[First published in the OPELIKA OBSERVER 10-21-11 issue ]
Just as fall began making its cooling, color-changing appearance, a big, bold mandala (a sanskrit work meaning "circle") appeared in a shop window on Avenue A, introducing Transformations Life Center to the Opelika business community.
In art, mandalas suggest a focal point through repeated designs, concentric squares and circles and/or geometric patterns, traditionally illustrating an indistinguishable wholeness, sometimes representing an entire world or universe. They engage the world of symbolism and often evoke contemplation that can guide one on a transformative path.
Transformations Life Center is the start-up of Dr. Bridget Finlen Smith, a licensed, clinical psychologist with a specialty in child and adolescent psychology. Dr. Smith runs a traditional, clinical practice, Psychological Associates, LLC, in Auburn, where she is devoted to assessment and psychotherapy for individuals, couples and families. Observing how education and sharing common experiences makes a difference in a person's quality of life, the idea for Transformations was a natural progression for Bridget's work. She began thinking about how to expand affordable services into the community and saw that group work would be an enriching way to address many common struggles and foster one's sense of human connectedness.
"I love groups," Bridget said, "because it’s a shared experience. These groups are trying to help you sleep better, encourage better health habits, become better parents. We are facilitators. What we will do here is really about 75 percent teaching and 25 percent about being a clinician. Groups are also easier to manage for a busy person's schedule."
Bridget's inspiration for Transformations comes from the vision of moving away from a strictly clinical approach and tapping into springs of wellness and more preventative and positive approaches to balances in health, relationships and lifestyle. The Life Center emphasizes the learning of positive paths and applying them to dimensions of daily life.
" I want people to value their psychological health as much as they value their medical health. Why don’t we have more optimistic children or children that can develop a more compassionate heart? It’s important to take a little knowledge and nurture it and let it blossom. No one teaches us how to handle a lot of daily battles. It's important to learn about coping skills, resilience, wellness and peace of mind. So this is the transforming shift, learning about new ways to think about these things."
Although she's lived in Auburn with her REALTOR-husband, JR, and two sons, Stephen and Jeffrey, Bridget fell in love with Opelika years ago, and is happy to be placing a footprint here in the railroad town.
"We eat here a lot and come here to shop. I discovered this building for lease on a rainy day, when I'd come to Opelika to meet a friend for lunch. While waiting, I walked inside the empty office space and the owner happened to be here, and we struck up a conversation. I couldn't stop thinking about it and, three days later, I called to see about renting, even though I couldn't at the time, exactly articulate my vision."
Sometimes we can throw some light on challenges and what was dark, simply vanishes.
"When folks come in, I want them to feel better and to come back," Bridget said.
Transformations Life Center hopes to offer people in the community some ways to "see" themselves and their responsibilities in a better light. People can't read in the dark, much less live.