May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and The Grown-Ass Woman’s Guide is committed to sharing resources to help grown-ass women everywhere get the support they need.
Meet Rachelle McCloud, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, Mental Health Therapist, and Emotional Wellness coach. Through years of successfully helping clients move their anxiety, depression, and trauma disorders into remission, she has developed a program that empowers people to skillfully get rid of symptoms and heal.
Jackie: I would love to talk about women over 40 specifically; and how you are seeing anxiety, depression, and trauma show up in their everyday lives.
Rachelle: I have the luxury that I get to peek into people’s lives when they really want change. But what I see when people come to me is a lot of the hidden stuff: a lot of fear, a lot of lack of confidence, even in the most confident women, loneliness, numbness, isolation of feeling like they have lived most of their life disconnected and they don’t want to do it anymore.
If you are wondering what kind of support is available for you or someone you love this is for you.
Tuning into Yourself
Rachelle helps us understand how the brains of women over 40 really work, and how it’s never too late to heal even from events we never imagined possible.
Rachelle: Women over 40 want real human connection. They want real passion. They want stuff, you know? And, it’s showing up in lack of interest in their life; loss of motivation, worry, angry outbursts, challenges with connecting with their kids. Fear, and worry about what they’re giving to their kids. It’s exhaustion, lack of satisfaction and really knowing something’s not right.
And, wanting to see some big changes. What I see a lot when they reach out to me, is they’ve read trauma books, they’ve read The Body Keeps the Score. They’ve been listening to podcasts. They’ve been reading and researching and finding out things they never knew like narcissism and codependence and the effect of trauma on the brain. So, by the time they get to me, they’re like, ‘I don’t just want more information, I really want to do something about this. I want to actually do the work.’
Rachelle: We are interacting with the world around us based on our nervous system, and we are giving our children our nervous system. So, we can say all the things we want to say, but as our children are watching us, they’re picking up what our nervous system is saying. They’re mapping our minds based on their own nervous system with our nervous system. And so, to heal anxiety, depression, or trauma disorder, not only do we need to heal emotional wounds but we really need to regulate our nervous systems, heal our nervous systems, re-pattern, and recondition them.
When we are doing all of this stuff together, cohesively and systematically, we really get some big changes showing up in women. It’s really cool when you start to see it show up in their children. Women over 40, when they do their inner work, they’re creating massive shifts all around them for generations. When I start working with parents of children, I see the shifts. I see the kids getting what they need. I see mom and dad being emotionally available and connecting and attuning with their children.
Many of us come from times where our parents were too busy or too traumatized or too emotionally or mentally ill to really connect with us that we didn’t get attunement. They weren’t checking in with us. A lot of the work is to turn into yourself and start looking at stuff and start tuning into yourself. All of a sudden, all that healing starts to come on board. The brain is like, ‘Ooh, you’re looking at me.’ And, there’s shifting and there’s changing. They really attune to themselves, and they can really take that information in with them as they go about their life. And, what’s interesting is that they’re using their nervous system and their subconscious programming to start teaching the world to attune to them too
And so, it’s really great to have skills to work with that because, all of a sudden, it feels like all eyes are on you; and that’s where we can sometimes want to sabotage and go run and hide, right?
Jackie: Wow. And so, when you were describing this “woman over 40” and how she’s feeling and what she’s going through, it hit me in all the feels because not only have I felt many of those things; the women around me, the women in The Grown-Ass Woman’s Guide community, some of my best girlfriends, sisters, we are all feeling this level of disconnection that you explained.
emotion as power
We’ve been taught to, ‘suck it up buttercup.’ And, if you have anxiety, if you have depression, if you have past traumas, that’s sort of a life sentence, and you could take medication, you can go to therapy and you could talk and all of that, but as Rachelle explains, you can actually put these feelings into remission
Rachelle: The brain is flexible, and is ready to rebuild, take stuff down, and build new things. Brains can build anything they want. Like, ‘okay, brain, let’s build some connection, go.’ And, all those neural pathways will show up. It’s just about helping your brain do its work.
That’s where a lot of us get stuck. We didn’t have this understanding of the brain’s process for healing itself, updating, working through subconscious programming, or how the subconscious mind is involved with that stuff and involved with our everyday life. We just thought, ‘oh, well, this doesn’t work.’
But the truth of the matter is it works beautifully when you understand where this process gets blocked, why it gets blocked, and really jump in there and support your brain with that. And, it’s very, very simple. The part of this healing process that gets blocked is where the emotions come up and meet the brain, meet the survival system; and not the thinking center.
