THE BODY DETECTIVE
Exploring the new frontier of healing with Gina Calderone, PT, DPT
By Alyssa Swanson Hamilton | Contributor
FALL 2022 ISSUE
Photos courtesy of The Body Detective
Gina Calderone, a physical and energetic therapist and founder of the Empowered Health Foundation, began her career over two decades ago in a busy orthopedic clinic.
“I was seeing close to 30 patients a day, working at an extremely fast pace, primarily treating a high volume of people with musculoskeletal pain,” says Gina, then a physical therapist. “Even then, I knew it wasn’t just a matter of giving them an ultrasound or a massage. On a heartfelt level, I sensed that they needed more. People were coming in looking for connection.”
She valued her work and did her best to listen to her patients and help them heal. In an instant, however, a deeper calling revealed itself.
One day, a man came in complaining of shoulder pain. She asked him if anything had happened in his life lately. He told her that his father had just died.
“It was a powerful moment, like the volume was suddenly turned up,” she says. “I heard heartbreak. The lungs are the seat of grief, and I sensed immediately that his shoulder pain was a direct reflection of that.”
His chest had contracted and wrenched his shoulder inward, radiating the sudden unexplained pain.
“It seems sudden, because we are not trained in connecting our life experiences with our physical pain,” she explains. “However, our bodies contain the pain that we are not ready to feel. From that moment, this truth revealed itself to me over and over.”
Shortly after, Gina left the orthopedic practice and struck out on her own, opening Centripetal Force Studio in Long Beach. The studio became a personal research and development lab where she examined the intersection between physical and emotional pain.
She had long been interested in energy medicine (energy, she says, “is emotions in motion — these emotions, such as grief, can get stuck and cause pain”) along with physical therapy. Her experiences with her patients further compelled her to follow that path.
Through a modality she pioneered called Physioenergetic Therapy™, she guides patients toward healing by addressing not only the physical symptoms, but the emotional or energetic root cause. Physioenergetic Therapy addresses how life experiences affect the physical, like the autonomic nervous system. This therapy acknowledges what Gina references as “the invisible wound,” a pain so deep that it is in hiding, tucked away while the patient is in survival mode.
“Some people are carrying the memory of experiences so heartbreaking that if they allowed them to surface, it could flatten them,” she says. “The wounds are compartmentalized to allow the person to function in daily life.”
These are heavy burdens we carry in the body, and they trigger the creation of a fight-flight-freeze state that must be felt, processed and rebooted, she says. Otherwise, this unresolved trauma and toxic grief manifests as physical pain, illness and disease.
“I became the person folks called when they’d exhausted the traditional healthcare medical model, as well as dabbled in the alternative therapy world with little to no success healing the pain in their body,” she says.
Her patients, presenting with conditions ranging from skeletal fractures and chronic pain to ADHD, depression and autoimmune disorders, found that as they healed their autonomic nervous systems (ANS) and released emotions using Gina’s methods, they were no longer in survival mode. They were able to heal their physical symptoms and their emotional state in a way that had not been possible before.
“Using a combination of physical therapy and energy anatomy, I was able to reprogram the ANS from constant survival mode to ‘rest, digest and repair,’ to enable the body’s innate healing ability,” she says. “As the pain ceased, my patients could sleep better, make healthy choices in eating and exercise. They shed extra weight as their health improved. The impulsive survival way of life waned, and they could see the big picture, finding purpose and love again in life instead of focusing on an endless loop of pain and depression.”
In a paper titled “Defining Moment” for the American Physical Therapy Association, Gina writes, “I recognized that the feelings and memories of pain experienced by my patients outweighed their diagnoses. When I used massage and hands-on soft-tissue mobilization to unravel their tense muscles, stories of unresolved trauma and grief came up. Their body stories showed me, people in physical pain are in emotional pain. I became deft at unraveling, listening, and deducing the true roots of pain. In healthcare, we fail to ask the right questions to lead us to the source of the pain. Instead, we are stuck in old models of trying to silence the symptoms with prescription medications. These outdated practices have led us into this ‘pain-demic.’”
She recalls that she once asked a 16-year-old patient what she wanted to do when she grew up. In turn, the teen asked what Gina, as a young girl, had imagined she might pursue in adulthood.
“I told her that I had wanted to be a detective,” Gina says. “She responded, ‘Well, you are a detective. A body detective!’”
Gina laughs. “She was right.”
Her calling paved the way for the Empowered Health Foundation, where she utilized her newfound wisdom to help people in all stages of life to solve the most puzzling, life-threatening diseases that defied even Western medicine. Likewise, she stretched beyond the walls of her studio, landing in the classroom and on the playground of her children’s elementary school. She helped students connect their brains and their core, a synergy that can be disrupted by traumatic experiences in the home. She and her team fine-tuned their motor skills, leading to an improvement in their confidence, reading skills and classroom behavior. In hospital settings, Gina guided patients out of physical and emotional pain that was imprisoning them and creating disease. These varying experiences with profound healing inspired her to make a transition.
In January 2020, Gina closed her studio to dedicate herself to research and collect data that further supported her experiences with her healing methods. Then in March, the pandemic hit. She found herself with multiple requests to see teenage boys, many presenting with anxiety, depression and suicidal ideation, and began seeing patients in her home office.
“This generation doesn’t want to deny their emotions,” she says. “They want to feel it all: grief, sorrow, joy, courage. It’s like they are on a different operating system, often at odds with the generation of men raising them who were themselves taught to stifle any emotions that might betray weakness. I also saw an uptick in panic attacks in teen girls; they were functioning as the containers for pent-up energy within the household.”
The old systems are breaking down, and it’s time to build new ones, she says.
“I’ve spent years conditioning a new generation to find value in understanding your feelings and how to express your emotions in your body, while teaching adults the importance of releasing toxic stress from childhood or after a divorce or death of a parent,” she notes. “When we can center ourselves and plug into the power of our emotions and our body, we will find ourselves feeling good and loving our lives. Pain vanishes because the body has no reason to signal crisis anymore, it doesn’t have to hide in your body any longer. You’re free!
“People are now more open to exploring their emotional bodies and healing from the inside out,” she continues. “There is more of an awareness that your biography becomes your biology.”
In addition to her current practice and research, Gina is also on the cusp of obtaining a Ph.D. in physical therapy. Her vision is to create a new kind of hospital and research facility — a healing house for the body, mind and soul, focusing on addressing generational and emotional trauma.
“This new kind of hospital would provide the framework to heal Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) in the body, so that we, as well as future generations, don’t have to carry familial burdens of unhealed historical trauma,” she says.
“Our bodies are profoundly intelligent. I’d like to focus more on prevention of illness,” she says. “Oftentimes, people are tested for multiple issues, but their bloodwork comes back fine. Based on past trauma, a person might be carrying the ‘imprint’ or shadow of a disease before that disease is made manifest. It’s not detectable in a lab, but it’s there. We need to heal that trauma at the root. It’s like a necrosis. We cannot heal in the same environment in which we became ill.”
Gina envisions the new center as “a beacon” of evidence-based research that will power a new future for healthcare through clinical research, education and outreach training of healthcare practitioners, educators and justice system advocates on the frontlines of childhood trauma recovery.
“Physical therapists go to school to learn how to treat pain in the body,” Gina says. “If you really pay attention to your client, they will always tell you what’s troubling them. You just have to listen.
“I am more than a healthcare professional,” she continues. “I became a healer, and we need more healers in the healthcare system.”