When people come to see me, it’s usually for one of three reasons:
- They know they have experienced some kind of trauma and feel that it is getting in the way of living the kind of life they want. It’s often some kind of developmental trauma where there was an early environment that was less than supportive. Sometimes it’s what we would call “shock trauma,” where there was an event that was really overwhelming.
- Symptoms like anxiety, depression or anger are interfering with work, relationships and their ability to enjoy life. Often, they have tried other kinds of therapy and medication, but felt they never really got to the root of the problem.
- A trusted therapist referred them to me to help with the physical/physiological aspects of the nervous system that have gotten dysregulated.
Do any of those reasons sound like you?
A Journey Home to Yourself
When someone comes to see me, it’s a lot like going on a journey together. First, we learn the terrain, and then we find a way through. We want to know what the potential dangers and pitfalls may be, but ultimately we want to find a path that seems clear enough and safe enough.
The terrain is both familiar and new at the same time. As your guide, I look for familiar landmarks, while treading lightly and with curiosity into areas that are unique in your system. The true guide is the wisdom of your system. Our real job is to get out of its way and support it in doing what it wants to do most: to heal.
What I really need to know is:
- How did the nervous system organize itself around stress?
- How has the person figured out how to manage to get through that stress?
- What signs of health and capacity can we see?
Regulation and “Window of Tolerance”
When there is trauma, including anything from an overwhelming experience, ongoing stress, a difficult childhood, or even birth complications, the nervous system can become dysregulated. When the nervous system is dysregulated, your body is having to struggle to accomplish its day to day tasks, including breathing, blood pressure, circulation, sleep/wake cycles, metabolism, temperature, hormones, immune system, etc. A disruption in any of those things can cause difficult emotional and physical symptoms, and when combined with interpersonal challenges or overwhelming experiences, it becomes harder and harder for the system to right itself.
This is why we start with regulation. In my office, I will engage your nervous system and remind it how to come out of the stress response. You will practice recognizing the feeling of a more regulated state in order to be able to help your body find it more often outside of session. Another name for this state is commonly known as the “Window of Tolerance.”
When you are inside the Window of Tolerance, symptoms are low, sleep is better, and you have more interest in life. Outside the Window, you’re less curious, more reactive and need more energy to get through your day. With practice, you’ll learn to support your regulation and as your system gets more time inside the Window, capacity will grow.
We’ll know that is happening when you begin to say things like:
“There were a few hard things that happened this week, but I didn’t over react like I usually do.”
“I found myself asking for what I wanted, which I don’t normally do.”
“My anxiety was a little better.”
“I had a little more energy.”
A Multi-Layered Experience
During our work together, there is a lot going on, often at the same time. After we discuss the symptoms and challenges that are bringing you in to see me, I will start with a little information about how your nervous system works and what to track for (pay attention to), and then when you are ready, we move to the table.
The table? you ask. Yes, I’ve found the best way to help shift things in your system is by contacting it directly, starting with the kidney/adrenal area (on your back near the bottom of your rib cage). This is a place that is more receptive to the story I’m trying to tell your system: the stress is not here now.
While we work on the table, you can let me know if you feel anything unusual. Some people feel heat, cool, tingling or simply start to feel more relaxed. In some cases a person might not feel anything, but the system is still responding.
After we are underway, we follow your impulse for talk or quiet (sleeping is not uncommon). Some people want to process particular traumas or challenges and others like to chat about day-to-day life. Anything we choose will support the healing.
The “How Long” Question
It’s reasonable to wonder how long it will take until you are “done.” I find “done” a very subjective word and each person gets to decide what done means for them. Usually after a few sessions you will know if things are starting to improve. After your first session, I will ask you if anything feels different from when you arrived. Most people feel more relaxed. If possible, you will pay attention to how long the feeling lasts. For some it’s a few minutes and for others, several days. Over time, the feeling tends to last longer, which is an indicator that your nervous system is able to hold the improved regulation on its own. If you want to make lasting change, it usually works best if you commit to weekly sessions for at least six months. That may sound like a long time, but most people find that the change they are able to see in that time is worth the commitment.