Princeton Packet Online: Monday, September 12, 2011
By Susan Van Dongen, Special Writer
For a growing generation of psychotherapists, it’s an exciting time to offer the multi-dimensional path of integral psychotherapy. This is an all-encompassing, holistic approach to therapy, treating the whole person, taking into account the individual’s cognitive and behavioral issues, but also their physical health, and even spirituality.
”To truly be well, we need to have a holistic approach,” says Charles Leighton, LCSW, CGP (certified group psychotherapist), and CYT (certified yoga teacher), who has been practicing at the Princeton Center for Yoga and Health in Montgomery (Skillman) for about a year. “We no longer approach mental health with a single modality.”
When his wife, Jacqueline Leighton, was named director of the Davis International Center at Princeton University last year, the couple moved to South Brunswick (Kendall Park) from Butler (Passaic County), and Mr. Leighton began to think about establishing a practice here.
Soon after the move to central New Jersey, Mr. Leighton discovered PCYH’s array of classes, took a yoga class there and immediately felt at home.
”It’s beautifully holistic,” he says. “Deborah (Metzger) has done a great job there, and when I got to know her more, I talked about renting space. The Princeton community is absolutely embracing this kind of work, and going forward, we’ll be able to develop some unique programs.”
In guiding an individual toward wellness, Mr. Leighton and others like him will utilize traditional cognitive and talk therapy, but will also suggest therapeutic lifestyle changes (TLC). This means incorporating exercise, nutrition, relaxation and stress management, spiritual and religious involvement, and — probably most importantly for Mr. Leighton — mindfulness meditation.
He discovered mindfulness meditation 25 years ago, and says that it is a mainstay of his practice.
”Joseph Goldstein, Sharon Salzberg and Jack Kornfield were really great pioneers who brought Buddhism and specifically vipassana meditation — also known as insight or mindfulness meditation — to the United States in a way that was palatable to Westerners,” Mr. Leighton says.
”Now mindfulness meditation has become a virtual arm of cognitive behavioral therapy. It has been well-researched and documented to successfully treat many conditions, including depression, anxiety, high blood pressure, eating disorders and even borderline personality disorder (BPD), which was once thought to be pretty much an intractable condition. But people are now having dramatic results with a technique called dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT), which uses mindfulness at its core.”
”Jon Kabat-Zinn (psychologist and author of ‘Wherever You Go, There You Are’) studied vipassana with Goldstein and those folks at the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachusetts, and then brought it to the medical community in the form of mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR), which has now been taught to thousands of health care professionals all over the world,” he continues.
”Zinn is such an inspiring figure and there are so many other inspiring people who have quietly changed the way we now think about and practice mental health care,” Mr. Leighton says. “Zinn, Dean Ornish, Michael Lerner, Joan Boryshenko and Sharon Salzberg, are all extraordinary, revolutionary thinkers that I’ve been privileged to work with and learn from over the past 20 years.”
A long-time practitioner of yoga as well as a vegetarian (“which, in the Bronx, made me a renegade,” he says), Mr. Leighton took up yoga to alleviate back pain which had plagued him since childhood.
”I discovered yoga early on because of a congenital back problem and then became a certified yoga teacher,” he says. “I was also in the theater, an actor and singer, and during the AIDS crisis, I lost a lot of friends. I started teaching yoga and became a massage therapist for people with AIDS, among others.”
He had gone to City College and Empire State University for undergraduate work, but decided to go to graduate school and study psychotherapy at NYU’s School of Social Work.
Over the years, Mr. Leighton established a private practice in Butler (which he maintains), and is founder and director of The Heart Group at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York. This group was featured in the PBS documentary “The Mysterious Human Heart,” noted for its holistic approach to the treatment of heart disease and cancer.
He’s been a therapist for such organization as Gilda’s Club, the Smith Center for Healing and the Arts in Washington, D.C., and the Dean Ornish Program for Reversing Heart Disease.
”The Dean Ornish program proved that coronary artery disease was not just something we were doomed to get with old age, but rather a preventable and reversible condition,” Mr. Leighton says. “Dr. Ornish and his colleagues showed that a program of exercise, nutrition, stress management and group support could actually reverse coronary lesions in the body — without medication, in many cases.”
”That was so huge and I think it literally revolutionized the practice of cardiology,” he continues. “I worked with Dr. Ornish for several years at Beth Israel in New York, then when he left, my partner and I took over the program in a modified format. Along with some very dedicated health care practitioners, we’ve continued, for more than 15 years, to provide a cutting-edge program to people with heart disease.”
He adds that in integral psychotherapy, the therapist is not the stereotypical, stoic, Freud-like “doctor with notepad.”
”We have to be practitioners ourselves,” Mr. Leighton says. “We’re therapists with tools to offer, but we are also people on the journey.”
Charles Leighton on the web: Charlesleighton.com. 609-924-7294. PCYH on the web: Princetonyoga.com