The essential first step in trauma-informed psychotherapy is a thorough understanding of the wide variety of ways in which trauma is experienced, and its aftermath is expressed biologically, behaviorally, and emotionally. When a clinician has a solid grasp of the many ways in which life can become subjectively traumatizing, he is more likely to engage in assessment and treatment strategies that are effective. When the clinician also comprehends the manner in which trauma of all kinds affects the entire person, biologically as well as psychologically, it may become possible to conceptualize that individual’s difficulties in a more holistic manner.
Agenda - Day Two
9:00 – 10:00
Introductions, Expectations & Experiential Exercise
Basic Considerations, The three phase model of treatment
10:00 – 11:00
Safety & Stabilization / pendulation
11:00 – 11:15
11:15 – 12:15 PM
More about treatment & Focal areas of care /pendulation
12:15 – 1:00
1:00 – 3:00
Experiential Seeking Safety group
PTSD, Taking back your power
3:00 – 3:15
3:15 – 4:00
Feedback and a Brief Evaluation of the Day
Peter Levine talks about trauma release through his work with Somatic Experiencing. He breaks down the onset of trauma and our body’s natural methods of releasing trauma in his latest book, In an Unspoken Voice: How the Body Releases Trauma and Restores Goodness.
One area of trauma release that is of particular interest to body workers is the concept of pendulation. Pendulation is the ebb and flow found within range of motion. It is a gentle, rhythmic motion towards pain, the sympathetic nervous system, and away from pain, the parasympathetic nervous system.
“Pendulation is the primal rhythm expressed as movement from constriction to expansion, but gradually opening to more and more expansion. It is an involuntary, internal rocking back and forth between these two polarities.”
Pendulation is an exercise to develop a relationship between the “unresourced” and the “resourced” parts of our consciousness or inner universe. Between the lost and the found, the fragment and the whole. The healthy nervous system is constantly in a state of expansion and contraction, called pendulation. We want clients to have this kind of flexibility and fluidity. One of the tools SE therapists use is looping between resources or conflict free states and small titrations of traumatic material. This process of looping kick starts the natural self-regulation of the nervous system and a natural rhythm of pendulation.
A resource is… stability, support, peace, calm, sense of home, goodness, wellness, safety, sustenance, solace, grace, fullness, wholeness, richness, generousness, overflowing, bounty, intactness, natural order, natural spot, connected, “oasis spot.” That which can give help and resolution to the unresourced parts. Unresourced: Parts of the self that are “unresourced” are afraid or hurting and have no access to help or any way to find resolution.
“I learned that pendulation takes the autonomic nervous system from sympathetic nervous system response (flight or fight) to parasympathetic nervous system response (rest, relaxation, rejuvenation, digestion). The rhythms of pendulation create a norepenephrine flush of the adrenal system, decoupling the physiologic trigger of post-traumatic stress injury.”
One very natural manifestation of connecting to resources is when a child hurts themselves or becomes frightened and runs to their parent. The child will be highly activated, maybe screaming and crying. Usually the parent holds the child, rocks the child, strokes the child, and talks in calm, soothing tones. Gradually the child’s attention becomes aware of the sensation of being held and rocked and the feeling of the parent’s hand stroking them. The child gradually tunes into the soothing sounds and words, and calms down. So, the linking of resources to someone needing them happens all the time between parents and children, and between family members, couples and friends as well.
1. Pendulation begins with the Felt Sense Exercise.
Focus your awareness on any difficult feeling present. Feel slowly and gently into the sensations of this state of activation. If it’s a large feeling of activation, you can just focus on the edge of it, as if it is pile of tennis balls and you are just taking one of them lying on the edge for now. You may gently feel into an area of disturbance in your;
1. physical body – tension, physical pain, etc.
2. emotional body – sadness, regret, etc.
3. energy field – pulsating, tingling, rush, electricity, etc. (when you get more experienced, you can experiment with focusing also on mental states like confusion, negative ideas, etc. but this exercise is mainly for physical and emotional states)
Repeating to yourself, “Pain (or Fear or whatever it is) you are welcome here. Pain you are welcome here,” can help you open up to the sensations.
Notice the sensations and impressions. You may notice things like:
1. sensations, hot, cold, pain, tingling etc.
2. visual images, colors, shapes etc.
3. motion – up, down, inward, outward
4. textures – rough, smooth
Here is a list of words to give you some ideas:
Foggy, curdled, contracted, gray, rotten, twisted, turned inwards, stagnant, jagged, yellow, piercing, searing, sharp, frozen, suffocating, numb, heavy, crushing, cold, empty, rigid, in shock, etc.
You can give the grouping of sensations a name. For example I often call it “Fear.” Or you can experiment with just being aware without any words. Track the sensations. Focus on whatever happens to be present in the moment. Really be honest of the true sensation each moment even if it moves into a different area and shifts into something else. Don’t project ideas onto what is. As Dr. Levine says, simply observe as if you are watching the water in a stream swirling, rippling, going fast over the stones and slow in little side pools.
2. Find an Oasis Spot.
Then start to scan your body for a totally different feeling – you are looking for a part of the body that you may have overlooked, a part that feels neutral,
natural, calm, peaceful, whole. It can feel settled, supported, grounded, connected, satisfied, content, comfortable. This is actually a space of resource, or as I like to call it an “Oasis Spot.” Even if it is just a tiny spot, locate an area that has a feeling of calm.
For me it is often the thighs, buttocks, calves, feet, and sometimes back. Many times it is consistently in the same places but not necessarily all the time, so be aware if the feeling shifts into different areas. For example recently it has been in my arm and shoulders, places it has never been before.
Spend some time sensing into this spot just as you did with the area of activation. It might feel VERY unfamiliar to you!
Even if the sense of calm is very faint, or seems elusive, just rest your awareness on it. Just watch it. What does it feel like? Notice the sensations and impressions (Felt Sense Exercise).
Some words that may describe this ‘Oasis Spot” area: calm, relaxed, resting, restful, peaceful, content, warm, still, light, effervescent, flowing, hopeful, expansive, whole, joyful, wise, colorful, bright, glowing, watery, clear, scintillating, satisfied, civilized, deep, swirling, happy, smiling, true me
You can experiment with giving it a name. Often I call it “Calm.”
Note that you can access many types of resources, for example, imaginary places, people or beings; places in nature or in the world; moments you remember being deeply safe and peaceful. I will go into these in a later article. I personally find it nice and simple to just focus on the body as I am practicing and learning.
3. Go Back and Forth.
Slowly move your point of awareness back and forth like a pendulum between the activation and the resource. Rest your awareness in the field of activation in and around the body and then allow your awareness to travel to the field of resource in and around the body, then return.
Do this slowly. Keep going. You can use the names you chose, for example, “Fear…Calm….Fear…Calm”
Pay attention to what happens.
Be aware of discharge. Just notice if you spontaneously take a deep breath, shiver, or a part of your body moves – as you relax, your body releases energy. This is healthy.
“In the face of arousal, “discharge” is facilitated to allow the client’s body to return to a regulated state. Discharge may be in the form of tears, a warm sensation, the ability to breath easily again, or other releases of energy which demonstrate the ANS returning to its baseline. Through this process the client’s inherent capacity to self-regulate is restored.”
“SE therapists watch for physical signs indicating the release which may come in various forms such as small shivers, deep breaths, hot or cold flashes. Then, it takes time for the client to reorient to the present, the here and now, and resources or conflict free states. This natural rhythm and flow is self-regulation of our nervous system as it digests traumatic material in the body. It is important to allow sufficient time to establish a positive connection in the here and now before entering another movement into the traumatic state.”