While sitting in the well-furnished waiting room of the Bernstein Institute for Integrative Psychotherapy and Trauma Treatment, be prepared not only to meet Dr. Peter M. Bernstein, but to be greeted warmly by a huge, exuberantly sniffing, friendly dog, which Bernstein uses to help clients feel more at ease.
Berstein's practice is all about inner healing from trauma. He specializes in helping soldiers overcome the trauma they have suffered. He also created the non-profit organization, Sonoma Coast Trauma Treatment to help the veterans and their families.
Bernstein, who has had 40 years of experience in his field and has recently written a book, "Trauma: Healing the Hidden Epidemic," is enthusiastic about the work in psychotherapy he has accomplished in the span of his career, and the new techniques he has learned that show great promise.
"One of the biggest issues that we deal with today is post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury that veterans and active duty military officers are coming home with," said Bernstein. "We have written about this in our book and have actually dedicated this work to all the veterans and troops."
Bernstein grew up on the streets of New Jersey in the 1950s. He survived a traumatic childhood characterized by organized gang violence and drug abuse and, as a young military veteran in 1970, he determined to change the course of his life. This led him to move to California in search of a new life and a career in psychotherapy.
In San Francisco, Bernstein met and was mentored by one of the foremost teachers of a type of physical healing technique called Reichian therapy, Dr. Gerald Frank. Under Frank's tutelage, Bernstein completed his doctorate and plunged into work with drug users and returning Vietnam vets suffering from PTSD and addiction.
After a number of years supervising clinical operations, Bernstein moved into private practice, which he continues to the present day. His personal traumas and the steps he has taken to both heal himself and use his experiences to heal others, are central to his process.
Bernstein tends to avoid using conventional methods of therapy, which includes the use of medication, and has instead invented a new type of treatment called Reichian Myofascial Release (RMFR).
RMFR is a blend of therapies that Bernstein has put together over the past 43 years. It combines Reichian practices with a myofascial release approach. This particular coalescence of psychotherapies incorporates physical therapy with traditional counseling to help the patients to understand where their traumatic experiences have damaged them the most.
"Reichian therapy is a hands-on approach to healing patients," said Bernstein, who dedicated himself to researching more about Reichian processes after noticing body reactions in clients were not being addressed. "Wilhelm Reich (an Austrian psychoanalyst who created Reichian treatment) described the muscle of the body as &‘armor' which is the barrier of defenses physically erected to protect wounds or spots of vulnerability. By targeting this armor with physically softening of the muscle, emotional and physical pain is released."
Myofascial release is a soft-tissue therapy developed by physical therapist John F. Barnes. It involves placing gentle pressure on connective tissue in the body to relieve patients of painful memories that have built up in their system, and to access material in the body related to unconscious damage by a traumatic experience. By combining both techniques into RMFR, Bernstein states that he has discovered a more effective and beneficial therapy for those dealing with the effects of PTSD.