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Michelle sitting on a yoga mat

Finding a new path forward at the Healthy Living Center

Living through a traumatic experience can leave you feeling numb, isolated and unable to trust other people. Understandably, it can take a long time to get over the pain and feel safe again.

Michelle, 53, of La Crosse, can relate, "I was sexually abused when I was a child. I put much of that in a box and forgot about it until just recently."

About one year ago, Michelle's mental health therapist at Gundersen Health System suggested she try Healthy Relationships Group Therapy at the Healthy Living Center.

Located within the Dahl Family YMCA in La Crosse, the Healthy Living Center is a partnership between Gundersen Health System and the La Crosse Area Family YMCA that offers a variety of services to help community members transition from Gundersen medical care to Y programming.

Classes and support groups focus on many needs over the lifespan, such as:

  • Nutrition and weight management
  • Exercise, sports medicine and physical therapy
  • Emotional wellness
  • Prenatal and postpartum care
  • Preventing and/or overcoming chronic disease and pain

Michelle regularly attends Healthy Relationships Group Therapy and Trauma Center Trauma Sensitive Yoga (TCTSY)—both of which are free programs for those impacted by sexual abuse.

Of her past, Michelle shares, "I was unable to maintain a healthy relationship with the opposite sex. There was so much resentment built up inside of me. Once I started talking about it [trauma], it got really uncomfortable because I had to start dealing with it."

While it has been tempting to walk away, at times, Michelle says the safe and supportive environment of the classes keeps her coming back.

"We can open up and talk about our experiences and share in the success of others' breakthroughs. Attending group therapy has given me something I never had before…hope," she says.

Gundersen licensed therapist Rachel Slough-Johnson, MS, LMFT, TCTSY-F, who leads both evidence-based classes, says providing treatment at the Healthy Living Center feels so natural. "People tell me they don't feel like patients here. They feel like normal people."

It's not uncommon for participants to meet after group therapy to carry on conversations or attend Y-led exercise classes together—options that wouldn't be available in a clinical setting.

"Trauma can feel so isolating, so it's exciting when my patients reach out to others and feel comfortable doing something as a group. I couldn't offer this kind of treatment anywhere else," Rachel says.

Michelle, for example, has a Y membership and participates in other group exercise classes. "I love Zumba. I've found that working out has helped a lot to get rid of stress and anger."

She continues, "I don't know what I'd be doing now if these therapy groups weren't available. I actually look forward to them now. I could kick myself that I waited this long."

Whether your trauma happened years ago or days ago, you can experience healing changes at the Healthy Living Center.

To learn more about services and classes offered, visit

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