After a rather busy day Wednesday, I met up with Jackie Henderson, a licensed mental health counselor and an all-around passionate person, to learn more about her holistic practice in Middletown, Rhode Island. When I first entered the building, I felt a little lost—anxious by my late arrival and confused by the plethora of doors—but then I heard a gentle voice call my name and turned to find Jackie, calm, smiling, and welcoming me in. She gathered me in her soft embrace and led me into a humble room. I’m careful not to say “office”, because the cold word doesn’t match her space. The room, much like her hug, gives off a warm and fuzzy vibe, furnished with soft cushions, modest lighting, and a shag rug. I felt immediately at ease within the appropriately named Safe Soul Center.
With the cozy rug between us, Jackie began to tell me her life story and why she recently decided to leave Newport Hospital in order to open her own personal practice. Jackie is incredibly empathetic and refreshingly real. She has always been driven to help others and make positive change, even as a young, introverted child. She describes herself as “the black sheep” of the family—the creative one who has always preferred to quietly observe and work off on her own on personal projects (I can relate).
At five years old, she fell in love with dance. She grew up immersed in the world of hip hop and jazz, and went on to share her passion for this creative outlet professionally, working for a youth outreach program called “Off The Curb”. She spent sixteen years working with teenagers, inspiring them through dance to grow as individuals and empowering them through policy to stay away from violence and drugs. When she felt ready to move on from this career, she started studying life coaching. She decided to go back to school to finish her bachelor’s and eventually received her master’s in Holistic Mental Health Counseling from Salve Regina.
After graduating, she got an internship in the behavioral unit at Newport’s Mental Health Hospital. The internship led to a salary position, working in recreation for the acute care patients, which she enjoyed for about two years. Recently though, she felt drawn to do something else—something outside of the restrictive walls of the hospital where she could expand her helpful reach. She decided to leave her secure, full-time position in order to follow a more creative path. Alongside fellow Salve graduate, Nina Soares, she opened up Safe Soul Center in Middletown two weeks ago and now offers a loving space where people can come to heal.
Jackie has many holistic healing tools she is eager to share with the world, but her main technique is something called Hakomi. Hakomi is a body-centered healing modality, created by a man named Ron Kurtz, that is effective for processing trauma. Using this method, Jackie invites her clients to first get into a comfortable seated or reclined position, offering pillows, blankets, and that awesome shag rug. She then guides her clients into a calm, meditative state where they can walk through old memories together—the client as the narrator, and Jackie as the anchoring guide.
The goal in this type of exploration is to unlock trauma that has been trapped in the body. Jackie asks her clients to be aware of their bodily reactions—to notice changes in heart rate, breathing, muscle tension, etc. as they uncover the past. She encourages her clients to let go of judgment—to release any resistance and instead welcome curiosity, empathy, and space for their feelings. As she continued to describe this method in her soothing, motherly voice, I felt my eyelids growing heavy and my body slipping down. I was ready to lie down on that fluffy rug and let her guide me anywhere.
Another tool Jackie uses to help clients understand and integrate the past is the “magical stranger” method. Using this healing technique, clients are once again invited to get comfortable and retell the past, but as they approach painful memories, she asks them to call upon the “magical stranger” for help. Much like divine intervention, the “magical stranger” is a made-up figure who positively affects the past by redoing painful memories and returning power to the client. The stories we tell ourselves—the stories that make up our lives—greatly affect who we are and how we react to both the present and the future. When past stories of victimization are rewired to stories of heroism and growth, people heal. Jackie would know. One of the things that I love most about her is that not only does she use these methods on her clients, but she also uses them on herself.
Every morning, Jackie spends about forty-five minutes meditating, processing, and centering herself. She also has her own Hakomi-trained counselor whom she sees happily and regularly. She believes everyone in the world deserves the gift of counseling. As an advocate for openness about mental health, she’s often frustrated by the judgments and stigma that still permeates the topic. With her new personal practice, she’s hoping to do her part in breaking the stigma and provide a safe place where all are welcome.
Going forward, Jackie plans to offer therapy groups on topics such as grief, anger management, and addiction. She is a constant dreamer and a passionate visionary. She hopes to have her own retreat center one day, where she can integrate the healing benefits of dance, meditation, Hakomi, therapy groups, along with many other ideas that continue blossom in her brilliantly inspired mind. She hasn’t lost her creative, childhood fire. She is still the introspective and highly intelligent little girl from her past, but instead of keeping her unique gifts quietly to herself, she now bravely shares them with the world.
Come meet with Jackie today. Meet her for inspiration, counseling, guidance, or simply for that superb rug. She is an unforgettable person, and I have no doubt she is going to continue to make a positive difference in this world. She has already made a positive difference in mine.
Safe Soul Center
401-447-7008 190 East Main Road, Suite 103