Conversations about somatic psychology, relational therapies, mindfulness and trauma therapies.
Conversations about somatic psychology, relational therapies, mindfulness and trauma therapies.
Merete Holm Brantbjerg: A gentle, resource-oriented approach to stress & trauma
Merete Holm Brantbjerg talks about working with low energy states and our “invisible parts” in the context of Relational Trauma Therapy.
Merete Holm Brantbjerg developed Relational Trauma Therapy, a psychomotor and systems-oriented approach. She is an international trainer, group leader, and therapist based in Denmark. See website.
– PDF of ROST presence skills.
– A resource for clients: Video and PDF transcript of Merete Holm Brantbjerg for the general public.
Published August 2020.
Eric Wolterstorff: Society under sustained stress
In this conversation, Eric Wolterstorff draws on a systems approach to describe how the pandemic has elicited a “stress chain reaction.” He sees a parallel with the model mapped by Murray Bowen in the context of family dynamics. He also talks about how to dampen the chain reaction each time it passes through you. See also PDF transcript.
Dr. Eric Wolterstorff works at the intersection of psychology, trauma, culture, and group behavior (“A Speculative Model of How Groups Respond to Threats,” 2003). In the 1990s, Wolterstorff helped formalize Peter Levine’s work and placed it in the context of a memory-systems approach to healing trauma. He studied the work of Murray Bowen and Arnold Mindel, and created an approach to working with trauma and transference (Wolterstorff and Grassmann, “The Scene of the Crime,” 2014). With Glen Strathy, he is writing Better Parents, Better Children (2021) based on the work of Lloyd DeMause. He leads Sovereignty First, a social-impact LLC that helps organizations generate solutions to big problems that cross sectors, borders, cultures, & factions. He advises Cooperative Capacity Partners, a social-impact LLC that increases power-sharing, cooperation, and performance in global public-sector partnerships. Wolterstorff lives in Boulder, Colorado, with his fiancée, Jodi Simon, and her son, Liam. See website.
Published June 2020.
Basic assumptions about what we do and why we do it
See audio recording at the end of this page.
The giant “pause” that we are going through is an opportunity to reflect on what our basic assumptions are as to what we do and why we do it. I am sharing my thoughts with you in the hope that they will stimulate you to formulate your own.
What is it that we aim to achieve in therapy? Often, but not always, the desired outcome is lasting, sustainable change. For the purpose of this article, I will be assuming that this is the desired outcome.
How do we accomplish that? I see therapy as a transformative experience, which leads the client to learn new patterns of responding to life’s interactions.
We can conceptualize this as a rewiring of neural circuits. If we were able to see the wiring, we would presumably notice the change. In any case, the transformation is not an abstraction. We can very much see it in the way it manifests. Essentially, the client is now reliably able to be responsive, rather than reactive, in situations that were triggering them.
The notion of responsive vs reactive has a correlate in which circuit of the autonomic nervous system is involved. Under threat, the ANS networks are activated in a specific order, ranging from most sophisticated to most primitive. See polyvagal theory diagram.
These self-states are readily observable phenomena: in the course of therapy, we can track the client’s somatic experience to monitor where they are on this roadmap. We can also coach the client to improve their somatic awareness.
Within this framework, the notion of “meaning“ is not a philosophical concept: it reflects the experience we have of a given circuit in the ANS. That is, in dorsal vagal mode, the experience is that of an overwhelming threat. In sympathetic mode, it is that of fighting or fleeing threat. In social engagement mode, we have access to many more nuances of meaning.
Looking at change within the context of the autonomic nervous system reminds us that what we are dealing with is the human ability to manage interaction. This is a relational perspective, as opposed to a “one-person psychology”. Hence the following implications:
– We therapists are not outside observers but human beings engaged in an interactive process with our clients. Tracking our inner experience is a necessary part of this process.
– The therapeutic interaction requires fostering the safety and relationality that facilitate the social engagement mode, where experience can be assimilated.
– The changes will only be lasting to the extent that external factors, such as family pressures, or social pressure, are addressed.
Published May 2020.
Dave Berger & Joshua Sylvae: How COVID-19 is affecting our work as therapists
In this conversation, we talk about how the coronavirus and social distancing are affecting our work as therapists. We discuss practical details, such as how we use video-conferencing, as well as putting things in a larger context.
Dave Berger, MFT, PT, LCMHC, MA, SEP is a senior faculty member of the Somatic Experiencing Trauma Institute and on Dr. Peter Levine’s legacy faculty with Ergos Institute. He teaches SE and his own BASE work, Relational Bodywork and Somatic Education for trauma practitioners, internationally. As a somatic psychotherapist, physical therapist and bodyworker he understands the broad range of knowledge and skills required of a trauma practitioner. See website.
Joshua Sylvae, PhD, is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist from Oregon City, OR. His therapeutic focus is on trauma healing and somatics, and he is a faculty member at the Somatic Experiencing Trauma Institute as well as Peter Levine’s Ergos Institute of Somatic Education. He is also the Executive Director of the (r)evolve Foundation, a 501(c)(3) educational nonprofit dedicated to illustrating the many ways our modern world fails the human organism, our inherent tendencies toward regulation and wellness, and how to become more resilient and less destructive in our interactions with each other and the Earth. See website.
