Practitioner Profile: Teresa Wagner
Teresa Wagner’s extraordinary life and work reflect the immeasurable love and compassion she feels for animals. Her work illustrates and furthers the understanding that our interactions with animals give us tremendous healing in the exchange and help to open our souls. Through her workshops, publications and private consultations, she dedicates herself to improving the lives of animals, comforting people who have experienced the loss of a beloved animal and those who experience compassion fatigue as a result of animal rescue and sheltering work. Teresa also facilitates ocean retreats communing with humpback whales as a way to celebrate and honor the joyful, wondrous, spiritual connection we have with animals. As she says, these retreats provide an opportunity for interspecies communication, interspecies exchange of love, healing and personal transformation. For more information, visit Teresa's vast, soulful, informative website, www.animalsinourhearts.com.
As a child, Teresa discovered her ability to talk with animals, an ability that at the time, seemed abnormal to her. Later in life, she met Jeri Ryan, a therapist and animal practitioner educator, and discovered to her amazement that other people could talk to animals as well. Animal communication is now widely acknowledged as an innate human ability, though not recognized or developed by most individuals. Fortunately there are those, such as Teresa, who provide this service for others.
The field of animal communication is growing widely as more and more training programs and workshops are being offered by professionals. Skill development focuses on seeing, sensing, feeling, observing and imagining the context of animals' suffering and other life experiences. One is then able to help facilitate positive changes in the lives of the animals and their owners through problem solving, by helping to heal the trauma of abuse and by assisting with the grieving process.
Very quickly after her pivotal meeting with Jeri Ryan, Teresa began her own practice. Trained as a therapist, she already had a good, solid base of counseling skills that supported her work. Years before, Teresa had discovered her own strong, powerful affinity for flower essences and then attended flower essence therapy trainings. Flower essences are now integral to all facets of Teresa's work and endeavors.
Typically, a telephone session with Teresa begins with addressing any questions regarding the process, clarifying the desired goals for the session and receiving a physical description of the animal. The animals need not be physically present with their people while the session is occurring, as in the case of animals who have died. Next, after a few quiet moments in which she focuses and sets an intention for the session, Teresa connects with the animal. Thereafter, it becomes an interactive process whereby the client talks with their animal and Teresa "translates" for them. While Teresa does not impose her own values or solutions for any given situation, she may make suggestions, such as the use of flower essences, specific to what might help facilitate the stated goals.
Teresa acknowledges that not everyone will want to use intuitive communication in combination with flower essences; but the two modalities are a very dynamic and powerful combination, allowing one to choose the best possible remedy for the given situation. What makes flower essences unique is that they are not about eliminating symptoms; especially when it comes to an illness that is emotionally based, to "kill the symptom," simply doesn't work.
In her workshops, Teresa explains that one reason why the use of flower essences are not attractive to everyone is that one must be in "continual search of self." She explains that there are three ways essences are commonly used:
—at times of crisis
—for conscious symptom abatement; to provide needed temporary relief and
—for the long term healing of root causes of imbalance and discomfort.
This third use takes tremendous self awareness, and she acknowledges that some people aren't willing to explore themselves deeply on a regular basis.
When asked why she feels that essences are so effective with animals, she said "I think there's less filtering, maybe no filtering, from the animal's perspective, whether the essences will work."
When Teresa first studied the flowers, she was working in the corporate world and was ready to let go of her left brain logical thinking. In reaction, she chose the essences from intuition, holding her fingers over the essence boxes. Her fingers "tingled" when held over the essences she needed. Then, she would consult her reference books and read about each one of them. After a time, she balanced out, as she says, and felt it was acceptable to select flowers from her mind's perspective as well. Now, Teresa uses a combination of the two methods for flower essence selection. The cognitive information about the essences, as developed and presented by others, is stored in her mind. When she's talking with an animal, what transpires is "soul empathy," the deepest level of relationship one can have with another being, and she's actually able to "feel" what's needed. When she's at that very deep place, the flower essences just appear; she feels their energy.
Especially with regard to animals, Teresa feels it's extremely important to take into consideration not only what the animals are "doing" but also the underlying energies or causes. "Knowing what is needed for an animal is hit and miss when based only on observable behavior. People will use their intuitive abilities for themselves, so why not use them for animals as well? The use of simplistic lists for selecting essences is just another message to people that they only have to go so far with their animals; it's just not respectful of them."
