Choosing a Wellness Retreat

Late on a Friday morning last spring, I made the mistake of walking to work without putting the prescription orthotics in my shoes (I have arthritic feet). I recognized the lack of support as I bolted down the sidewalk, but didn’t turn around and take the time to go back home and properly outfit my shoes. Just a few hours later, my knees, legs, and feet were achy. Prescribing for myself as I am prone to do, I called myself a name, uttered several well-chosen profanities and curses concerning my sloth, and figured I would pay penance for several days due to my inattention.

As a psychologist practicing as a psychotherapist, I spend much of my workday in a very good rocking chair. At the end of that particular day, I said goodbye to my last client and rose from the chair. My right knee buckled and I fell hard, flipping elbow over teakettle, as my grandmother used to say, and landed in a twisted heap on the floor. My client came to the rescue — which was not in our therapeutic contract — picking me up, dusting me off, and helping me reorient to time and space. Not be outdone, I hobbled home on my sore haunches. “After all,” I said to myself, “I live right across the street.” The pain worsened over the weekend and within a few days, I visited an orthopedist who proceeded to stabilize, medicate, and inject the diagnosed collateral ligament damage in my knee. “Go home and sit down for a couple of weeks,” he ordered. “You’ll be better. But you must stay off of your knee.” I was cinched into a hard brace extending from ankle to thigh. With great aggravation and resistance, I complied and eventually recovered.

Now, to the point of this story. As I sat watching rerun episodes of Law and Order: SVU, stewing over the accident and angry that the immobilizing brace was more irritating than the injury itself, I realized I was not caring for myself physically, emotionally, or spiritually. I was grieving my wife’s recent death, working too much, and feeling aimless and lonely. So, as grace would have it, I fell, stopped to sit down and heal, and needed the time and pain to make sense of my circumstances. In my musings, I realized I needed help beyond my personal resources to help gain perspective. I would need experts to put old Humpty Dumpty back together again.

But where to get a combination of practitioners who could help heal all of me — mind, body, and spirit? Clients, peers and friends had attended retreats in the past, and I did what I knew to do — Google “wellness retreats.” The results had my laptop smoking. I was overwhelmed by the options and dismayed to not have a road map to guide my choices. Every website claimed I would lose weight, rejuvenate, and find inner peace through participation in combinations of hot yoga, gastrointestinal (GI) cleanses, reiki, shanti chants, vibrational tuning, sweat lodges, and the ingestion of kale. All for a few thousand dollars, plus “add-ons.”

Jackson Rainer, PhD, is a board-certified clinical psychologist who practices with the Care and Counseling Center in Atlanta. He specializes in work with individuals and families dealing with chronic illness. He is the editor of our “Pain Q&A” column.

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