Emotions actually have a very difficult time getting into the thinking center. And, the emotions, if you think of them as packages of information about who you are and what you’ve experienced, you can see that it’s really important for those guys to get to the front, to mix in with your ability to analyze them, your ability, to make sense of all that information, your ability to convert that information into something usable, your ability to match that information with your morals and your beliefs.
Emotion is also power, it’s going to empower anything it touches. And so, the more emotional we are, this is this big secret that I don’t think we understand as women, or even as humans in general, is that the more emotion you have, the more power you have. Emotion is energy.
So for example when you are about to get on a call and your stomach hurts, that’s your stomach expressing emotion. And so, that goes through the nervous system and needs to be carried to the front of the brain so you can understand why your stomach is bothering you in relation to this call. As it comes up through your nervous system it starts registering the brain as either pleasure or pain. If it’s pleasure or some pain, your brain will allow it to pass through. If the emotion that comes up registers beyond your pain threshold levels, it turns into, ‘Hey, this is a threat level of pain,’ now your survival system jumps on.
So, if it can’t make it through the brain’s process to get to the front of the brain, it stays and fuels the back of the brain, the animal part of us. And, that’s not a thinking or reasoning center. That’s where we get the shutdown, the fight, the flight, the freeze, the faint. So, yeah. People are taking the blame for being just lazy, but no, that’s actually a brain function issue that can be resolved. And, it’s fun to resolve. It’s easy to resolve. How many of us find ourselves fawning over people and appeasing people and pleasing people? And, then we shift out of there, we come out of that survival state, our front part of their brain turns back on, it’s like, ‘what were you doing? Why didn’t you stick up for yourself?’
Jackie : Right. Right.
Rachelle: It’s because there was emotion that came up, it lit up the back of the brain; and off we did our animal instincts, whatever they were.
And, this creates a whole different process in our body that actually shuts down digestion, shuts down much of the healing functions, detoxification, rest, relaxation. This is why many of us have challenges with rest and relaxation. Stuff is coming up and our survival system is picking it up as dangerous, even if we are not registering it as dangerous.
And so, it’s like all this random stuff happening in your life based on old, animalistic instinct in programming. We don’t get a choice in that part of the brain. You know you’re in the right part of the brain when you have an option, when you say, “I really want to scream right now, and I think I’m going to take a moment and do a little bit of work.” You’re at least up in the front of your brain, moving things around.
That’s a really good sign if you start to have options. The survival system does not give you options. It’s designed to not need thinking, not need a reason to be able to save you from whatever dangerous thing is out there. The lions, tigers, and bears, and all the things we’d run into, we don’t need to be thinking when we’re being chased by a lion.
That’s wonderful when it’s appropriate, but some of our survival systems think that some of these emotions are lions and tigers and bears. And, some of that is because it’s stuck emotion, stuck trauma that hasn’t made it through our system yet, but it’s surfacing.
We can be shifted into a survival state without our thinking center really even understanding. That’s one of the reasons it’s so important to do our trauma work and healing and attune to ourselves and pay attention because our body and our mind will let us know when it needs some support.
When it comes to trauma, the brain decides
So, let’s talk about trauma for a second, because at this point in our lives, over-40, many of us have experienced trauma. But when we’re talking about trauma, are we talking about just traumatic events, big things that happen in our lives? how do we decide what is trauma, and what isn’t?
Rachelle: The brain decides what it can get over or not. If you’re walking down a street and you kick a curb, this might be frustrating for some people, it might bruise them. And, some people, it might break a bone.
You’re not supposed to say ‘Well, it shouldn’t have happened like that so we’re not going to treat this like it’s a broken bone, even though it’s a broken bone’. There are many small things that happen throughout childhood, even with the best parents, that can break an emotional bone, can really create a massive wound.
When we don’t get the support we need, that can be traumatic for the brain. That’s one reason brains can’t process what they need to process to heal and move on is that not enough support was provided in the moment of the trauma, right?
Jackie: I think that’s so important to point out that we all have our experience, and it looks like the experience could be the same as someone else, but the response is extremely different. And, we don’t know if that’s a bruise or a broken bone, and maybe taking a second to acknowledge that everyone’s experience is a little bit different.
Rachelle: Yes, exactly.
Jackie: I think that’s so important. So, number one, you completely nailed how we’re feeling. Number two, you’ve given us hope because we don’t have to think about somebody with PTSD, ‘oh, well, they have PTSD,’ and that’s just a lifelong diagnosis and you just try to live with it. But not only are you saying that that can be healed, but you have clients who have healed in a very short time.