Typically, Teresa conducts one to three sessions with a client, and often the first point of contact is when someone calls and says, "I want you to talk with my animal." Quite often, this is at the time when the animal is about to die, or has just recently died. She makes recommendations to her clients for the grieving process: "I think that one of the hardest moments in the life of a relationship with someone we love is when we are faced with letting them go. The essences work without a doubt to help animals and their people. They help with an excruciating event, a period of loss, and not just to bring comfort. The emotional pain of grief, one of the emotional experiences all sentient beings have, is part of being alive, but the suffering need not be. Flower essences can take the 'edge' from horrible grief so that we can be more present as an animal is leaving and when it's gone. They do not block out the horror, but they allow more to be endured. Nothing does this more powerfully than flower essences."
Many of Teresa's new clients who are experiencing grief are not knowledgeable regarding flower essences. She may then share with them a piece of her own story of loss and how a particular essence was helpful for her. Teresa is very clear to explain that the essences do not wipe out emotions, but rather, help one to live with them with grace. The pain of the loss continues to be there, but it is of a different quality. The recommendation for the essences is based on the emotional state the person is in at the time of contact. For example, a recent client, a spiritually knowledgeable person, was grieving the loss of her dog. She was quite willing to grow through the experience, but was emotionally "totally blown away." She was having trouble accepting it, and literally, accepting death as a part of life. Teresa knew immediately that Chrysanthemum would be helpful for her.
Teresa is compelled to do volunteer work with animals in shelters. She is motivated to do so because she knows that if flower essences can get to the animals, they can literally save their lives. Saving their lives means helping the animals to be more adoptable. The emotional lives of animals are as deep, complex, and as unique as ours. Flower essences help alleviate emotionally triggered behaviors caused by the trauma they've experienced, and the animals are then able to move into homes more quickly. The essences also make the animals more comfortable while in the shelters.
In 1993, Teresa began making presentations to animal-care workers regarding the stress they experience as compassion workers. The shelter system is similar to an emergency room environment and some workers see thousands of animals each month. She introduced flower essence therapy in her workshops, and also began counseling individuals privately.
Teresa recommends Glassy Hyacinth essence (photo at left) because she says it is the best she has found for people who are exposed to horrific experiences on a daily basis. In addition, she recommends the Post-Traumatic Stress Stabilizer formula (Five-Flower Formula, Arnica, Bleeding Heart, Echinacea, Green Gentian, Fireweed).
Borage and Bleeding Heart are key essences for addressing grief, along with Scarlet Monkeyflower if anger is present.
She says that employees and volunteers working in animal shelters are especially susceptible to anger, since they often deal with both the victims (the animals) and the perpetrators (the owners) in abusive situations: "It's an extremely emotionally-challenging situation, since the employees have to be civil to people who have clearly been abusive and apathetic to the welfare of these animals—they have to reign in their anger and resentment. Because they're not police officers or attorneys, they feel they have no real power to rectify these extremely distressing situations." Teresa finds that Red Chestnut, Mountain Pennyroyal, Pink Monkeyflower, and Scorpion Weed flower essences address the feelings of guilt that arise when animal caretakers are not able to do more to help in these situations.
Teresa has started a pilot research project with rescue animals, an idea she has been developing for some time. While she feels Five-Flower Formula is indispensable for shelter work, she also feels that even more help could be conveniently provided with another combination formula.
Through her many years of animal communication work, she has identified a list of typical feelings and behaviors of rescued animals. Her list was then confirmed as being accurate by the workers in the shelter with whom she initiated the project, the Animal Friends Rescue Project in Pacific Grove, California.
Through both intellectual determination and intuitive communication, Teresa worked to identify a formula that ultimately consisted of twelve essences. The Animal Rescue Formula is being tested with animals in the shelter over a period of time. She has not worked with a formula containing this number of essences before, but after much reflection and thought, feels that it is necessary. A formula is important for the ease of use in shelter situations where there are volunteer workers and a wide range of both animals and emotional/behavioral issues. The staff at the shelter is documenting their observations, and depending on the results, Teresa would like to be able to recommend the Animal Rescue Formula to many of the other shelters with which she has contact.
