Bethany Hiser on Soul Care

Bethany Hiser on Soul Care

Bethany Hiser is the Northwest Family Life Director of Soul Care. She shares with us just what soul care means and how it differs from traditional ideas of self-care.


Q. What is Soul Care?


Soul care is tending to our inner psychospiritual life, which affects our whole self.Soul care doesn’t just mean spiritual care. We are complex intertwined beings. Our soul, body, mind and emotions are all interconnected in who we are.

Tending to thesoul does not preclude listening to our bodies. As I address my false beliefs that drive my unhealthy behaviors and integrate a daily prayer, I am benefiting my whole self. I breathe easier, I am more grounded, I am less stressed, and I am more alive. I am resilient. I am free to thrive.

Q. How might soul care differ from self-care?


At least in popular culture, self-care seems to mean pampering or other activities that we need to add to our lives. In contrast, I see soul care as a deep tuning in and tending to our whole self. It is not necessarily adding activities but reorienting our lives and listening to what our body needs – taking a lunch break or going to the bathroom when needed. It might involve exploring the reasons why we don’t take care of ourselves, and addressing our inner beliefs that drive our unhealthy behaviors instead of simply creating a self-care plan. It might encompass a daily practice that is simple, life-giving, nourishing, and grounding. Soul care is a journey of recovery towards wholeness.

Q. What are some of the aversions you yourself have had to the term “self care”?


I used to think self-caremeant pampering and was thus trivial. I thought I didn’t need it, that I was strong enough.I also felt guilty at taking time for myself in the face of so much injustice and poverty.


Q. Would you share with us a little about how you came to be passionate about soul care?


My passion for soul care arose from necessity – going through the emotional exhaustion and toll of burnout. Ten years ago, if I were to learn that I would become passionate about training and equipping others for a more healthy and sustainable life, I would have been shocked. Like many, I was affected by the stories of trauma I had heard working in a domestic violence shelter, in jail, and a family support center. I felt the weight and grief of people I cared about who were torn apart by immigration, incarceration, abuse, sexual exploitation and addiction. I came to the end of myself and couldn’t go on. I started this soul care journey recognizing that I needed help and to make significant changes. I felt powerless against the effects of accumulated secondary trauma, work holism and codependency. My life had become unmanageable. I was taking step 1 of 12-step programs without knowing it.

Recovery has involved journeying towards living out of being God’s beloved instead finding my identity in what I do, towards freedom instead of desperation to make a difference, and towards loving myself as I love my neighbor. It’s been a journey of pride and brokenness, of learning to say no and asking for help, of healing and renewal, of contemplation and centeredness.

Q. How might someone add rhythms of rest to their life?


In order to change behavior, we need to begin small and daily. Although a daily practice can feel hard to maintain in this midst of many things to do, it can actually make us more alive and equipped for the tasks at hand.

In Laura van Dernoot Lipsky’s book, Trauma Stewardship, she recommends choosing what works for you, for the season you’re in.

It might be centering prayer or other meditation, yoga, reading Scripture, exercise, journaling, coloring pages, going for a walk, or simply sitting with a cup of coffee for a few minutes when you wake up.

Whatever it is, the two key elements are: life giving and daily.

Integrating regular rhythms is essential to be rooted in the truth about ourselves and to be resilient.

Q. Could you talk about small margins in the day that let us take care of ourselves and let go of what we are carrying?


One idea is to have small practices during transitions, when waking up, before going to work, before getting home, in between appointments, or during a lunch break. For example, during or after an appointment we might check in with ourselves:

How was I feeling listening to that person?

How did that appointment affect me?

A transition activity doesn’t have to be a huge time consumer, but rather a simple activity that engages the senses: washing hands, walking around the block, taking three deep breaths, or free-writing for five minutes. Maybe it means not checking email first thing upon waking up or setting a reminder to start unwinding at a certain time of day.

