Sometimes we keep emotions bottled up deep inside of us or are haunted by memories we cannot escape from. Physical activity can be an outlet for releasing uncomfortable emotions, tension, and stress from our bodies. In this episode of the SKYlights Podcast, Clinical Therapist Maura Nolan, LPC, ACMHC, NCC discusses somatic therapy; how she incorporates breath work, dance, and movement into her work with students; and tools anyone can use for cultivating greater mind-body awareness.
Maura grew up in rural Pennsylvania, where an immediate love of the outdoors was instilled in her heart. In her youth, she found solace while chasing butterflies, building igloos with her dad, and sitting underneath the cherry tree outside her bedroom window. Pennsylvania provided the perfect landscape for her to begin exploring earth’s natural wonders. Maura went on to receive her Bachelor’s degree from Loyola University Maryland, where she studied both psychology and criminal forensics. She completed some of her college education while on the coast of Southern Ireland, where she was awed by the rolling hills, tall mountains, and vast valleys. After later receiving a Master’s degree in Mental Health and Wellness from New York University, Maura went on to practice in a variety of clinical settings across New York City.
Clients of all ages, races, genders, religious backgrounds, and sexual orientations have walked through Maura’s door. She has partnered with several private practices throughout her career, providing individual, couples, and group therapy services to teenagers and young adults. Working in partial hospital programs attuned her to the nuances of mental health issues and personality disorders, while providing extensive training in Dialectical Behavior Therapy and mindfulness meditation. Maura has extensive training and clinical experience in crisis intervention, managing severe mental illness, and high-risk case management. She provided trauma-based psychotherapy services to the adult male and female incarcerated individuals at Riker’s Island Correctional Facility throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Here, she helped clients process heavy traumas, while witnessing empathy, hope, and healing in the darkest of places. Most recently, she founded her own private practice where she feels honored to serve individuals who are seeking true change in their lives. Maura is passionate about social justice and environmental issues, women’s rights, and prison reform, and she strives to use her voice for equality and change.
In her personal life, Maura has directly experienced the healing power of nature, finding peace from spending dedicated time alone in the wilderness. She understands the intricacy of family systems and the importance of collective healing from past trauma. In her work, she brings a flexible and non-judgmental approach infused with mindfulness and movement, internal family systems, rational emotive behavior therapy, and strengths-based interventions. She was drawn to Open Sky based on shared values of respect and community, emphasis on choice theory and holistic wellness, and the ability to foster growth, healing, and connection within families. Maura understands the importance and need to push oneself outside of their comfort zone. Working at Open Sky has provided her the opportunity to practice new skills and explore the magic and wonder of the mountains and high desert.
Maura deeply values family, friendship, laughter, and connection. She enjoys spending quality time with life-long friends, playing board games with her parents, and having long chats with her sister. Maura is a creative type and spent years ballet and tap dancing. In her free time, you can find her singing, hiking, practicing yoga, exploring museums, cooking, playing instruments, painting, and writing. Maura has a deep appreciation for live theater performances ever since seeing her first Broadway show at age six. She loves to travel and explore new cultures and foods, and she hopes to do a thru-hike of the Colorado trail in the near future.
By leaning into these body sensations, a somatic therapist can help a client move toward healing mental health from the inside out.
I didn’t really notice it until later on in my life—the profound effect of moving my body through dancing, no matter what form that looked like, on my emotional and mental health. It’s hard being a teenager at times, and I think we can all relate to the trials and tribulations of what it’s like to be a teenager at times, whether it’s navigating different relationships or changes in our bodies, whatever it may be. And dance was a huge outlet for me to be able to release some of the painful emotions that I was storing in my body.
The key with somatic therapy is to feel painful feelings but to do it in a way that feels safe and that also then allows us to release some of those emotions and heal in some ways.
Oftentimes, trauma feels like it’s too much, too fast, too soon. So we want to work on countering this. And slowing down looks like you’re only working with small bits of difficult experiences at a time. So it might look like pausing, taking time to notice the sensations that are occurring in your body and how that corresponds to what you’re speaking about.
Isn’t that the work of life? We have to walk through the fire of self-discovery. The heat can be intense along the way, but it also gives us warmth and brings us to a better place.
On a wilderness trip in Alaska with the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) in 1995, Emily discovered she could combine two of her passions: working with youth and being outdoors. Since then, she has worked for Aspen Achievement Academy, Hurricane Island Outward Bound School, and Connecticut Wilderness School. She was part of the founding team at Open Sky.
Emily worked as the lead therapist for adolescent girls for her first 5 years at Open Sky. Her areas of clinical expertise include depression, anxiety, grief and loss, trauma, self-harm, disordered eating, and adoption and attachment issues. Her clinical approach is informed by cognitive behavioral, psychodynamic, family systems, and attachment theories. Relationship building through letter writing is a major focus of her work with students and families.
As a founder and owner of Open Sky, as well as the Clinical and Executive Director, Emily brings a breadth of knowledge with her background as a therapist, field guide, trainer, logistics coordinator, emergency responder, and field director, Emily is known for her direct, caring leadership style, her ability to inspire excellence in others, and her team oriented approach. The student treatment plan is her compass for her decision-making regarding Open Sky’s students, families, and employees.
Emily loves reading, writing, yoga, mountain biking, telemark skiing, rock climbing, spending time with friends and family, and cooking with foods from the local farmers’ market.