More about Maggie and her work
Maggie found herself at her first 10-day silent Vipassana retreat in 1994, seeking a cure for the tendonitis & suspected fibromyalgia that were preventing her finishing off a writing & video project. It was not long after losing her much-loved dad to a sudden heart attack, and – in contrast to the stereotype of meditating for states of “bliss” – it was grief, pain and trauma that best describe what came up when instructed to “sit” and “stay with” the excruciating internal experience of her own mind, heart and body at that difficult time. There was no quick fix, but slowly over the 10 days meditating, she become aware of how her own thoughts & stress reactivity were exacerbating the actual physical pain symptoms and also contributing to a stuck depressed experience, as opposed to the healthier emotional waves of grief.
These insights, together with a renewed sense of happiness and well-being, left Maggie with a life-long belief in the power of meditation. She sought out a second long retreat after the equally sudden death of her mother, and this personal experience– especially around how trauma blocks grieving, and how mindfulness supports grief but protects against depression – led to her specialising in loss and grief counselling, and taking up further training and an internship with the Australian Centre for Grief & Bereavement.
Back then, trauma was seen as a separate and specialised field – a kind of big ‘T’ Trauma arising in the aftermath of earthquakes, floods and bushfires. But what was becoming evident to Maggie, was that it was the less obvious, small ‘t’ traumas that seemed to take the edge off the everyday joys in life, compromise the ability to make and sustain healthy relationships, and prevent people from living the meaningful lives they wanted to live. These could be traumas from sudden changes & losses, from childhood sexual or other abuse, or from early family relationships where – due to their own history, external pressures or events, mental health or other issues – parents weren’t able to tune in emotionally in ways that were safe, consistent, and “good enough” to create secure attachment.
With the new understandings of the “plastic” brain adapting according to input and behaviour, the psychology field now believes that early attachment experience and patterns can influence brain structure, development and function throughout life. Early trauma, including insecure attachment, can affect capacity to regulate emotions, and our own adult attachment style, including our ability to parent, and to sustain safe and secure intimate relationships in our adult lives. This is why attachment theory underpins the newer couple therapy models, including Maggie’s preferred therapeutic approach of Emotionally Focused Therapy for Couples (EFT-C).
Insight or understanding this intellectually is helpful, but more important for transformation is actually experiencing and practicing something different. New experiences of safe relating fire new neural pathways, and lead to positive changes in our brains and in our lives. By practicing safe tuning-in and connecting with partners over time, it is possible to move from insecure to the more secure attachment style conducive to health and happiness, personally and in relationship. Understanding how our brains and Central Nervous Systems work, including our hardwired patterns of stress reactivity, is also helpful, as is the less verbal, “felt” and bodily awareness enhanced through mindfulness practices and approaches.
Another model used by Maggie and incorporating both attachment and this neuroscience of emotional regulation is Stan Tatkin’s Psycho-biological Approach to Couple Therapy (PACT).
On a personal note, Maggie grew up in a large family on a Western District dairy farm. She met her North American husband 30 years ago while travelling, and they live together in Castlemaine with their youngest of three daughters. Their house adjoins miles of bushland, which Maggie loves to walk or run in each day. Sadly Charlie, the beautiful Chocolate Labrador starring in all the website photos is no longer with us.