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Book Review

Awakening Athena: Resilience, Restoration and Rejuvenation for Women

Kenna Stephenson
Health, Heart & Mind Institute, 2004

Well referenced and well written, this lovely book is a keeper. Easy reading for the layperson, it also contains pearls of insight and useful information for the healthcare practitioner.

Dr. Stephenson describes how to evaluate women through interview, examination, and laboratory/saliva testing. She discusses prescription regimens of bioidentical hormone therapy that use estradiol, estriol, estrone, progesterone, and testosterone in a variety of combinations and dosage forms. One section describes administration of topical sildenafil (Viagra) locally in the genital area to increase blood flow and improve sexual function. She documents the benefits of progesterone therapy and reviews hormone balance. Practical information is provided regarding basic physiology, bioidentical hormone balance, and the health benefits of yoga, diet, sandtray therapy, handwork, cinema therapy, dream work, and Bio-Touch therapy. The author makes clear how to assess patients who might benefit from these therapies and how to prescribe these modalities.

The author also addresses the controversy over saliva testing versus blood serum testing of hormone levels. Traditionally trained physicians are taught to obtain serum hormone levels; to many doctors, therefore, saliva testing is a novel concept. Dr. Stephenson provides documentation as to the use and accuracy of saliva testing and resources, while the rationale for saliva testing is well documented with multiple footnotes and references. She advises that using a reliable laboratory is crucial.

Forty-two case studies are beautifully presented with patient history, diagnosis, treatment plans, follow-up plans, and references. The case studies discuss multiple medical issues, and can be used by laypersons to help categorize their own symptoms. The cases are engaging and show that successful treatment is possible.

Dr. Stephenson recommends that women practice yoga, which provides beneficial physiological effects by improving flexibility, strengthening muscles, and increasing the heart’s ability to use oxygen. Practicing yoga on a regular basis reduces heart rate and blood pressure, inhibits release of cortisol, and minimizes sympathetic nervous system hyperactivity in response to stress. She states that everyone, including bedridden patients, can perform yoga, and provides references to various videos, CDs, and websites to help practitioners select the best program for the individual patient.

Diet and related lifestyle issues are addressed in both individual and family contexts. Dr. Stephenson observes, for example, that children who eat at home exhibit better behavior, academic performance, and selfesteem than children who eat “on the go.” She encourages parents to provide nutritious, home-cooked meals that include foods high in omega-3 fatty acids, and recommends that they monitor the glycemic index of those foods. Several references are provided to assist with preparing a diet plan that will work for the individual.

To stimulate brain activity and memory, Dr. Stephenson recommends handwork such as knitting. She states that the counting and planning of stitches keeps the brain active and may be beneficial to memory.

Dr. Stephenson postulates that dreams help us resolve conflict and access our inner resources. Understanding our dreams involves remembering the details of the dream while thinking of the dream as a movie or a play—not an actual occurrence— and then reflecting on our attitudes and associations with the dream content. She provides one example of the healing power of dreams that involves a family whose son had died suddenly in his sleep owing to a congenital cardiac defect. The mother was plagued with guilt and depression. She became pale and withdrew from her previous interests. Three years after her son’s death, the mother was suddenly herself again. She had had a dream that led her on the path to healing. The mother described how, in the dream, she was walking in a small mountain village, looked up, and saw her son driving a Jeep. She got in and visited with him for a while; he was peaceful and looked healthy. He then stopped the vehicle and told her it was time for her to get out, as he had to continue his journey alone. He told her he was going “to gan eden.” She later found out that “gan eden” means “paradise” in Hebrew. Through this dream, she was able to find peace.

Dr. Stephenson also recommends “cinema therapy,” the simple act of watching a movie, as a practical therapy to help understand relationships, beliefs, and interactions. In films, the characters can teach positive or negative lessons by example, offer a new perspective, or just evoke a good laugh. A similar effect may also be achieved by reading books. She provides movie and book lists.

Bio-Touch is a nonsexual healing touch therapy that has been shown to improve physical and emotional health. Previous education and social factors do not limit the effectiveness of the Bio-Touch provider. Bio-Touch involves lightly touching 17 sets of designated points on a patient’s body with the index and middle fingers of both hands, and can be learned in a 2-day class. Studies have shown that a newly trained Bio-Touch practitioner’s treatments are as effective as those of an experienced practitioner.

Sandtray therapy is a technique based on the work of psychiatrist Carl Jung. The principle is that examining our spontaneous choice of symbolic objects helps us connect with the issues they represent. The patient chooses a small object from a large selection that is presented on a tray of pure white sand. The patient interprets the sandscape and experiences previously unidentified feelings; once the patient accesses those emotions, healing can begin.

This book would be helpful to healthcare providers or to the layperson who is unfamiliar with bioidentical hormone therapy and wants to learn more. It is not intimidating, and educates in a gentle, nurturing way. Awakening Athena sets a standard for books by healthcare providers. Points are well made and the references are amazing.

Reviewed By:  Betty Jo Grajeda, MD
In:  Jul/Aug 2005