, they overcome the feelings of helplessness and hopelessness that follow the widespread devastation of natural disasters. Children as well as adults are able to balance the fight or flight and stress responses that trauma has provoked, relax their bodies and quiet their minds.

CMBM’s program of meditative self-care reduces the anxiety and aggression that often follow trauma, enhances concentration, and improves sleep. Participants are more able to make clear decisions about how to renew their lives as well as rebuild their homes. They are better able to focus at work and in school.
The small group support that the CMBM model provides is crucial to helping survivors of natural disasters and other tragedies to overcome the feelings of isolation that trauma often induces. They likely promote what has been described as the “tend and befriend” response, a mechanism of psychological and biological support that reduces stress hormones, enhances bonding, and lays the foundation for social cooperation and collaboration.

The CMBM program has repeatedly demonstrated, in published peer-reviewed research, 80% reductions in symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, significant improvement in symptoms of depression, and enhanced hopefulness, optimism, and compassion for others. (See published studies: Treatment of PSTD in Post-War KosovoHealing PTSD in Gaza; and a list of published research on the CMBM model).

The CMBM model is grounded in self-awareness, self-care and mutual support. It is an educational approach that focuses on individual and community strengths and capacity for self-reliance, rather than on psychopathology.  It gives participants an opportunity to share their trauma and encourages them to discover their psychological strengths and sources of support. It is non-stigmatizing and has proven effective with people of all ages and levels of education in a variety of cultures and populations.  It teaches a variety of easy-to-use, evidence-based techniques that have been proven to decrease symptoms of stress and anxiety.  These techniques include meditation, guided imagery, and biofeedback; self-expression in words, drawings, and movement; and group support. CMBM’s use of small groups promotes an environment of social support which research has repeatedly shown to be the single most effective intervention in the process of healing trauma and building community resilience.

CMBM uses a “train the trainer” approach.  Its initial training gives caregivers the tools they need to understand and help themselves: it has repeatedly been demonstrated to increase professional competence, decrease burnout and enhance commitment to helping others.  After the initial training, participants begin to use what they have learned with the clients, patients, parishioners and students they serve.  In the advanced training, participants learn how to use the model with small groups and in classroom and workshop settings, as well as with individuals and families.  The supervision and mentorship that follows guides participants in integrating everything they have learned into their ongoing work in the schools, clinics, hospitals, churches and social service organizations that employ them, making it available to their colleagues as well as to those they serve.

This comprehensive and intensive program of training and mentorship insures that the CMBM model will be sustainable through local service delivery systems.  For example, in post-war Kosovo, the CMBM model has become an integral part of the country’s community mental health services where it is available to the entire population of two million.  In Gaza, where CMBM has trained 900 clinicians, educators and community leaders, program graduates have successfully served 160,000 children and adults through more than 200 schools, mental health centers, clinics, and social service organizations – through U.N., government and international and local non-governmental organizations.

About The Center for Mind-Body Medicine

The Center for Mind-Body Medicine (CMBM), a 501(c)3 organization based in Washington, DC, is a world-renowned trauma relief organization with extensive experience helping communities to recover and heal from population-wide trauma as a result of natural disaster and war. Since 1998, CMBM has partnered with leaders, advocates and caregivers to support healing in New Orleans post-Katrina; in Haiti after the devastating 2010 earthquake; in post-war Kosovo; in Gaza and Israel during the ongoing conflict; with Syrian refugees in Jordan; and with U. S. active duty military, veterans and their families.

Learn More About CMBM