Rachelle: Yeah. Most of the people that come to me have Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and are shocked when I diagnose them with that.
Jackie: How does that look in some of these people?
Rachelle: Flashbacks, sometimes hourly, sometimes daily, inability to sleep nightmares, avoiding things that would be upsetting. But boy, that one can become monstrous where you’re avoiding people, then you’re avoiding places, then you’re avoiding thoughts, then you’re avoiding whole areas in your own thinking.
I see it show up very massively in people; Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, lots of nervous system dysregulation, just over-stimulation – can’t be touched, feeling restless or jumpy – exaggerated startle response, all of those things hint to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
And then, you know, you open up their history and they’ve had anything from sexual abuse to domestic violence in the home as a child. Gosh, that is a war; you’re living in a war zone and you’re supposed to develop there.
Some of us learned to, ‘let’s keep joy low; otherwise, bad things will happen.’ Right? So, we need to get in there and change that and help the brain resolve that, so joy is allowed to flow freely. I started implementing different strategies where I would actually hand the interventions over to the clients, and I use activating our survival system and making us act like animals.
Jackie: Right. And, what kind of interventions are you using specifically? Are there certain modalities that you use, a combination of modalities?
Rachelle: Yeah. I use Emotional Freedom Techniques; interventions that work specifically with the survival system, because that is the point where emotionally they move through the system or get blocked, be pressed back, or are used for survival strategies. And so, everything I do is based on grabbing your survival system and rocking it like a baby, not really, but in its language, that’s really what’s happening.
The interventions also work to bring down the pain levels of the emotion that’s surfacing. So, we can really do a lot of work to bring down the level of intensity.
We call this desensitizing of past events, traumatic events because if we can get that intensity down, the survival system never gets activated about, ‘what is that? What is this here, it’s going to kill us?’ No, actually, it’ll allow the trauma to pass through to the part of the brain that can release it, understand it, and recreate with it and reorganize us in a way that actually builds function, instead of that memory being something that constantly is tearing us down.
How do Rachelle’s Interventions Work?
Rachelle mixes and matches a variety of therapies when working with her clients, some we can even learn and practice ourselves. She says the combination of therapies, plus training people to practice some of these modalities on their own throughout the day, can turn what would normally require years and years of therapy, into healing in just months or even weeks.
Rachelle: I found that using my method, it takes 120 to 300 hours of specific and targeted brain work to resolve a disorder; the less childhood and developmental trauma you have, you’re around the 120-mark. The more complex your childhood is, we’re looking more at the 300-hour mark, and sometimes more, especially if people have ongoing trauma, like losing a house, losing a marriage, losing a job, or health conditions.
If you stay in weekly sessions with a therapist or whoever you’re working with, that’s two to six years, you know? And so, what I found is that if I can get people trained in doing this work two hours a day we can get people through disorders in two to six months instead of two to six years. I’ve made my curriculum available as a self-study program so people can really do whatever pace they want. There is a right pace for everyone.
Let me tell you about the interventions. So, Emotional Freedom Techniques, Thought Filled Therapy, Energy Medicine, and EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing). I have found that not all of these are the right fit for people. I’m trained in multiple techniques and I train people to use these for themselves We spend the first session matching interventions. I want to see some specific brain function changes while we’re using them.
Usually, we’ll pick something small, just a practice target. I want to see the issue move through your brain’s healing process. We know that’s happening when people start having new thoughts about it when they start shifting into problem-solving around it; those are the final stages of the front part of the brain. I’m constantly evaluating because if one intervention doesn’t work, let’s swap the other one in there. These interventions take very little time to train and I can give people little projects that create massive changes in their nervous system conditioning with just the basic skills and training. I teach them how to work with specific parts of their brain or subconscious mind. I teach them how to access information from the body, and make sure that information gets through the healing pathways and also the survival system. And so, when I started handing off these interventions and started training clients, giving them specific homework, the next thing I know, I’m teaching them how to process traumatic memories. They got a lot more work done than just when they were with me in sessions.
