Posted May 11, 2022
Category: Integrative Health
Brian Luke Seaward, Ph.D., has never really thought of himself as a wisdom-keeper in the field of integrative health, but those who have benefited from his decades of work and teaching in the field would probably say otherwise.
Seaward is an expert in the field of stress management, mind-body-spirit healing, and corporate health promotion. With a master’s degree from the University of Illinois and a Doctorate of Philosophy from the University of Maryland, he’s taught stress management, relaxation, and meditation techniques to thousands of students in college classrooms and workshops, as well as White House staff, Olympic athletes, heads of state, Broadway actors, leaders of multinational corporations, and more.
He realized early in his career that there was far more to healthcare than just our physical bodies.
“My career began in cardiac rehab, which focused very much on the physical aspect of health,” Seaward says. “The approach to cardiac rehab back in the 80s was basically what I call ‘broccoli and aerobics.’ But I realized that, even with that, people still died, and what they were missing was the purpose of life. They were missing the spiritual component and that’s still going on today.”
New perspectives began to coalesce for him when he was invited to speak at the second annual American Holistic Medical Association Conference and listened in on the keynote speech by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, the internationally recognized psychiatrist who revolutionized how the U.S. approached death and dying. But that day, she was there to speak about psychiatric holistic wellness.
“She talked about how the concept of wellness is ageless and goes back thousands of years,” Seaward says. “And she said the word ‘health’ is actually based on a very old English word, hælþ, which means to be whole or holy, and she said you cannot talk about health and wellness without talking about the health of the human spirit.”
It was a topic that spoke directly to his own passion within the healthcare field and validated what he had known all along, and when he had the chance to meet Kübler-Ross after her speech, he told her as much.
“She said, ‘I need your help. Would you help me and people like me re-introduce the ideas of human spirituality back into healthcare, back into health education?’” Seaward says. “I felt like I was knighted by the queen, and so that's what I've been doing for close to 50 years.”
One of Seaward’s key areas of expertise is in stress and stress management, which solidified during his work with Olympic athletes. A huge component of sports psychology is the ability to manage stress, but he also notes that, honestly, every facet of health is impacted by some aspect of stress. This work led him to create a course on how to teach a type of stress management that was mind-body-spirit focused and not just about symptomatic relief.
“My approach to stress management in healthcare is that the spiritual component is a vital part, and it’s been the most neglected part of the healthcare paradigm in Western culture for so long,” Seaward says. “There’s a whole new generation that needs to become aware of this and to embrace it as their own.”
The progress and awareness of integrative health, Seaward says, has been “by inches,” coming in and out of fashion over his years of work in the field.
“I look back now over the course of close to 50 years, and it seems like we’ve made large headway, but we’ve got so far to go,” he says. “The results are there now. There’s solid, evidence-based research on all of these integrative health concepts, which unfortunately were labeled as pseudoscience by those who don't know any better, which floors me. But the progress we've made has been substantial because it's rock-solid, it's watertight, you can't poke holes in it.”
When it comes to stress management, Seaward has quite literally written the book on this topic. His textbook, Managing Stress: Skills for Self-Care, Personal Resiliency and Work-Life Balance in a Rapidly Changing World, is regularly updated to include the latest findings and methodologies. But it was one chapter in particular — on stress and spirituality — that led to the course he’s teaching now through Salem University’s Integrative Health Institute. In 2007, Seaward published Stand Like Mountain Flow Like Water: Reflections on Stress and Human Spirituality, a book still in print and changing lives over a decade later. When the pandemic hit in 2020, he started thinking about the new world challenges facing people today and decided to give the book a new life and a new approach.
“What came to me was to do a master class on the topic of stress and spirituality,” Seaward says. “There are other people doing talks on stress, but my take is the spiritual approach, too, and it simply goes like this: Stress is an opportunity for spiritual growth, if we choose to learn from it.”
The result is an online 10-part series of one-hour modules that combines Seaward’s teachings with experiential learning, a workbook full of soul-searching exercises, and powerful guided mental imagery meditations.
IHI Executive Director Bruce Cryer was eager to have Seaward join IHI , both with this course and with another program, Seaward’s Holistic Stress Management Instructor Workshop.
“It's not a stress management class,” Seaward points out. “It's about how to teach stress management. We need a lot of people in the field of integrative medicine who can take this content and apply it to all kinds of areas, from self-care to cancer patient education to all kinds of things. So that's what this class is — basically, how to teach, how to facilitate, how to coach the content so that people can use it in their life on a daily basis. It's a course that should be really helpful to a lot of healthcare professionals.”
This course includes 20 hours of video class presentations; three, one-hour Zoom classes, and a one-on-one video chat with Seaward. He sees it as not just a class, but as the beginning of a mentorship.
When it comes to the current state of the integrative health field, Seaward is pragmatic that we’re not as far along as he might want us to be.
“I think we took a step back with the pandemic and sadly we’ve got to recover some lost ground,” he says. “Right now we have a huge mental health crisis in the country, and we need to address that. We’re slipping back into ‘broccoli and aerobics’ — although now I call it ‘kale and CrossFit’ — but I think we need to recover some lost ground before we can see some progress.”
Still, if progress is not a straight line, but a spiral, Seaward sees hope for the future of integrative health.
“This is all a process,” Seaward says. “There are always hiccups in the journey of evolution. But I think what we’re going to see is a more integrated approach at the educational level, so that people who work in the field are not negligent about other aspects that might derail people’s health.”
Enrollment is open now for Dr. Seaward’s courses, and you can also sign up for a May 16 webinar featuring Seaward with Cryer where they will be discussing these upcoming classes on stress management and life balance being offered through IHI.
If you’re interested in learning more about Salem University and our new Integrative Health Institute, you can also contact us to speak with our staff, who would be happy to answer your questions or assist you in enrolling in a course.
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