Expert Profile - Erica Cuni
M.S., LMFT, CMHIMP
“The Burnout Professor”
Integrative Psychotherapist & Founder of The C.U.N.I. Method
Professional Speaker, Trainer, Social Media Creator, and fellow Trauma Survivor
Additional training in Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (M.B.S.R.), Neurobiology of Stress & Trauma, Emotionally Focused Therapy (E.F.T.)/Tapping, Somatic Experiencing (S.E.), Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (E.M.D.R.), Polyvagal Theory for Trauma and Clinical Practice, and Symphony of Cells for Essential Oils.
Erica Cuni’s Bio:
Erica Cuni, M.S., LMFT, known as “The Burnout Professor,” is an Integrative Psychotherapist, Professional Speaker, Trainer, Social Media Creator, and fellow Trauma Survivor.
Over the past 15 years in her Psychotherapist career, Erica has worked in almost every level of care and with several systems (i.e., the Department of Veteran Affairs, Department of Corrections, the Public School System, and the Juvenile Justice System). Her most notable positions have been: a Clinical Director at a Children’s Psychiatric Outpatient Program in Connecticut and Adjunct Lecturer and Clinical Professor at Central Connecticut State University. While at the University, Erica taught Human Development with an attachment theory perspective and trauma-informed lens, Dysfunctional Family Processes (i.e., Substance Use, Domestic Violence, Sexual Abuse, Mental Illness), Intergenerational Family Processes (i.e., generational trauma and relational patterns), Couples Therapy and provided supervision for Graduate Students learning their craft. She saw firsthand how the mainstream mental health field needs to shift, both for the clinician and the client.
Today, she uses practical, nervous system-based, trauma-informed tools to help “Create Undeniable Natural Impact (C.U.N.I.),” promoting mind, body, and spirit health with her audiences. Traditionally trained as a Marriage and Family Therapist, she has a strong foundation in Systems Thinking and relational dynamics and is certified in Internal Family Systems Level 1, Mental Health Integrative Medicine, Reiki, and Traumatic Stress Studies with various other pieces of training.
She has worked with thousands of individuals, including presenting to over 30 groups: State/National Associations, Military, Non-Profits, Frontline Workers, Parents, Entrepreneurs, Educational Professionals, and Students using The C.U.N.I. Approach. She offers individual services, group classes, and Anti-Burnout Culture Leadership Training for businesses. In addition, she teaches other professionals how to use The C.U.N.I. Method with their clients.
Erica’s mission is to help make the mental health field more effective, accessible, non-stigmatizing, and decolonized for all involved. She found her purpose in 2014 after being hit by a Mack Dump Truck (literally) while driving to work and having her life fall entirely apart over the next 14 months. This is what she wished she had on her journey—a roadmap to thriving consciously and something that didn’t pathologize her for doing her job, life events, and the intergenerational trauma she was carrying around with her.
When Erica is not working, you can find her outside with her dog Bear, in her favorite pair of cowboy boots, dancing her heart out or learning more about neuroscience.
What life events or challenges that you’ve experienced (could be minor, could be major) – whether you’ve experienced them directly or via someone close to you, have had any type of impact on your desire to pursue a career in psychiatry?
Growing up, I encountered several adversities. Some of the challenges I faced resulted from the intergenerational trauma my family experienced: immigration from Sicily and Italy, living in an orphanage until 18 years old, and from being Combat War Veterans. While other challenges came from my parents’ divorce, having a genetic lung disease with major surgery at 17, witnessing domestic violence as a child, family history of mental illness and addiction, low socioeconomic status, and the death of my boyfriend in a motorcycle accident in my early 20’s.
Believe it or not, I didn’t always want to be a therapist. I am a former Club D.J., and I have a business undergraduate degree. I thought I would be the next CEO of Sony Music Records. I went to therapy and rehab in my mid-20’s to deal with the loss of my boyfriend, and as I healed, I realized that I wanted to help others do the same. I became a therapist to help others find their power within themselves to overcome life’s adversities.
Then, in my mid-thirties, I was hit by a Mack Dump Truck (literally) while driving to my therapist job. Over the following 14 months, my life fell completely apart: a three-month recovery from the accident (including emergency surgery and a week in the hospital), was fired from my job, ended a long-term toxic relationship, my health deteriorated, and I needed another surgery, and I had to move back home because I was in debt. I also had several untimely close friends and family deaths occur within six months.
I felt like I had a black cloud over my head that was never going to go away. What the heck was I missing? I thought I had been doing everything right.
How did those events impact you emotionally/morally? How, if at all did those events impact the way you view how our current system teaches us to treat patients with mental health challenges?
I saw a therapist in the early 2000s after my boyfriend’s death. Even though I spent most of my time in therapy talking about my stressors, she did bring some mindfulness strategies and movement into our sessions. I also went to a psychiatrist, and he prescribed a few different medications. I did not particularly appreciate how they made me feel and went off them. Being diagnosed didn’t sit well with me. I remember thinking, “That’s not who I am!” When I completed my time with her, I thought I was set for life because there wasn’t one area of my life I hadn’t analyzed.