So, it was really empowering them to heal in a much quicker way, and then also to support their brain where they needed it, which is in their actual life. They would break it out, open it up, help their brain through it, and then be like, ‘oh, I know what I’m going to do.’ And, then they’d come back and tell me about how they actually paused before yelling at their kid; and what they did instead because their thinking center was able to turn back on. Because when we go into survival modes, the brain shuts down our thinking center to about 20% of function. I saw clients doing that and then how empowered they felt and how confident they were feeling because they were actually creating real change. And, now they’re like having full-out, you know, interactions with their subconscious mind. They’re engaging their subconscious mind, having some conversations, and sending their subconscious mind on some really powerful healing missions. EFT, also known as tapping, is working with the Meridian system. We have all these electrical systems that we’re now starting to really learn about. When we’re tapping on different points, these are part of our electrical system, our body’s energetic system; and we’re actually tapping points on our body. What’s wonderful about this is this is exactly in the native language of the survival system, And so, it can actually translate and receive the messages of, ‘Hey, we’re okay, we’re safe. We’re calm. We can stand down and let this healing happen.’ That’s the powerful piece in there, but also, it works to desensitize the emotional distress.
So, you can take a stressor in your day, think about it, and be tapping on it while you’re thinking about it. EFT has a lot of talking cues where you talk about your stressor; and by the time, you’re done tapping, maybe it was a seven and it was tight in your chest. And, by the time you’re finished, it’s a two or a one, or you can’t find it all. And, you feel more relaxed because you’re supporting the ability to move this stuff through. That’s just the beginning of the awesome party because once it gets to the front of the brain, that’s where the reconstruction goes; and that’s where finally your brain can make what you need for your life.
Energy Medicine has us working with chakras, meridians, Tibetan rings, our aura, and things like that. There are nine systems. Integrating those with this has been phenomenal. I really feel like it’s been instrumental in helping people repair things like joy, and repair their interconnection. I have them do a daily energy routine right in the beginning because it’s so regulating to their whole nervous system. I mean, it does so many fabulous things. I’m also looking at it because there are multiple little interventions in there that some people accidentally find, ‘if I do this right here, it stops my panic attacks.’ Sometimes we can’t find the root issue right away, but we want people to have the relief of not going into a full panic attack, while we’re kind of digging around and trying to figure out what’s going on in there. Sometimes just applying an intervention where panic attacks are happening and doing that consistently enough, I find it’s usually two or three, four times, sometimes that will resolve them entirely.
Rachelle: Sometimes it’s about working to find the right one. But I know that Emotional Freedom Techniques has a high likelihood of breaking that thing off, so that’s what I will have people start with. The next one is an intervention called Collarbone Breathing. This one is huge and phenomenal. I feel like it’s like a big sledgehammer. When you have a difficult symptom, you just kind of conk it with the sledgehammer, you know? I teach all these in my Facebook group for free because I’m like, ‘go heal yourself.’
Those are the, like, the go-ones that I put people with the first and that will try out on panic attacks, but once they’re in there and the panic attack is on and they’re trying them and it’s not working, I want them to have some backup ones because we don’t know how long a panic attack will last. Some people are in panic attacks for like a phenomenally long time, days, or they go from a panic attack straight to dissociation where the feeling of not being safe just persists and continues.
But when we find the right match, it’s really, really wonderful because they can really start to count on it. And, not only are we counting on it, but we’re actually doing brain work with how our brain is functioning during a panic attack. And, that’s priceless because we can really have influence over how the brain is functioning in the moments when it’s struggling the most.
Jackie: I don’t think we can have any conversation about mental health without mentioning boundaries. Rachelle sees boundaries as an important piece to leading a fully functional life.
Rachelle: I really teach a lot of work on boundaries and how to look at boundaries in each moment that they show up in people’s lives. Usually, when it’s not functioning well, it’s because the survival system came on and redirected your healthy boundaries. We have such wonderful, healthy boundaries they’re just covered by trauma and by some beliefs and emotions. If we pull those things off, all of a sudden, there it is. And, it’ll show up and people can say their boundary and communicate it in multiple different styles, and all of a sudden, that’s working. I started developing interventions or strategies for that. And, then people were using them and they were healing themselves even further and also healing their relationships.
Will it work for me?
Rachelle incorporates so many different interventions and modalities but you may still be thinking ‘I’ve done therapy and it doesn’t work for me’, what does she want you to know?
Rachelle: I would say that sometimes it’s not that it’s not working because usually if you are using a mind-body intervention, you’re directly communicating with your survival system. Sometimes you’re not doing the right thing at the right time. You know, sometimes we are trying to do this memory work where we actually need to be doing function work. Sometimes we need to go on a shame hunt, and we’re over here being angry. Let’s work through some anger, and then let’s see if we can jump over to the shame hunt. It’s a lot about understanding what makes up a whole disorder and meeting the specific needs.
