The night before I met Fiona Arrigo, you could find me Googling “What questions does a therapist ask you?” I was anxious, and felt I had to prep for the next day’s “mind cleanse,” a 90-minute one-on-one session with Arrigo, a psychotherapist and “intuitive healer.” I had no idea what to expect from the cleanse, which was described as an alternative to traditional therapy—the longer session and Arrigo’s ability to zero in on past traumas apparently made it speedier and more proactive. My read: more emotional and intense.
When I’d first received the media invite a few weeks prior, a mind cleanse sounded fantastic. I was excited about the potential to dump out all my thoughts and sort through any stressors, and I thought it might serve as a sort of performance boost. But as the day crept closer, I worried it might simply be draining, or that I’d somehow say the wrong things and wouldn’t have my “breakthrough.”
Despite my nerves, curiosity (and journalistic duties) got the better of me, and I headed to Arrigo’s loft in Chelsea the next morning. Arrigo is the founder of The Arrigo Programme, which hosts retreats that feature the mind cleanse as a major component – it usually lasts five hours – I’d be getting a shortened version. The aim is to examine behavior patterns and past experiences which might be weighing you down and preventing you from moving forward. Arrigo has 30 years of experience in this field—and glowing reviews from clients—so skeptical as I was that an emotional detox would work for me, I decided to be open to the experience.
When Arrigo’s apprentice opened the door to the loft, I instantly felt calmer. It smelled of soft, soothing lavender, candles burned around the room, and huge bouquets and plants rested on all the tables. Sunlight streamed in from the floor-to-ceiling windows. I took a seat on a plush couch and was brought a hot mug of jasmine tea to sip as I waited. The setting felt ultra relaxing, and when Arrigo emerged, she only added to the Zen atmosphere. She greeted me warmly, draped in layers of soft fabric, and sat across from me with a notebook in hand.
Arrigo started by explaining her method, and why she created the program. She spoke of guiding people back to their authentic selves by getting past the daily “wounds” we often brush away. “Women are so porous,” she said. I nodded. She kept dispensing little nuggets of wisdom that instantly stuck in my head. Maybe it was her steady, un-rushed way of speaking, or her British accent, but I loved listening to her. At times it felt hypnotic. Another wise nugget: “We’re always giving people brownie points for achievement, when we should get brownie points for being ourselves.” I smiled and agreed.
Then Arrigo asked me why I was there. I’d thought about what I hoped to get from the session—what was my block I wanted to get past? I’m generally really happy and handle stress well, but there are a few things I wanted to work on. I told her I struggled with expressing emotion and being vulnerable in my relationships. We dove into why that is and my “origin story” (what my life was like growing up). She asked about the darkest points in my childhood, and things got weepy (so much for being emotionally repressed!). I was a bit stunned I was able to cry in front of her. She took notes as I talked, later coming back to parts of my past and making connections when I talked about my present relationships and coping mechanisms.
We talked about how I deal with stress and when I feel my best, which is when I’m running. I brightened as I talked about it—the sport has never failed to bring me peace, and I’ve always been proud that my own body can help me sort through any emotions. “Running is like your yoga,” she observed. “It’s meditative for you.” She recognized its importance to me.
At one point, Arrigo asked if keeping people at an emotional distance was working for me. I laughed, because I knew it wasn’t, but being asked point-blank made it seem so obvious. I told her I wanted to let people in, but I was scared. I’d learned to deal with others’ emotions first, and push mine away until they bubbled up. She offered me recommendations that made perfect sense to me; since it’s difficult for me to talk about my emotions, they focused on physical ways to let things out.
First, she suggested I tap into the reasons I’m running, instead of just lacing up. “If you feel angry or sad, talk it through while you’re running: ‘I’m running out this anger, I’m running through this sadness,’” she said. Then, she suggested I finish by laying down to stretch, placing my hands on my heart and belly, checking in with how I feel, and thanking my body for allowing me to run.
I also learned what a kinesiologist does, as Arrigo suggested I see one. They use the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), or tapping, to help people release stress and address trauma. It’s a traditional eastern holistic method that involves tapping along the meridians of the body (which are also utilized in acupuncture), along with repetitive mantras. There’s actually research to back up EFT in the treatment of PTSD.
It sounds woo-woo because it is, but I was still interested. It felt like Arrigo’s recommendations were tailored to things I’m really curious about and interested in. I’m fascinated by how movement can heal the mind, and she tapped into that to motivate me. I’m willing to give this stuff a try.
We ended the conversation with some notes on books I should pick up and journaling methods. As I left, crumpled Kleenex in hand, I definitely didn’t feel “cleansed.” If anything, I felt I had a lot more to think about, and needed a long walk to decompress. I was embarrassed for crying. Still, I somehow felt a little lighter, and motivated to work on expressing myself more.
And I wanted to see Arrigo again. I felt truly heard in way I hadn’t for a long time.
Visit www.thearrigoprogramme.com for more details on their upcoming East Coast retreat in June.
This article originally appeared on Health.com.