Jessica Waters, also known as Jess, from Sacred Pathways Therapeutic Arts, is a therapist and artist who has dedicated her life to the study of the arts, psychology, education, and healing. With over 35 years of experience, she has developed a unique approach to therapy that integrates creativity, mindfulness, and spirituality to support individuals on their healing journey. MysticMag finds out more.
Can you tell us about your background and what led you to create Sacred Pathways Therapeutic Arts?
My background is pretty eclectic but centered in spirituality, psychology, alternative medicine, the expressive arts and education. I have over 35 years of experience professionally in education and human services including being a public school teacher, a school based resiliency professional, trauma and resiliency professional development lead and instructor, a registered psychotherapist and a credentialed addictions counselor in a number of states. My academic credentials include degrees in education, applied psychology, divinity, and metaphysical sciences along with certifications and specializations work in the areas of positive psychology, SEL, specific areas and methods of clinical trauma treatment, somatics, expressive arts therapy, sound healing, endocannabinoids and integrated medicine in mental health and specific training specializations in wellness and women’s work in recovery.
I also am a E-RYT200-500 from Yoga Alliance with numerous areas of yoga certification but specializing in Accessible Yoga and Yoga For All embodying a health at any size philosophy and a certified level 3 somatic regulation practitioner from Linda Thai. My spiritual path has spanned many different forms of Christianity, New Thought, Buddhism, Mystic studies, Quakerism, indigenous and earth based practices. I am also a HeartMath certified provider in both Resilient Heart (Trauma Informed HeartMath) and HeartMath for Stress, Anxiety and Dysregulation. This is core to all of my services and programs. My work and study in trauma treatment is grounded in the work of Dr’s Bessel van der Kolk, Richard Rhoton, Eric Gentry, Peter Levine, Bruce Perry, Cathy Malchiodi, Jamie Marich, Janinna Fischer, Steven Porges and Dan Siegel.
Sacred Pathways was originally founded by myself as Creative Mind Health with a focus on integrated, interdisciplinary, holistic, trauma sensitive mental wellness offerings including psychotherapy where licensed and coaching across the U.S. This was in response to working and experiencing systems that were not meeting the needs of clients, nor embracing alternative and mind/body/spirit methods, what I like to call the “trinity” of healing. My own personal journey in healing from complex, chronic trauma stemming from school violence incidents that I experienced and multiple sexual traumas has been immeasurably altered from this philosophy, in the positive.
I have spent most of my life, since the Columbine Massacre in 1999 studying trauma and exploring different routes of traditional and nontraditional healing, engaging in my own healing work. With the onset of the pandemic, it forced me to focus full time on developing my private practice. My focus has always been working with trauma informed, mindfulness based, expressive arts therapy combined with yoga and qi gong along with lifestyle modifications and supplement support for mood. Through my own journey and continuing education, particularly in the Curanderismo traditions of Mexico and Latin America, I embraced fully my mediumship through accepting that I’m a Curandera Espiritu (a female healer that works through mystic connection) and began to learn how to utilize that effectively within client sessions. My own personal art reflected this channel as well and put me on a fast track to developing confidence in the messages I receive. While I’ve been a medium my entire life, like many people, it was a process of becoming confident and developing the skills of working with energies and energy healing practices that is a continuous journey. The Sacred practices in the ancient wisdom of Curanderismo was a natural fit in uniting all these different disciplinesI use since the practice and various other earth based and indigenous practices naturally embrace and utilize them in medicine and healing ways from basically the beginning of time.
So to answer your question, I created Sacred Pathways to reflect all of the therapeutic arts that I utilize in my practice and honor the journey that each of my clients takes in the healing process in mind, body and spirit.
How do you successfully incorporate the arts, science and ancient wisdom into your work? Can you give us an example of a successful case where ‘art’ therapy was particularly effective?
My process with clients is tailored to their specific individual needs and what we find, together, that they respond and connect with. I feel this is essential, not a one size fits all model of healing or treatment. So, for instance it is common for me to provide psychoeducation on the neuroscience of trauma, how energy medicine works, therapeutic processes, ect. In the Curanderismo tradition, as well as in energy medicine, which I believe has been a part of Shamanism, Animism from all ancient cultures around the world, I utilize different practices within the session as well.
In Curanderismo, we call heart to heart conversations “platica’s”. This is more than a regular “therapy” session where one talks and the therapist listens and nods taking notes. This stems from building deeper connections and the ability to honor the Divine in clients, establishing a felt sense of connection, understanding and relatability. You have to develop trust along the way as well. For some clients a session would include platica, psychoeducation, mindfulness or energy medicine and guided imagery, and processing responses through therapeutic expressive arts that are intermodal (visual art, music, writing, movement) as well as supplement, culinary or herbal/plant medicine supports that can assist them in the changes they want to see.
After the session the client and I decide on what “homework” we both feel would support their processing and the thinking, lifestyle or behavior changes that they want. My client’s are with me on average for at least a year meeting with me weekly or biweekly, however I do have a few clients that come once a month for maintenance and periodic support, limpia’s (energy cleansings), etc.
My clientele all come with complex, chronic trauma issues. Some come for insomnia, others for anxiety or addiction recovery, but the underlying core element nearly always includes chronic, complex, developmental trauma. I have had several successful cases where therapeutic expressive arts have assisted in creating nervous system regulation with clients struggling with trauma, anxiety and panic as well as opening a portal to the unconscious to get to root issues.