Like, for instance, positive affirmations are what I’ve been writing about lately. They initiate very, very powerful brain work. The subconscious mind hears your affirmation and, it immediately gets to work at electric speed in trying to come into alignment. ‘Hey, this is what we’re aligning to now, go.’ And, it’s like, ‘yeah, let’s do it.’ But then, it starts running into every reason why you’re not already in alignment with it. It’s a problem-solving center. So, it brings up this problem that is keeping you out of alignment with this awesome affirmation. Like, I’m worthy of people’s time and energy or something. Here’s this chunk that comes up and the subconscious mind needs your thinking center to work its magic on it. But the chunk that may come up is painful.
And so, it’s starting to register as pain, ‘Hey, there’s pain happening in the system.’ It immediately goes to it, pushes it back down, and gets it out. You’re in a survival state, all because you were trying to do some subconscious programming work. And, now that thing that was brought up is back down and you don’t know this is happening, so you use your positive affirmation again. And, it runs right into that thing again. So, it comes up and argues with you. I don’t teach that strategy until the fourth week because I want people to understand how to work with their survival system. And, working with affirmations is very concrete.
What we want to do is we want to take that thing and make sure it gets you the healing pathways. We use the interventions on that, and then after that gets fully through, your thinking center makes sense of it because now it’s like, ‘I don’t actually need this anymore. This is really good. This is brain trash. This is out. I’m going to keep this.’
We can actually use positive affirmations to drill in specifically to all the trauma work, blocking us from aligning to and integrating a new affirmation. So, this helps us not wander around in the brain, trying to do all this healing work and not actually creating tangible change for ourselves
Jackie: Because it’s ultimately what we’re looking for; lasting change, an improvement from within. I think for so long, it was all about everyone outside, ‘this person says this, that person did this.’ And, it was a response to external forces versus getting more connected internally, because then those external forces don’t really have the same influence.
Rachelle: That’s right. But once a person experiences that, that’s when it’s really life-changing, right? That’s when there’s so much gratitude. And then, all of a sudden, they’re like, ‘oh my gosh, did you know that people can disagree with you, and you can just be fine and keep doing your own thing?’
Jackie: Shocking, isn’t it?
Jackie: And, is this something that you arrive at; a destination, or is this a lifelong practice?
Rachelle: I look at this as like, basically what happens if you’ve got anxiety, depression, or trauma disorder, you basically have a lot of stuff in your house that hasn’t been able to be processed and moved through. So, you’ve got this stuff that’s junk and gold back there that has to be cleaned out, similar to a hoarder’s house.
So, my process is doing the work to take out the stuff and make the house livable. And then, if we want to live in and enjoy the house there are things you just need to do to take care of it.
If you don’t do those things, it will all come back. But a lot of times, because people have done 120 to 300 hours of specific and targeted brain work, they’re used to doing this much work. And, every once in a while, you have to replace the showerhead, you know? So, you got to do a little bit more work. It’s very similar to living in a house
Jackie: I like the idea of knowing that there’s healing, and there’s hope on the other side of it.
Rachelle: What I found after learning more about the brain and interpersonal neurobiology, is I really realized the brain is magic. The brain is totally equipped to resolve anything that we encounter. I help people process traumas that should have never occurred on this earth. And, when they’re done processing, it doesn’t hurt anymore. They’re grateful and wouldn’t change a thing.
If one doesn’t have a full-blown disorder, it still can be wonderful to see that there’s brain work going on in the challenges that we’re facing. And, really just do that piece of work. It doesn’t have to be a total system rebuild or a whole project, but this stuff still applies, their brain is still there. And, there’s so much we can do to shift and free ourselves from things. And, after living in it for a while, you start to feel the baggage. You start to be like, why am I doing this? And, sure enough, there’s always a reason.
The capability of our brain and our hearts and our whole system to really take this human existence and make something beautiful out of it is, it just blows my mind. It absolutely blows my mind.
While we didn’t do a deep dive into every modality Rachelle uses in her healing work, she offers free training on leading interventions for getting rid of symptoms, not just coping or managing them, releasing the baggage of anxiety, depression, and traumatic stress. Check out the links below on ways to reach out to Rachelle.
Until then, you are a grown-ass woman. Act accordingly.
Note: This episode is #2 in a four part series on mental health. Check out the first episode mental health advocate and content creator, Anna Pryzybylski. Anna shared her millennial perspective on mental health and the differences she sees in her generation vs those of us who are Gen X or older.
Rachelle McCloud LCSW, Mental Health Therapist and Emotional Wellness coach. Through years of successfully helping clients move their anxiety, depression, and trauma disorders into remission, Rachelle has developed a program that empowers people to skillfully get rid of symptoms and heal.