Wellness Collective member Jen Rapanos is one of the good ones – one of those genuine, authentic souls living a life that impacts.
As a child & adolescent psychotherapist, registered children’s yoga teacher & mindfulness educator, Jen uses talk therapy along with tools like yoga and mindfulness to offer an integrated approach to treatment. Her work helps remind our children of their worth, skills, and gifts and that attention challenges or anxiety does not define who they are.
“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” – Viktor Frankl
The truth is that we are going to experience challenges along with the stress that comes with them and we can simply react or create a bit of space using tools such as breath and mindfulness to allow us to make our next choice. I teach kids that when they get emotionally excited or stressed, they respond from the amygdala, which just reacts to keep us safe. When they become aware of their stress response system we can have them pause, calm down and work from their parasympathetic, rest and digest system, and from there access the prefrontal cortex so they have choice points while also seeing the bigger picture. I think that’s powerful especially since kids can be quite emotional and impulsive, they’re working with undeveloped executive functioning skills. I’ve found kids to be very receptive to learning about their brains and how mindfulness can strengthen neural pathways to their prefrontal cortex, accessing their more thoughtful, compassionate and creative selves.
Why clinical therapy and yoga?
Being raised in a helping environment, deep down I’ve always known that I would spend my life in the helping field. My parents were foster parents and I had two siblings with special needs so I’ve always been a strong social advocate and enjoyed working with children. Social work was a natural place for me, especially in the school setting. Combining that with mindfulness and yoga just made a lot of sense to me. When I started practicing yoga and mindfulness, I often had the thought, ‘why aren’t we teaching this to kids?’ As a child I often struggled in school and only wish I had access to all these different tools. I want to remind kids that they have worth, skills and gifts and that attention challenges or anxiety does not define who they are.
What makes you different from other therapists and yoga instructors?
As a psychotherapist, I pull from my years of experience working directly with children in the school system while also combining extensive training in yoga and mindfulness. These approaches all blend naturally into the therapy session. So rather than just using talk therapy, various modalities are used in session as part of an integrated approach to treatment. Children were designed to move and learn best through experience. Yoga and mindfulness are great tools to build the skills of focused-attention and self-awareness. Alongside cognitive behavioral therapy, children learn to build awareness by being in a pose, they learn how to pay attention to their thoughts and their breath with mindfulness exercises and receive psycho-education to help develop life-long coping skills. Neuroscience links these evidence-based practices to reducing stress and anxiety and I’ve found my niche in supporting youth and families.
What type of people or symptoms do you generally work with?
I work with children and adolescents generally between the ages of 7 and 18. My experience and interest focus on the treatment of anxiety and mood disorders, ADHD, stress management, trauma, and school and stress-related challenges and behaviors. I also have a lot of experience working with children with disabilities and with their siblings.
What ignited your holistic flame?
With my background being in mental health, I learned a lot about the mind and the connection between thoughts, feelings and behaviors. But I had always felt there was a disconnect with the body. Despite my conceptual knowledge of anxiety, I wasn’t really aware of how much it played a part in my own life. It wasn’t until 2009, when I completed the 8-week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction course, that things really shifted for me; I gained a much a deeper connection to my own body. It helped me experience the interchangeable nature of the mind and body rather than something separate. That’s when things really changed for me and the way I related to myself, my family and work and gave me the opportunity to share this newfound knowledge with children.
After seeking more training in mindfulness and yoga, I opened Well-Bean which started with community-based children’s yoga and mindfulness classes. As a school social worker, I also brought these practices into the schools where I worked. In 2015 my family moved to the Grand Rapids area and shortly thereafter I opened my private practice, blending psychotherapy, yoga and mindfulness. I continue to offer Well-Bean children’s yoga & mindfulness classes in Grand Rapids, Rockford and Midland. I also offer mindfulness education classes to various schools in the area and provide professional development training to educators and schools around the state.
About: Jen Rapanos is a licensed clinical social worker, registered children’s yoga teacher, and founder of Well-Bean. Drawing from almost two decades of experience working in schools and as a clinician, Jen blends her comprehensive background in mental health with training in mindfulness and yoga to offer an integrated and holistic approach to treatment.