Q. How is one’s identity and what they believe about themselves linked to how they care for themselves?


We have to believe we deserve care. We have to know we are loved regardless of what we do. Self-care is undermined if we don’t believe that we deserve it or need it. Seeking to change our behavior will be futile. Somewhere along the way, many have internalized the message that we are loved for what we do.

When we live out of our identity in what we do, we risk not only hurting ourselves but also hurting others, including those we seek to serve. Those we are trying to help become projects on which our success depends. Their failure is thus our failure. When living this way, the remedy to failing is to try harder and do more. We can begin wanting their change more than they do. Sometimes this develops into a need to control another’s lifeand alienate the very people we are trying to help, leading to an unhealthy codependency instead of a love born out of freedom.

Deeper soul care is needed to ground ourselves in our identity as beloveds, explore the beliefs that drive our unhealthy behaviors, and begin taking care of ourselves.


Q. What are some of the signs of secondary trauma?


  • Guilt, feeling bad for taking care of oneself.
  • Feeling helpless, like you can’t do enough.
  • Physical or emotional exhaustion, hyper vigilance.
  • Messiah complex, feeling like it’s all up to you.
  • Fear of not being enough, not being accepted, of rejection. Fear for personal safety, of persecution.
  • Culturally accepted addictions like codependency and work holism.


Q. Do you have some tools for people to become aware of how their work is affecting them?


These assessments are helpful for some people, not all. They are not meant to add guilt or shame. Rather they can help increase awareness of how you are being affected, validating that you are understandably affected.

Other Resources:


  • The book, Trauma Stewardship: An Everyday Guide to Caring for Self While Caring for Othersby Laura van Dernoot Lipsky. Includes the 16 most common responses to trauma and is a great resource. The website http://traumastewardship.comand Lipsky’s TedX talk are also helpful.
  • The Compassion Fatigue Workbook: Creative Tools for Transforming Compassion Fatigue and Vicarious Traumatization, by Françoise Mathieu
  • International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies Indirect Trauma (PDF) Free Handout. Self-Care Tips Handout in English/Spanish/French.


Q. What does one do with that awareness?


Pursuing healing and change…begin the soul care journey! Start a daily practice. Build a support team that could include: a consult group, personal therapist, Spiritual director, mentor, ect.


Bethany has a book on Soul Care in the works, full of content that is accessible, relevant, and helpful. We look forward to sharing it with you when it comes out. You can connect with her here


Bent Meyer on Non-Verbal Memory and Bodily Reactivity

Bent Meyer on Non-Verbal Memory and Bodily Reactivity

Bent Meyer is an affiliate therapist at Northwest Family Life.

We spoke to him about non-verbal memory, the reactiveness that comes from that place, and how someone might integrate their non-verbal system with their cognitive one.

Talk to us about the non-verbal cues generated in our brains.

Non-verbal cues are evoked by data that come though our input senses (eyes, ears, touch, smell, etc.). It only takes 30 milliseconds for the data to find a pattern match within structures like the limbic system and hypothalamus. The pattern matching comes from previous life experience that was taken in through our senses and recorded in the non-verbal memory system to be accessed later in life.

Once a pattern match is found messaging is sent to various parts of our body to activate glands, muscles, capillaries and such to prepare for action related to what is being perceived. It takes an additional 300 to 500 milliseconds for words to be formed within our rational mind.

What kind of reactiveness comes out of non-verbal memory?

The consequence is we are already in action mode before rational consideration (executive function) can be made to evaluate whether our perception is valid or not.The limbic system is intrinsically designed and sensitive to keeping one alive and out of unpleasantness. Thus, it is biased to be particularly attuned to the negative.This provides some clarity to why defensiveness is most people’s default response when feeling shame and powerlessness.

If non-verbal memory is activating our body 10 times before we can think about it, how can people make a bridge between reacting and evaluating a situation first?