The graduate program I went to was well known for family therapy. I chose a program with professors trained in Internal Family Systems and taught with a trauma-informed lens. My education introduced the concept of diagnosis, but it wasn’t a focus. Family therapists have this belief that “people aren’t crazy; people make you crazy.”
It wasn’t until I entered the field as a therapist that I realized I had been in a bubble. Agency work-life was a brutal wake-up call to how mainstream mental health indeed operated. As a result, I moved away from the trauma-informed approaches I had learned and got caught up with the name, blame, and tame syndrome, meaning the answer to everything was to talk endlessly and take medication.
Side note: I have always been considered a “disruptor” in my psychotherapy career. I pushed the boundaries of what was considered “traditional” therapy. I was not afraid to go to dark places with my clients because I knew if I could get out, so could they. I didn’t have this need to “fix and save.” Instead, I had this urge to help uncover their power. My reputation is a compassionate, straight shooter while having a knack for hearing the unspoken.
After the Mack Dump Truck accident and while my life was falling apart, I went to traditional talk therapy again. This time with another clinician, I started to notice that talking made me worse. I would walk out more agitated than when I walked in. I was also irked that I would be receiving a diagnosis. A recurring thought in my mind was, “This isn’t the answer.” I knew I was emotionally exhausted and felt like I had lost a piece of my soul from the exposure to situations at my various therapy jobs over the years. I saw and heard things most people don’t have to ever hear in their life. I kept thinking, “Why am I getting labeled for doing my job?” It was here that I knew I had to get outside of the traditional therapy box.
Diving headfirst into the woo-woo side of wellness, I found healing. I learned that I had been living my life on auto-pilot, had no clue how to be calm, and disconnected from what made me, me. I learned about gut health, and the food is medicine mentality, essential oils, meditation, and spirituality. I even tapped into my ability to use my intuition.
When and why did you decide to actually focus on practicing Integrative Psychiatry, specifically, and how was your decision shaped by the experiences above?
Between 2017 and 2018, I closed my busy talk therapy practice because I was beyond disenchanted with the mental health field. Some of the reasons were: I disagreed with the way professionals pushed medication as the first and only solution, you needed to have the “fix and save” mentality to fit in, how insurance companies required a diagnosis for payment (the diagnostic system as a whole, really) and how the field is set up for the professionals to fail – meaning high caseloads with little to no resources and little care about their well-being. There is a taboo topic about clinicians experiencing trauma, burnout, compassion fatigue, vicarious trauma, and moral injury, and it needs to be addressed, stat.
So, I started a spiritual coaching business.
When I was on the spiritual side, I was frustrated because the work wasn’t trauma-informed, and the science was missing. I realized I had to figure out how to marry the two worlds together. These experiences are what inspired me to become an Integrative Psychotherapist.
After recovering from my burnout, I obtained several certifications and attended dozens of training to gain credibility and help others thrive consciously. I officially transitioned from a traditional talk therapist to an Integrative Psychotherapist in 2018.
What methods or practices do you utilize to help individuals get/feel better?
Here, we get to the root cause. This isn’t traditional talk therapy where we analyze the past. This is a new way of being from this point forward.
Stress and trauma research shows that it’s more fruitful to focus on the brain/nervous system, gut health, and mindset than talking about the stressors endlessly.
Move over, Freud. It’s a new Era.
Some of the techniques I use in my practice are:
- Breathing exercises
- Tapping/Emotionally Focused Therapy
- Internal Family Systems use of “Parts” language
- Mindfulness activities (i.e., body scans, eating, walking)
- Psychoeducation about gut health for brain health
- Cultivating a growth mindset (more than mantras and intentions)
- Relationship basics (i.e., boundaries, non-violent communication)
- Limbic system therapies (i.e., movement, cold exposure, sitting still)
- Guidance on essential oils for regulating the nervous system
- Information about Chakras
- Neuroscience and Nervous System Education
How did people react when you share this Integrative/Holistic approach with them – whether it be patients or other doctors?
As that former Club D.J. and Sicilian, it’s innate to make noise and motivate people. My unique experiences from being a traditional talk therapist, a spiritual practitioner, a science-based provider, and standing in front of a classroom have given me invaluable knowledge on handling diverse opinions. I have found a way to operate so that the information provided can fit into any culture, lifestyle, and person because I am ultimately helping you step into your #UndeniableTruth where you own it, speak it, and live it.
It is my fundamental belief that actual paradigm shifts come from creating a new system and having others that believe in your message join you. Over time, the movement increases in size until you become loud, so much so that the old system fades away into the background. It’s not about trying to get someone to see your point. I don’t try to argue with those that do not agree with me. Not only does it take me out of my peace, but it’s also because people can only meet you from where they are. I trust that by continually putting my message out into the world, speaking and embodying these beliefs, those that align will join in this mission to change the mental health field landscape so that it’s more effective, accessible, decolonized, and non-stigmatizing.
Are you ready to kick stress to the curb? Let’s go! Class is now in session.
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