Originally, there were going to be only seven cats in the shelter receiving the formula, but it was discovered quite quickly that it was too difficult to administer it to just some of the animals. So now, all cats in the shelter are receiving the formula, but only seven of them are under special observation with documentation on forms devised by Teresa. Documentation is being done by a rating scale on descriptors of perceived emotional issues and observed behaviors.
Recently, Teresa has had occasion to use the Animal Rescue Formula with individual clients. She received a call regarding a cat that a woman had adopted from a shelter. Not having adequate space in her own home, she paid for four months to board the animal at a nearby veterinarian's office. While there, the cat started pulling out fur from its back. The veterinarian knew the cat's behavior was stress-related and told her the cat needed a real home and asked her to find one. The woman did not follow through on that request, and the vet asked that she sign over ownership of the cat so he could find it a home. An animal group took the cat to a nicely finished garage with lots of space, provided for such situations, while it recovered from spay surgery. For one week, the cat continued to pull its fur. Finally, Teresa was called, and she recommended her new formula. Two days later, the cat had stopped pulling its fur. In her communication with the cat, Teresa had learned that it was "freaked out" living at the vet's office for those four months. With all the noise and smells, it made her feel crazy and she wanted to die; she did not know the experience would end.
Another example of success with the Animal Rescue Formula is that of a client in Chicago who has an unusually and extremely wild feral cat. The cat had been temporarily placed after spay surgery, and there were plans to place it in another home because the client's husband did not want the destructive cat to continue to live with them. The cat loves the client very much, and was utterly upset that she would not be going home with her. Teresa sensed that she would find a way to die if she couldn't go home. Eventually, after talking with Teresa, the husband consented to give the formula a try. Within five days of starting the formula, the cat stayed inside without clawing at the windows, didn't attack, and started grooming half-grown kittens that she had previously hissed at viciously.
Read an update on the development of the Animal Rescue Formula.
Dear to Teresa's heart are the ocean retreats she has facilitated for the past seven years. "The participants spend time in the water with humpback whales, being with them in their water home as respectful guests." People come from all over the world to participate. They live together as a temporary little community, in close quarters on a boat for one week. Teresa has put together a detailed orientation booklet that is sent in advance to registrants, which includes logistical information, but also outlines the common emotional and spiritual experiences that can occur for individuals. She has included an in-depth section introducing flower essences, with a recommended list of essences for typical situations, feelings and reactions. People have a wide range of emotions in response to the experiences with the whales. For many, it is a transcendent experience, and for some, it stimulates profound life changes.
Following are excerpts from Teresa's list of essences to support transcendent experiences which she recommends for participants in her ocean retreats:
Integration of Profound or Transcendent Experience
Helps us draw wisdom from life experiences; to review and survey our lives; to process experiences from a higher perspective and find meaning and higher purpose in life events; brings us a sense of deep inner peace, inner stability, and graceful maturation.
Accelerates the integration process of transcendent experience.
Provides protection during times of emotional vulnerability related to great change. Supports the integration of shifts during spiritual and psychological growth so they can happen more easily, and more softly.
Helps us understand our significant experiences not as unrelated bits and pieces, but rather as an integrated, mandalic whole. It brings us insight into the broader meanings and larger patterns of mental and emotional experience.
Staghorn Cholla Cactus:
Brings us the gifts of reintegration and reorganization after a time of transformation or upheaval which may have left us feeling "undone," stressed, exhausted, restless, or unfocused. Helps us re-integrate ourselves according to our soul purpose.
Every year when we leave Silver Banks I get sad. The magic of being in the sea with the whales, so near their exquisite bodies, with all that trust and love, the intimacy and sharing with the other humans. . .well, I mourn each goodbye, sometimes acutely. For any of us who know ourselves to feel grief at partings and endings, who feel it deeply, Bleeding Heart is balm to the soul. It helps us move through it more softly and quickly. It helps us remember that the loss is only of the physical connection, not the spiritual, and that the gifts of the spiritual connection remain in us, even if we never see the whales or people again. Bleeding Heart helps us accept the change in form of a relationship, to let go, and release our attachment to the form, while still fully feeling the most deep and lasting connection of love.
