Jeanne Denney

Jeanne Denney bridges the gap in health care at the Institute for Mind-Body Education in Suffern By Shayna Finck
(Original publication: November 10, 2006)

To appreciate the work of mind-body practitioner Jeanne Denney, you have to accept the premise that people possess a field of energy that is directly linked to their health and illness.

"In Asian cultures, this is called Chi, in Indian culture, Prana, in Western culture, it can be called the life force, aura, bioenergetic field," says Denney on her Web site for the Rockland Institute for Mind-Body Education, the organization that opened in Suffern in August.

Denney's former patient Susan McGarrigle is not the type to readily embrace such un-Western philosophies. But earlier this year, dreading the prospect of her 19th hip surgery (the result of congenital dislocations), the suburban Chicago resident decided to give Denney and her alternative techniques a try.

For McGarrigle, Denney prescribed a treatment plan of traditional talk therapy (over the phone) as well as instruction in breath work, movement and relaxation. For the surgery, Denney flew out to assist McGarrigle.

"She did a lot of healing work when she came to visit me before pre-op - hands over my hip, a manipulation of my neck and spine, breathing work, things I'm not familiar with at all, but I went with it," Mc Garrigle says. "And I went into (surgery) that morning in a state of relaxation. I don't know how to describe it. I was in a different frame of mind. I was not hysterical."

Denney, who trained at the Institute for Transpersonal Psychology, the Institute of Core Energetics, the Barbara Brennan School of Healing, and the Lung Ta Institute, describes how her therapy differs from traditional psychotherapy, or talk therapy.

"Because I'm working with an understanding of how issues may be held in the body and how our own psychological history is held in the body, I can watch the body and work directly with it while we're working on an issue and open up the energy."

In energy healing, Denney's Web site says, a healer allows his or her own field to resonate or interact with a client's to directly promote energetic health. The interaction typically involves touch therapies.

"Touch therapy's going to include massage, which is very deep, or it can just be light, over the body, or just laying your hand," Denney says. "It's a different level of awareness and it will open up different types of things for somebody."

Before becoming a mind-body practitioner, Denney was a structural engineer. She describes the connection between her seemingly unrelated career choices.

"What (engineering) taught me was how to think concretely and with intellectual rigor about systems of forces," she says. "In designing bridges, we were concerned about gravitational forces. I think that this was great preparation for what I am doing now, working with the complex systems of physical, mental and emotional energies that human beings are."

Denney describes her ideal patient as anyone in a crisis - medical or emotional - and in need of energetic support. She has worked with people in all stages of the lifespan, from birth (she is a trained birth doula) to surgery preparation to issues around dying.

For the past several years, Denney has served as a volunteer for United Hospice of Rockland, working with many comatose and semicomatose patients. Noelle Goldberg, United's coordinator of volunteer services, says Denney has been instrumental in helping staff and other volunteers develop their level of comfort and "presence" with patients who are no longer interacting with the external world.

She added that Denney has also improved communication among patients, staff and families about dying - a subject that's often avoided.

"Someone like Jeanne is able to help people relax around the discussion (of death) and really educate people about how to help these older citizens to begin to approach their final years, months, weeks, days, or hours of their lives," says Goldberg, "so that time, whatever time they have, can be as nourishing as possible."

It was, however, the other end of the life spectrum - becoming a mother to four children - that prompted Denney's interest in mind-body therapies.

"I think it was very important to me in terms of being able to come up with the energy to do four kids," she says, adding that parents as well as professional caretakers can benefit from mind-body education.

"Teachers, nurses, caregivers … the issue of depletion and burnout is enormous," she says. "Learning body awareness and the dynamics of emotional suppression, how to feel and express more, getting support, are all important."

On that topic, Denney gave a talk at Suffern-based Good Samaritan Hospital titled "Why am I so Tired at the end of the Day? What Every Caregiver Needs to Know About Energy Dynamics."

The response from the sold-out crowd, Denney says, was overwhelmingly positive.

"It was about the body and emotions, about how you use muscular tensions to hold emotional stuff and the cost of it to your energy system," she says.

Denney's hope for her institute is that she can bring together the many practitioners in the area like herself who are trying to connect with the mainstream health community. Currently, she has several people who work with the Institute who give talks or teach subjects like movement, ecopsychology, and more.

"It's about my vision," Denney says. "But it's also about bringing a lot of these people who have skills together with the (medical) and mental health systems, and so on, and how that interface could happen … and there you get to the bridge engineering."