An Interview with Sue Levitan, Primary Therapist

Sue Levitan is one of the first faces clients see when they begin detox and stabilization at The Ranch. She conducts psychosocial interviews and assessments to figure out who each client is, what their needs are and how she can help.

“One of the primary goals at this early stage is to help clients get grounded and comfortable with the process,” she explains. “We want them to know this is a safe place for them to do their work, a place where everyone is supporting them.”

Addressing the Core Issues

As a nurse with 40 years of experience and a trained trauma specialist, Sue has experience with the full spectrum of issues clients come to The Ranch to address. What drew her to The Ranch was the emphasis on addressing the core issues, not just the symptoms of addiction and mental illness. Having worked in a number of other settings, Sue has found that most treatment centers fail to adequately address trauma.

“Even when clients have gone through numerous other treatment programs, when they arrive at The Ranch, many have never addressed their underlying traumas,” she says. “And getting to those core issues, that’s really what makes a difference.”

In addition to having a nurse’s training, Sue has a nurse’s compassion. She is a genuine and supportive therapist whose first priority is establishing a strong connection with her clients.

“It’s hard for clients to do this work when they don’t feel safe,” she says. “As part of the clients’ support system, I follow their lead. Some people aren’t ready to address their trauma, and that’s fine. I meet them wherever they’re at.”

Integrating Body and Mind in Trauma Recovery

Although Sue is originally from New York, she and her husband moved to Tennessee, his home state, in 1997 and she fell in love with the area.

“You never know what might happen,” Sue says. “Moving to Tennessee took me out of my comfort zone but it has opened many doors for me, including the door to my own healing.”

Sue switched from nursing to mental health counseling because she saw the recovery process work in her own life and was passionate about helping other trauma survivors. Because Sue had no conscious memory of the trauma she experienced – in other words, it was entirely body memory – she was particularly impacted by body-centered therapies. She is currently training to become a Somatic Experiencing practitioner (the first one in Nashville).

“Healing from trauma involves the psyche but the body is also an important part of the equation,” Sue says. “Trauma causes a physical response related to the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system. Essentially, the body gets stuck on ‘on’ in the case of anxiety or ‘off’ in the case of depression. Trauma recovery is really about listening to what the body is saying.”

Most people do not want to re-experience their trauma, nor is it therapeutically beneficial to do so. Body-centered therapies allow people to get in touch with their feelings while, as Sue describes it, “working around the periphery of the trauma.”

For many people, addictions and other problems are attempts to feel better. Sue’s goal is to help the body regulate itself so there’s less need for self-medication.

“Trauma therapy takes a village,” Sue says. “We use different types of therapy and integrate one with another so that all facets of mind, body and spirit are part of the healing process.”

Through her own healing process, Sue has learned lessons that continue to shape her life as well as her clients’.

“What I always go back to is ‘trust the process,’” Sue says. “Healing takes time and you never really know when you’re ready. So don’t rush it or make assumptions – just keep trying and allow the process to do its work.”

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