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Dr. Candice Cook: Taking Care of Your Whole Self

Date: September 19, 2004
Author: Karen Beardslee Kwasny

Joy. These days, this emotion seems to enter our minds only around the holidays as a part of the general sentiment we should be feeling at that time of year. Trouble is, for many of us, not only is joy elusive around the holidays, but it is hard to come by during the rest of the year as well. Why is that? Surely, there must be a way to bring joy into our lives on a daily basis. And there is, according to Dr. Candice Cook of Virginia Beach—but you must attend to your whole self to get it there.

“This is a tough lesson for most of us to learn,” Dr. Cook explains. “But it is true: we cannot attend to only one part of ourselves. For some, this kind of single aspect focus means attending to the spiritual only; for others it means attending to the emotional side of themselves, and for others it means attending to the physical alone. The problem is that if the spiritual side is well-attended to but the emotional and physical sides are struggling, then there cannot be true health, and there cannot be real joy.” Only when we begin to address ourselves as multifaceted beings can we experience the kind of joy for which we long.

A psychotherapist in private practice, Dr. Cook has her degree in clinical counseling and has been practicing in the Virginia Beach for over 17 years. “I received my first master’s degree in English, and I taught both high school and college-level English for years after that. What I loved best about that subject was the character analysis. I empathized with those characters struggling to know themselves better. I wanted to figure out what made them have as they did, what made them succeed or fail in their endeavors. That interest, along with my own time in analysis, my own search for a ‘me’ that was real and loved, is what lead me to what I do today—help others find their capacity for joy in life.”

In 1988, while raising her son and teaching English at Norfolk Academy, Dr. Cook went back to school at the College of William and Mary to pursue her doctorate in clinical counseling. “The College of William and Mary has a very strong spiritual component.” Dr. Cook asserts with pride. “The significance of the spiritual within my studies was important in terms of the work I wanted to do with those I hoped to help.”

During her specialist years, Dr. Cook began working with women and families, focusing on their emotional and spiritual growth. When she completed her doctorate in 1996, she started practicing psychotherapy while at the same time working on her certification as a clinical nutritionist as well as her diplomat in Advanced Nutritional Laboratory Analysis. She moved to include the physical body in the therapy she provided, not as a way to treat disease of any sort but as a method of simply giving her patients the tools and the know-how they needed to better manage their health.

Her decision to incorporate physical health management into her clinical counseling was a response to a trend she saw in her patients. She noticed that the way her patients attended to their physical health was directly related to their emotional and spiritual health and well being. It was not the only problem, but it was a part of the problem and a part that could be readily addressed.

“During my years of study and practice, I came to realize that there was more to wellness than a person’s emotional and spiritual health,” Dr. Cook explains. “I found that if the body did not have nutritional building blocks, the rest of the individual would continue to suffer. This is why I decided to continue my education and to combine nutritional concerns with mental health matters. I wanted to cover all the ground in order to help my patients achieve true wellness.”

“Understand, taking a supplement will not make a depression go away, but, if the body has what it needs to feel better, the mind is better able to address emotional, spiritual relationship issues,” Dr. Cook says. “Further, the person experiences a sense of empowerment, taking charge of her own well-being. People learn they can effect change in their lives.”

Because of her own personal and professional growth, Dr. Cook is now expanding her work to help her patients achieve total well being. “I want to help these individuals through better nutrition and lifestyle choices, yes. However, I also want to help them deal with relationship patterns that prohibit joy, that put them in a rut, that make them depressed and anxious and that, therefore, contribute to their physical pains or problems.”

Dr. Cook foresees an increased need for this kind of therapy because of the standard American diet and the American way of life. “Combine these things and we have a recipe for disaster—spiritually, emotionally and physically,” Dr. Cook says. “There is no way you can feel emotionally happy when you have not time for yourself, you don’t love and appreciate yourself, your relationships cause more pain that joy, when your body isn’t getting what it needs nutritionally, and when, because of all this, you are aching from head to soul to toe.”

Dr. Cook believes that her own in-depth analysis truly makes her work more in depth as well. “You cannot send patients into a territory you have not traveled. I have traveled and continue to explore all these areas of myself—the spiritual, the emotional, the physical. I know how painful—and how rewarding and joyful it can be to find your true self.”

Many of us have heard the story The Velveteen Rabbit. Dr. Cook uses this story to describe what she hopes to achieve with her patients. “In The Velveteen Rabbit, a boy’s love for his stuffed, velveteen rabbit and that velveteen rabbit’s love for the boy is what makes the rabbit a real, live rabbit in the end. I truly believe this is the way it works for all of us. We are made real through love, through love for ourselves and others.”

To be made real is to get back to an authentic self, to stop operating out of a single, simple metaphor of who you think you are. Dr. Cook helps her patients attend to themselves with love and compassion. She works with the whole person to realize the whole person, a complex and wonderful melding of the emotional, the spiritual and the physical.