Published April 2020.
Volunteer to help people support each during the COVID-19 crisis
With the pandemic, people have to avoid unnecessary contact. Social distancing dramatically affects people’s ability to find comfort in connection. We cannot directly give emotional support to all who need it. But we can teach people simple tools they can use to support each other. See what you can do about it below the video.
In this video, Stephen Porges eloquently makes the case of why this makes sense. You can also get a PDF transcript as well as a 日本語のPDF.
As therapists, what can we do to help?
Active Listening is a very simple and effective way to help people hear themselves think and feel. Not to mention communicate better with each other. This is a tool that works in these times of social distancing. People need not be physically together to do it. They can use the phone, Skype, or any other form of videoconferencing.
We do not need to be physically present with people to let them know about it. We can let them know through electronic media, social media, whatever we have at our disposal to communicate.
How you can do it
There is no prescribed way of doing things. You conduct this in a way that feels right for you.
You set up virtual gatherings by phone, Skype, Zoom. You can invite your clients, friends of clients, or members of any community you are connected with. For instance, parents at a school, church members, etc.
You can make each training a one-time thing. Or you can make it a group that meets several times. Either way, virtual gatherings are an opportunity to address questions and help people share their experiences.
If you’d like to have material that people can use to jog their memory, you can refer them to the simple description of Active Listening at activepause.com/active-listening. Or you can make your own. And, as we compare notes, we can make new material as we move along.
See Frequently Asked Questions.
Even if we all do very different things, it feels good to know that we are part of a larger movement. Hence the suggestion that we stay connected through this. It can be as limited as simply knowing that we are part of a larger group. It could also be a way that, by sharing our experiences, we become better at doing this.
If you are interested in being part of this, please register through the subscription form.
If you are already a subscriber to the Relational Implicit newsletter, you can either use the subscription form, or the link at the bottom of any newsletter email, to update your subscription (add a check on “Volunteer”).
See Frequently Asked Questions.
If you have comments or suggestions about the Volunteer program, please use the feedback form.
See other conversations with Stephen Porges.
Published April 2020
Stephen Porges: Countering the effects of social distancing
Social distancing and separation are a big part of what is needed to deal with the pandemic. In this short conversation, we talk about how to counter their effects: we still need to be sensitive to our nervous system’s need to socially engage and connect. Below the video, you will find a transcript. You can also get the transcript as a PDF.
See also PDFs of translations into German, Italian, Spanish and Turkish.
Read about volunteering to help people support each other in this crisis
Transcript of the conversation (with timing of video):
Serge Prengel (00:00): These are really difficult times.
Stephen Porges (00:03): They certainly are. And there’s an irony going on because we have to avoid becoming infected. There’s no question that the Coronavirus is a health risk, especially to those of us who are more mature. It is real. The question is related to the way that we need to behave to reduce that risk through social isolation. And this strategy creates an amazing paradox for our nervous system and our needs to interact with other people because, as humans we have a powerful need is to connect and to co-regulate with others, but now we’re being told that this is not the right thing to do. There are priorities and the top priority is not to get infected, but there’s also a priority of understanding the needs of our nervous system…
Serge Prengel (00:51): So, this is a counterintuitive situation where we cannot trust our instinct, evolutionary instinct, because we have to do something different. Not from coercion, but actually from understanding that social isolation is required at this point.
Stephen Porges (01:08): I think that is a really concise way of explaining the paradox through which our nervous system is trying to navigate. And that is, we need to socially isolate. However, our nervous system says, Hey, that’s not the way we evolved, not the way we need to be. We need to co-regulate, so we need to be smart.
(01:31): Now we need to know what the true priorities are. And the top priority of course, is to stay alive. But how can we mitigate that nervous system’s demand, request, and passion, to connect? And we have to find ways to connect! We have to do that through telephone and through video chat. They are really reasonably good, and email is okay, but the value of hearing someone’s voice or seeing someone’s face is a powerful reassuring cue of safety to our nervous system. So we have to reach out. It’s been remarkable over the past few days, because the world turned from a social to an isolated world within in a week.
(02:09): A week ago, I was in New York city, it was elbow to elbow. I was talking at a crowded conference. And my comment was, I’ll give people hugs. I’ll shake their hands this month, but next month I will do something different. And within a few days, the world changed. And we realized that it wasn’t a fear of a virus that was really distal in time. It was here. We need to really take care of ourselves and to really monitor our bodies’ need to connect, to give others a hug, to smile, to be reassuring, to touch them on their shoulders or on their hands, to let them know that we’re here to support them and be with them. What I’ve noticed over the past few days is my very close friends have reached out through video conferencing...
Customer ReviewsSee All
I am a geek and psychotherapist and I am loving the condensed versions of the somatic practices in these approachable conversations! So glad this podcast exists.
I just started listening to this podcast and have already saved more episodes than any other I subscribe to. At first I was annoyed by interviewer's voice and style, especially when he interrupts. However, I am beginning to appreciate that perhaps he is trying to slow down his enthusiastic guests and summarize so audience can digest. Sometimes his recaps are more helpful than others, but it does give listener a chance to breathe. I would love to have some guests come back, especially Raja Selvam.