For many of my clients, from the start of our sessions, we engage in simple therapeutic art processes that ease anxieties about opening up and talking about hard things. Frequently these are mindful doodling, stitchwork, coloring and movement.
What kind of therapeutic workshops or programs do you offer at Sacred Pathways Therapeutic Arts? How do these programs support the healing and growth of individuals and communities?
I offer a variety of therapeutic workshops and certification programs that are grounded in trauma informed, mindfulness based (MBSR, MMFT, Insight Meditation and Yogic Tradition), therapeutic and expressive arts that range from developing mindful and meditative art practices and facilitator training to therapeutic grief processing workshops, full and new moon rituals with therapeutic mandala making, stitch meditation and sacred stitchwork path practices and so on. All of these include metaphysical elements and are unique to the programs I offer.
These programs support healing and growth of individuals through their participation and exploration in developing their own mindful and meditative art practices, an understanding of themselves better, developing coping skills and self regulation.
From there, my students in these courses and programs take their shared knowledge and take it to their communities and families. In my opinion, even the students that do not create workshops to teach these methods or lead experiences impact their families and communities through a deeper understanding of themselves,developing their own mindfulness practices and working with self regulation that impacts co-regulation with others. It’s a win-win situation.
Can you talk about the connection between spirituality and healing and how you integrate spirituality into your therapeutic approach?
My practice is foundationally spiritual in my perspective because I believe energy is spirit. Breath is spirit. Energy is spirit. Connecting to earth, feeling the breeze on our face or reveling in the warmth and energy of the sun is spiritual and a spiritual practice. I have studied multiple practices and religions, throughout my life and my conclusion is that all paths lead to one place…. The energy of the universe that is unconditionally Divine and that we are born of, making us Divine and Sacred beings.
We forget that in this human condition and our various social structures, influences and challenges. I do not believe that healing can happen successfully without inclusion of spirit. By that I do not mean religion. I mean what I just mentioned. Without energy work of some kind, opening to the possibility of experience with the Divine energy that creates and created all. For some of my clients this connection is easily achieved through spending time in nature, centering themselves. This can be through connecting with livestock or animals, gardening connecting with earth or even intentional sits and tree hugging (literally). For me, it’s important to be that vessel that spirit energy flows through and have my personal energy cleansed prior to every client, I engage in ceremony, I engage in limpia’s (traditional cleansing and healing rituals) and prayer, so I meet the client in my Sacredness which allows me to hear them and also, understand the spirit messages that are being presented.
I affirm their Divinity and Sacredness and quite frankly, it’s incredibly impactful on my clients to know that I authentically see them as Sacred beings, honor their path and experiences of who they are and celebrate that in them. Many times, my therapeutic approach with spirit is simply reminding them through leading them in journey’s, visualizations or energy practices that reconnect them to Source that they already know, but has been buried through experiences in this life or questioned.
How do you measure the success of your therapy programs? What kind of feedback have you received from clients about the impact of your services on their lives?
Like any psychotherapist I write treatment plans with goals and objectives. I do this with coaching as well as I feel it’s good practice. I follow standard practices for mental health that way. I work with the client collaboratively on that. I assess through normal APA approved psychotherapy measures like the GAD7 for Anxiety or the PHQ9 for depression, etc. This gives me a baseline. I also scale their mood and symptoms nearly every session to measure levels of improvement and regression.
Most importantly however, is the anecdotal data through the client responses, their self reports. Seeing changes in their lives, having clients that weep in thanks because they are able to leave their home and regain their lives after being homebound with severe panic, having clients find happiness and joy after being stuck in the tar of deep depression, helping abuse victims regain their sense of self, retrieve their soul and fully embody the true Sacredness of who they are during the journey of escaping abusive relationships. These are moments that are humbling to me and where I am so blessed to be a channel for this healing practice.
The feedback I have received from my clients includes amazing gratitude for helping them make sense of their life, becoming free of chains they didn’t understand or realize were central to their issues and most importantly, the amazing gratitude they shower me with when they let me know I saved their life, quite literally in some cases.
My current caseload consists of 94% of my clients who have been with me at least a year and a few that have been with me since I opened. I believe that we magnetize ourselves to clients who can embrace and be open to this type of healing. It is work and requires work on both the client and my part, but the life changing experiences clients have reported receiving from my practices are abundant and as I said, amazingly humbling to me. One might question, “If your practices are so successful then why are clients still with you?”. The short answer is, because they want to continue their personal “trinity” (mind/body/spiritual) journey with my assistance and that is a high honor.
What can you tell us about your own spiritual journey that you feel resonates with your clients?
I’ve shared a bit about that throughout this interview, but one of the biggest components of my journey that resonates with my clients is my own personal experience with understanding that trauma (most of my clients are healing from various traumas) is a spiritual, psychic attack at some level as well as mental and physical.
Acknowledging that, being open to whatever language a client identifies with calling spirit (God, Source, Creator, Goddess, etc) is accepted and Source. We focus so much on separating ourselves in society and mental health from spirit, Espiritu, energy, and the activities of searching for it…. Ultimately, the activity to connect to it is getting ourselves to a place where we can actually hear. Not in our monkey mind of anxiety and task orientation, but in the center of knowing in the soul. I had to learn that though contemplative practice, my elders and spiritual teachers including Flor DeMayo, Erika Beaunaflor, Richard Rohr, Joseph Rael, Jose Lucero, Asha Frost and most importantly through opening my heart, mind and soul to receive and listen to the Creator, Divine.
If you would like to find out more about Jess, visit https://www.sacredpathwaysart.com/