This essence helps us overcome feelings of depression and heavy-heartedness associated with the sadness and grief of separation. Borage brings courage and a sense of upliftment and buoyancy. Though depression is a natural state, a natural cycle of emotional life, Borage helps us to not get stuck in the weight of it.
Sometimes, the glorious experience of this trip can make our daily lives feel not nearly as appealing, and almost disappointing. And let's face it, most of us don't have the exhilarating moments as we did with the whales everyday! And the truth is, this is a good thing! To be that exhilarated, to be in a state of excitement every day would burn us out. We need cycles of rest, rejuvenation, of integration, and even mundane activity to balance the energy of our lives. Knowing this, however, has not always stopped me from finding myself in a state of yearning and longing to be back with the whales. When it gets to the point of being uncomfortable, or gets in the way of being present enough to get day-to-day things done, Honeysuckle is a great help. This essence helps us learn from the past, seeing clearly the meaning and purpose, while at the same time releasing our attachment to it, freeing us to live fully in the present.
This is a classic essence for emotional protection. For those of us who can be sponges for others' energy, who are naturally empathic or sensitive, it helps us create appropriate emotional boundaries with others. It allows us to feel authentic compassion and connection with others without dysfunctional merging with, or taking on their pain or other energy.
This essence is not as much about taking on others' energy, as the Pink Yarrow is, but more about helping us not feel drained in the face of so much energy of others. Very sensitive souls at times may shy away from exposure to and intimacy with others because doing so often makes them feel as if they lose part of themselves in the process. Golden Yarrow helps us know that we can preserve the integrity of the Self, even when involved with others, that we don't have to isolate and withdraw to feel safely ourselves. A great essence to take during the trip if you are concerned about in such close quarters amidst the energy of so many others.
Helps us when we are emotionally upset, nervous or tense, especially when our tension is accompanied by stomach distress such as gas or vomiting. Helps us feel calm, serene and more emotionally balanced.
Helps when we feel mentally or physically "wound up," keeping us up nights, or feeling we are absorbing more energy than we can process through the body. Helps tension that is accompanied by headaches, vision problems, or neck and shoulder tension. Lavender helps sedate and soothe, and moderates and regulates energy.
This essence brings strength and encouragement at times of extreme tension, fear, pressure or stress. It helps stabilize the mind when we're emotionally overwrought, helping us cope with challenge. Often called the "let go and let God" essence, it helps us re-connect with a Higher Power, or our Higher Self, surrendering to the knowledge that this level of help is always there.
Walnut is the quintessential transition essence. It helps us make healthy transitions, brings us courage to follow our own path and destiny. It supports us in having an unwavering sense of inner purpose and conviction, and to overcome doubts. It brings strength to make a break with the past and with the ideas of others which may hold us back. Brings mental clarity and emotional strength as we let go of the old, create our next place and way, and live with the ambiguity in between.
If you are feeling strong drives to change your life in significant ways, this essence can bring you the courage to let go of the familiar and secure when that is appropriate. It helps us to master the limbo state of transformation, and eases the confusion, paradox, or fear which are often part of such change.
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Teresa is an author, animal communicator and workshop leader specializing in support services for people who love, serve and grieve animals. She brings unique qualifications to her work with animal and loss issues: a lifelong love of animals and inevitable experiences of losing them; training, counseling and research in the grief recovery field; graduate and postgraduate education in counseling; and over twenty years experience in training design and facilitation both as an internal and external consultant.
Her traditional education includes a master's degree in counseling from Villanova University, studies at the Grief Recovery Institute in Los Angeles, and postgraduate work in counseling and organizational development at Columbia University, Wharton, and with Carl Rogers at the University of Nottingham, England. She has also completed the Clinical Training Program in Post Traumatic Stress Disorder at the National Center for PTSD, Dept. of Veterans Affairs. Her healing arts education includes animal communication with Jeri Ryan, flower essence training at FES and Perelandra, energy healing training in Reiki, Tellington-Touch and Therapeutic Touch and psychic studies with Evelyn Isadore.
Photos of Teresa and whale courtesy of her website. All other animal photos by Jann Garitty.
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