It starts with open curiosity, a felt posture of leaning into and observing without categorizing something as ‘good’ or ‘bad’. The task is not to obliterate our defenses but to regulate them so that they are not super aroused in situations that are benign. When we can bring awareness to the sensations in the body, asking questions about what stimulated this reaction, we can look at the patterns of thinking and behavior that are evoked. The next part is to tolerate the feelings without acting. It is holding long enough to do a reality check, slowing down to let executive function come on line.

Why is it important to be able to put words to what one is experiencing?

The benefit of integrating words with non-verbal cues is the ability to get out what is locked up inside the body without having to act it out. It is a way to not be alone. Words provide a means for others to join in our joy, pain and confusion. Words also integrate abstraction with subjective knowing and slow down reactiveness.

Can you explain a transactional way of relating in relationships?

In our culture we have been taught the values of cause and effect evaluation. It is a default in our communication with others. “I feel this way because you did _______!” I call this transactional. It externalizes the reason I feel what I feel. Each of us is responsible for how we each read and manage our internal cue and arousal. When awareness and responsibility are active, blame shifting is greatly reduced. When two people read well the full bandwidth of verbal and non-verbal communication, both from the other and from ones own interpretive cues, there can be openness to collaborate.

Can you elaborate on thinking in categories of mutuality, rather than of power differentials?

Power differential is useful in hierarchical structures, like business or military organizations, were specific purpose and time sensitive goals must be executed. But, in intimate relationships it is rarely useful.

When it exists in intimate relationships, the one with power is often on an intellectual island, relying only on their own wit. The partner is subject in a role that often is functional, but often not prized as a source of importance. For such a partner, silence is often safest. In order for the subject to have influence, manipulation, or their own power bid, must be employed. It this context, the dynamic becomes one of winning or losing. The relationship is transactional. Inter mutual dependence is unknown within these couples.

And in a scenario of mutuality?

Close intimate relationships that employ mutuality have a fluidity about them. There is an admiration and respect for the mind and abilities of the other. There is simultaneously a real knowing of one’s own current ability to contribute. I say current, because there is also an assurance that my capacity to know and be is likely improved tomorrow. It is an interdependence that collaboratively wrestles, debates, researches, and brings forward disparate resources to formulate what each could or would not do alone.

Can you speak to the process of integrating our cognitive system with our non-verbal one and thus gaining more executive / cognitive control?

The process of integrating our subjective known world and our verbal system is through awareness first, then using descriptive language.  At first this might be as simple as a child who says say “Owee” and points to their ear. Obviously, later in life our descriptive language grows to where we can use metaphors to describe inner experience, for example,  “I feel like I can’t breathe” to describe terror felt in social settings.

When language is not integrated with non-verbal knowing we are trapped within our skin. The only choice we have to get it out of us is to action it out. Language conventions provide the way for our inner experience, world and thoughts to be joined by others instead of trapped inside us.

Integration is the function of connecting wiring between disparate parts of the brain with enough redundancy to make the communication fuller and speedier. It is to deepen and widen knowing.

You say for most people, in the same way that “different” is often uncomfortable, so is changing our non-verbal experience system. Can you talk about pushing through this discomfort?

If you have played golf, you will likely remember the first time someone showed you how to correctly grip the handle of a club. It like felt odd, and you might have retreated to a hold that felt more comfortable to you. But the joy felt in the increasing performance from your swing made the transition to a new hold possible.

Change involves the POSIBILITY of something different. It is being curious. There is a playful leaning into possibility. What is under that rock on the beach?

I wonder what will happen if I _______? It is a given, that you will not know unless you try, and in the trying, failure is tolerably measure, yet a little on the risky side.

Change occurs with repetition and with increased complexity. This means deepening tolerance while widening variability of experience. This means the tendencies to demand fixed sequences, recipes, and time allocations must be loosened. One must teach the experience system that there are more experiences that are not dangerous, heavy, exhausting, and unpleasant, but rather surprisingly enjoyable.


Connect with Bent here