We spoke with Michelle Brans, a child and family therapist. Michelle provides counseling for parents and families supporting children with special needs to help them achieve a more harmonious and balanced lifestyle. We found out how she heals with nature, what butterflies have taught her about living a meaningful life, and why she gave her dog a job.
Why do you prefer to work with children over adults?
I have always loved and been connected to children in a special way. Children are dynamic. They come with families, cultures, and stories that create containers that hold and shape their development. So that means in order to work with the whole child, I am also committed to also work with their family and community (their container).
It is this dynamic nature of the whole child that keeps my fire going everyday. And when I stand back and see a child developing in a safe and supportive container, this truly warms my heart.
How do you use nature to promote healing?
As a child I grew up in a family deeply connected to nature and animals. My connection to nature has always just felt ‘right’. Simply put, it makes me feel good and supports me to do good things for people around me. So when I was developing my roots of my practice, I was instinctively drawn to partner with nature. And this is where I can get all scientific-y and list all the theories why nature is good. But I don’t need to do that.
Because you know, when you slow down enough to experience it, nature just feels ‘right’, and you feel good. These good feelings get the brain firing in all the right places… and that gets me excited (and not just because I love neurobiology), but because this is when healing and change happens.
You bring your dog to work. Does he make your job easier or more difficult?
Partnering with my dog, Chase, brings an entirely different feel to my work. Similar to my work in nature, being around animals just makes us feel good. Who can resist a tail wagging at you as you enter a room!?! And this can effectively put a resistant teen or scared child at ease… and this definitely makes my job much easier.
You often talk about counting butterflies. What does that mean?
Counting Butterflies is about stopping for a moment to experience something greater then you. It is about acknowledging that these moments allow you to reconnect with yourself, and then open you up to connect with others. The experience of counting butterflies plays a significant role in my journey to wholeness and wellness. And it is my hope that every journey I join someone on has these kinds of experiences in it along the way.
Do you find it more challenging being a therapist or running a business?
That is an easy one to answer. I have many roles, many of which I navigate well in, but I am truly humbled when I say the business-role is not one of them. There are many aspects of the business world I can navigate well-ish at. But when your business model involves an ‘I-work-for-free’ mentality, this causes problems (apparently banks don’t fund projects using this mentality, nor do they understand the ‘pay-it-forward-because-it-feels-good’ bartering system).
The greatest ‘ah-ha’ moment came when I actually acknowledged my blind spots in the business world. And then I cried… a lot. And then I did what I do best and found connections with people who do a darn good job at the business-role. So I continue to build my ‘village’ that supports my blind spots, and allows me to focus my attention on what I do best.
What’s on your desk right now?
I’m writing from my home office, and on my desk there is my well-loved laptop with crayon on the keyboard, a mason jar with lemon, stevia, and water, a half empty (or half full!) glass of my morning green juice, piles of dog-eared books and textbooks that I am reading- due to my nasty habit of starting a book before I have finished the last, cut papers and string taped together with stickers (aka my daughter’s masterpiece), Psychology Today and Ecoparent Magazine, remnants of a sticker, or ‘gift’, from my daughter- she lovingly placed on my desk one morning, a plaque gifted to me by my parents, which reads, “The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams” by E. Roosevelt, and my little dog Milo warming my feet (under my desk).
What’s at the top of your bucket list?
More recently, becoming a Naturalist has moved up to the top. Learning tracking skills, bird language, and wild edibles and medicinals gets me really excited these days. This timeless time in nature exploring brings out the child in me – and makes me a better person.