Cynthia Price and the Journey of a Well-Researched Interoceptive Trauma Program into a Community Center

Cynthia Price and the Journey of a Well-Researched Interoceptive Trauma Program into a Community Center

Massage practitioner and NIH National Advisory Council for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) member Cynthia Price, PhD, MA, LMP links clinical inventiveness, passion for addressing substance abuse and interpersonal trauma, and a large dollop of persistence to her NIH-supported research pedigree.

Price has a body of National Institute of Drug-Addiction-funded research for her “empirically-validated protocol.”  Now she’s looking to put her body-and-mind program to use not only through the massage practitioners with whom she partnered in research. She is working to expand the treatment to multiple other disciplines and healthcare challenges.

The protocol is one Price has developed over 20 years of working with individuals “who were disconnected from their bodies due to stress, trauma, and pain.” The borders she is presently pushing touch on clinical, professional scope, and translational issues.

A recent interview revealed how the potent mix of Price’s motivations landed the intriguing mind-and-body therapy in New Traditions: Families Recovering Together, a White Center, Washington not-for-profit center for women with drug and chemical dependency. In over 80% of women, patterns of sexual abuse and domestic violence are linked with substance issues,

“Most of these women,” shares Price, “don’t know how they feel.” She referenced her “mindful awareness in body-oriented therapy (MABT)” 8-week protocol: “A lot of what we teach is to know how they feel, and what to do with that. They don’t even know there is an emotional component. MABT teaches skills to identify sensory – interoceptive awareness and related skills for self-care and emotion regulation.”

Price developed the MABT approach – an interoceptive awareness training — to help her clients process somatic awareness and experiences. A key influence on her was the experiential psychotherapy approach called Focusing through which one brings attention to the “felt sense.”

Only, as a massage therapist with an MA in psychology, Price came to the mind-body connection as a body-centered practitioner. MABT is meant to facilitate embodiment, to promote healthy behaviors and self-care, and to increase emotion regulation. She is promoting its dissemination through her Center for Mindful Body Awareness.

Among present beneficiaries are the clients at New Traditions, the small not-for-profit founded in 2008 by Japanese native Shino Harada, MSW.  “We really thought mainstream treatment for chemical dependency was not giving the women what they needed. It was more confrontational,”explains Harada. “There was more preaching than teaching skills. It wasn’t looking into family dynamics and social justice.” She adds: “We wanted something more holistic.”

Harada ticks off the three key components of New Directions’ social justice-oriented concept of holistic care:

  • Gender issues – such as employment and social expectations
  • Economic justice – including “hooking people up with resources in the community,” and
  • Racial justice – noting a study from her county government that showed the racial imbalances in family reunification, such as returns home for families divided through incarceration and domestic issues.

Harada recounts how Price approached New Traditions during her NIDA-funded research project. Harada was attracted to Price’s offering of “skill-based teaching of emotional regulation skills complemented our educational programs.”

The fit wasn’t immediately embraced by all New Directions’ clients. Harada shares the resistance from some of her African American clientele to being part of research. History has offered some poor examples. There were other cultural and racial barriers: “It can feel like massage and hippy stuff that doesn’t belong to them.” Then she added: “The fact that the researcher was a white female is an obstacle for some.”

Harada quickly ticked off examples of benefits she has witnessed. A white client with two children with a long history of sexual trauma “learned to be touched in a safer way and can now tell when she is distressed by listening to her body.” Another client, “one of the few African American women who have taken advantage” of the service, has been “helped to calm down and center.”

Price has come to believe that “the value in the therapy is “not specific to any conditions – it can help people with with many physical and, mental health challenges who would benefit from learning more skills for self-care and symptom management.” .” She’s researched the intervention with populations with HIV and recently received a grant to explore it with individuals on medication-assisted therapy. Price sees the next horizons for MABT as chronic pain, diabetes (“it needs a lot of self-management”) and eating disorders.

Nor does Price believe delivery should be limited to massage therapists. She reflects on how, as a massage practitioner, she “developed something for [her] discipline – but when you think about integration and optimal use, “it is challenging to disseminate MABT within the context of conventional care largely due to the lack of massage therapists integrated into our health care delivery systems and the lack of insurance coverage, particularly for Medicaid and Medicare clients.”

Price acknowledges that the therapy pushes the scope boundary of massage practitioners toward psychotherapy: “The body workers and other practitioners who are best at [MABT] are comfortable in the verbal environment.” She sees expansion toward physical therapists, occupational therapists, nurses, and fields such as medicine, chiropractic, acupuncture and naturopathic medicine, where touch is also in the scope.

Price celebrates the small program at New Traditions for its rapid translation of her research into practice: “Research made something valuable happen for a small community. This is an example of how we make baby steps toward better care through evidence.” Harada notes that New Traditions and Price will be “presenting the collaboration” during King County Recovery and Wellness Conference on August 9th at Seattle University.

Yet for the still small group of beneficiaries at the White Center not-for-profit to continue to access the service, Harada has a more practical challenge. She and Price are each looking for philanthropic partners to continue the MABT program.

And if availability of this body-mind connection is to expand to others without awaiting the typical 17-years for translation into practice, Harada highlights the “need to pitch Medicaid that recovery is not about ‘I’m going to quit’.” She expands: “Recovery is a wellness process, the whole connecting of the physical and mental health. They need to see that recovery is about holistic health.”