THOMAS SHILTZ • Rogers Memorial Hospital

Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:40 pm

Self-mutilation is growing as a problem among young people at an alarming rate. According to a recent large scale survey published in the Pediatrics professional journal, about 17 percent of college students report that they have cut, burned, carved or harmed themselves in other ways.

As he watched the problem become more prevalent among his students, Mark Flottum, coordinator for comprehensive school health programming at the Cooperative Educational Service Agency (CESA) #2 in Milton, sought the professional advice of Thomas Shiltz, a therapist, consultant, author and workshop presenter on mental health at Rogers Memorial Hospital in Oconomowoc.
“We needed to help school staff do a better job at recognizing the warning signs and getting these kids the help that they need,” Flottum says.

Through innovative forms of treatment, Shiltz is able to help his patients find peace of mind and stop mutilating themselves.

Termed by some experts as “the new anorexia,” self-injury has become a serious and widespread problem for teens and young adults during the past decade.

“It can be difficult,” Shiltz says. “One of the things I do for myself, first of all, I realize the healing process. I’m not responsible to heal that person. I see myself as a guide and facilitator, believing in that person’s inherent intrinsic ability to heal his or herself.”

The road to recovery, Shiltz says, entails removing obstacles for people so they can find how to heal within themselves.

Shiltz recounts the story of a sculpture made of granite. The sculptor chiseled an elephant. When an observer asked how the sculptor could make such a beautiful work of art, the sculptor said he merely took a chisel and hammer and removed everything that was not elephant.

“That’s kind of my philosophy, that we’re gradually going to chip away the obstacles to recovery,” Shiltz says.

Shiltz thinks of his work in spiritual terms and has found it to be a very powerful way to help others heal.

“It just kind of makes sense, feels right,” he says. “It’s impossible to separate physical medicine from spirituality or psychology. Sometimes the strongest insights will come through intuition. Like when you’re with a friend, and they’re hurting, sometimes the best thing you can do is offer your presence.”

The most difficult cases Thomas has are multiple traumas including child sexual abuse, active substance abuse, eating disorders and self-injury, coupled with limited social resources.

“A person that is in recovery from an extensive history of chemical dependency and self-injury initially does those things as attempts to repair trauma,” Shiltz says. “Those are the toughest cases when you have multiple traumas.”

His own frustrations of powerlessness can be numbing, he says.

“The longer I’m doing this, the dumber I get. All this background and experience – sometimes you sit in the enormity of this pain and you feel helpless,” he says.

“Folks very rarely say they are 85 percent compliant with their behavioral goals,” he says. “People tend to talk about internal changes that are harder to describe. They say, ‘I feel like a change has happened.’ They recognize they have purpose and meaning in life whereas before they had no desire to get up in the morning. That’s the internal dimension of the measurable external change.”

Shiltz is an ad hoc instructor for Cardinal Stritch University, where Victoria Acton, a psychotherapist, says Shiltz helps other therapists treat the growing problems of self-mutilation.

“Tom is truly a gifted speaker. He has enthusiasm that is lifted by his heart and is led by his intelligence and deep understanding of true healing. I am an experienced therapist, and Tom’s trainings challenge me to hear and guide clients to cathartic places of deep healing that will last a lifetime,” Acton said.

Shiltz was nominated for the Health Care Heroes Award by Mark Klug, marketing manager at Rogers Memorial Hospital.

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