9/11 widow helps others heal at the Wellness Room in Newtonville

By Trevor Jones Wicked Local

Newton resident Haven Fyfe Kiernan knows about recovering from grief.

Haven Fyfe Kiernan, LICSW is founder of The Wellness Room in Newtonville. Keith E. Jacobson/Wicked Local

The owner of The Wellness Room at 288 Walnut St. has more than 15 years of experience working as a social worker specializing in bereavement, and in 2001 she lived through her own traumatic loss.

On September 11, 2001, her husband Karleton Fyfe was a passenger on American Airlines flight 11 when terrorists crashed the plane into the World Trade Center, killing everyone onboard. The couple had an 18-month-old son at the time. They had learned just two days earlier that she was pregnant with their second child.

After her husband’s death, Fyfe Kiernan took three years away from her career, raising her two boys and going through individual and group therapy to cope with the loss. But then she decided to go back to counseling, committed to seeing other people through their own life traumas. The loss of her husband shaped Fyfe Kiernan as a counselor and awareness of her experience with his death began attracting clients dealing with their own losses, she said.

No more blank slate

Fyfe Kiernan had been trained to be a blank slate with clients, but that was no longer possible in the age of Google, where a few keystrokes could inform any client with her connection to the national tragedy. Still, she says that while she doesn’t bring up her husband’s death with clients, she doesn’t shy away from it either.

Her own grieving process taught her that there’s no prescribed way to deal with a loss, and counseling can help guide people through the process. She’s found that those who would come to her aware of her background often find an immediate shared connection.

“It’s part of my story,” said Fyfe Kiernan. “I am not a therapist that is a blank slate at all, I’m a therapist that brings my other experiences into the work place.”

Now Fyfe Kiernan is bringing her years of experience to a new venture in Newtonville that she says offers emotional and physical tools that include individual and group therapy, as well as message [sic] and reiki.

She opened the Wellness Room at 288 Walnut St. in September of last year. The office is bright with splashes of color and Fyfe Kiernan said the goal was to have a space that was open, sunny and inviting. She said she wanted it to feel nothing like a doctor’s office, because that could give the impression that clients are sick and depression and anxiety are not typical.

“It’s just a normal part of life,” said Fyfe Kiernan. “We all have seasons of feeling sad and anxious and we’re here to support folks through that, but I find that once you really validate and normalize that, it’s 50 percent of getting better and feeling better.”

Building a community of wellness

Fyfe Kiernan worked in private practice for eight years when she returned to work, but she decided last year it was time to try something different.

“I was loving the work but feeling very isolated and really feeling like I needed a community for myself to be doing the work,” said Fyfe Kiernan. “But also I wanted to form a community of wellness for my patients — a place to feel really held and really comfortable.”

She brought together several of her friends who she met through her profession or through being a mom in Newton, and the center offers therapy specialties in dealing with a variety of issues, including medical illness and diagnoses, divorce recovery and couples therapy.

She said that physical pains like stomach aches and headaches can also be tied to emotional problems, so having staff work collaboratively to provide physical relaxation techniques in-house is another way to deal with she calls “self-care.”

“We really feel like it’s an integrative approach to emotional wellness,” said Fyfe Kiernan. “It’s sort of dealing with physical wellness as well as emotional wellness.”

There are also plans to provide support groups and group counseling to patients. So far there are offerings for single parenting after the loss of a spouse, motherless mothers, new moms, and upcoming groups for fathers and mixed families.

Fyfe Kiernan said meeting in groups was beneficial to her own recovery process, describing it as finding “your tribe.”

She said she hopes people embrace these groups as a compliment [sic] to individual therapy. While the group settings can be intimidating, she said, it also can provide an means for people to know they’re not alone and to see others who have had faced the same struggles and made it through to the other side.

Finding people who are struggling with the same thing can be incredibly validating, normalizing and healing.”

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