“Being comfortable in your own skin and having tools that help you relax is a really big deal, but learning how to feel safe with others is revolutionary”
– Diane Poole Heller
It is important for potential clients to know that my education is diverse and so too is my approach to therapy. I draw on years of training in multiple modalities to provide a treatment approach that is unique to each client. However, there are main themes that permeate throughout. Most important, my work with clients is always based on the value of safe relationships. My main goal as a therapist is to help clients feel safe enough to connect to me and to their own experiences. I believe in transparency. I educate a lot about the therapeutic process and often name what’s happening in session for the client, for me, and between us. The goal of my work is to help clients develop curiosity about what’s happening for them and between them and others, so what better place to start this process than in the therapy room!
Another major component of my approach is helping clients increase capacity for autonomic nervous system regulation by using an approach called Somatic Experiencing® (SE™). Science shows that if we are to heal fully, we must think about our bodies too! Pre-verbal, body-based memories are innate to being human since we aren’t born with an ability to understand and organize what’s happening in our bodies. In a perfect world, our parents help us learn about what we feel by noticing, understanding, and attending to our needs, which helps us soothe and organizes our internal experiences. This, what we call attunement from caregivers, helps us grow into healthy, regulated adults. It builds flexibility and resiliency in our nervous systems so that we can feel activation (e.g. stress) and come back to baseline, feel activation and come back to baseline, so on and so forth.
When we do not get relatively consistent attunement from our caregivers and/or when we experience acute trauma, we can be left without a way to understand what is happening inside of us and can get stuck in survival mode (fight, flight, freeze, fawn – usually a combination of all four). This leads to nervous system dysregulation and a decreased ability to respond to threat, “big” or “small,” and return to baseline. Dysregulation and diminished resiliency also means we are unable to access feelings of safety even if we intellectually know we are not under attack.
Somatic Experiencing provides a framework for bringing the body into the therapy “room” so regulation can be restored. As a practitioner, I will first help clients find places of “resource” (e.g. situations, people, moments, etc. that already provide them comfort or at least a small amount of relief from feeling threatened). We will build on those resources and feelings of safety as we notice more unpleasant sensations that arise from talking about or remembering challenging moments. Pendulating between pleasant sensations and activation in the presence of a safe “other” will build capacity for resiliency and ultimately help people feel connected to their bodies again, or for the first time ever.
While the concept is simple, it is not easy. It takes practice, but the good news is, the more we practice, the easier it becomes. We can literally show our nervous systems a different way to “be,” one small step at a time. Our bodies can be trained to notice safety cues. This does not mean ignoring discomfort in our systems; it means learning how to experience comfort and discomfort or pleasant and unpleasant sensations at the same time. Mindful practice can help our systems move through the world more fluidly. A healthy nervous system is not one that is always calm, but one that is congruent with its environment and flexible.
Additionally, my approach draws on the work of Stephen Porges (Polyvagal Theory), Peter Levine (founder of Somatic Experiencing®), and Diane Poole Heller (a leading expert on adult attachment and somatic-based trauma resolution and founder of DARe). Additionally, I am always seeking consultation and wisdom from mentors who have been doing this work well for decades.
Please reach out with additional questions. Happy to answer them!