The spread of the SARSCov2 virus presents an unprecedented event that rapidly introduced widespread life threat, economic de-stabilization, and social isolation. The human nervous system is tuned to detect safety and danger, integrating body and brain responses via the autonomic nervous system. Polyvagal Theory provides a perspective to understand the impact of the pandemic on mental and physical health. This perspective highlights the important role of the state of the autonomic nervous system in exacerbating or dampening threat reactions to the pandemic.
Many of my clients are faced with returning to environments which were and are emotionally hostile and traumatizing. They are treated the way they were treated in childhood. Even thinking about these past events resurrects post traumatic stress. But clients believe they have no alternative than to return to those environments. Work, holidays, illness, deaths call for their return. The return then reinforces past emotional wounds. These events occur time after time, but their underlying dynamics are unconscious. I call these events anniversary events (Kisch, 2019). Most often just being aware of returning to these environments is sufficient to trigger anniversary reactions. How does one protect clients from this re-traumatization when just talking about it does not work?
Reaching beyond the western, post Descartes view of mind/body duality as distorted and harmful, I have explored alternative ways of experiencing and conceptualizing the body. I think this is critical when working with addiction because our current understanding and treatment of addiction reflect this disembodied view—addiction is seen as a malfunctioning of our computer-like brains. But the current brain disease model is failing us. Rates are soaring. People are dying in the streets. We can and must do better than this. To approach addiction from a new perspective, I created a model to conceptualize and treat addiction: The Felt Sense Polyvagal Model (FSPM).
“We live life forward, and we understand it backwards.” This saying resonates with me on many levels. How I relate has everything to do with going through tremendous suffering as a result of being unable or unwilling to forgive those who were the cause of the suffering. This horrendous period of torment made absolutely no sense to me while going through it, but now, looking back, it makes perfect sense. Today I pull from those experiences daily to encourage those who are currently in emotional pain and in great need of hope.
As the holidays approach, many families consider this an opportunity to leave their domicile for adventures near and abroad. Some travel to visit family, some leave as a form of escape, and others pack up the entire clan for a much-anticipated vacation. But what, in fact, does vacation mean and what does it entail?
Elisa came to me a few days before a 10-day holiday with her 21-year-old son, Thomas. They had planned to explore Portugal’s local beaches, have time to relax and be together. But she felt uneasy, stressed about the trip. Her history was rather classic. She was divorced; had had a boy, an only child. As it often happens when parents separate, they share their feelings (verbally and non-verbally) with their children imposing their point of view on their children. And as happens with children in this situation, they learn quickly, if they don’t already know how, to play with their parents’ feelings and how to take advantage of the situation and turn things to their own benefit. Thomas was quite practiced at the art of manipulation. Furthering Elisa’s difficulties, her former husband had remarried and fathered two girls. Thomas demonstrated a clear loss of self-worth; he obviously was looking for an identity that he was not yet able to comprehend.
I am currently recruiting somatic therapists who have experience with hoarding disorder in their practice for my dissertation research. If this research does not apply to you, I would appreciate you sharing this information with relevant psychosomatic communities. Participants are asked to share their experience working with client(s) diagnosed with a form of hoarding (hoarding disorder or OCPD) using a narrative inquiry method of interviewing.
What is that mindful practice? Is it sufficient to just have a ‘mindful practice’, such as mediation, or yoga, or Focusing? It would probably help some, but it wouldn’t be enough to replace the specific practice of inserting the lens. The more intense the potential danger, the more our reactive circuits take over, bypassing the circuits that counterbalance reactivity. In other words: The more intense the potential danger, the more we need to train our mind to recognize that this specific danger is safer than it appears to us. Why am I calling this a ‘mindful practice’, as opposed to just ‘training’?
As the 18th anniversary of 9/11 approaches, Steve Solcum offers his thoughts and feelings concerning the traumatic aftermath, personally and as a nation. I was blessed to write with Steve and offer a link to his current blog post.
Why am I writing an article on Virginia Satir over three decades after her death? Because I believe that whenever therapists are interested in healing others and using whatever “modern” techniques in their practice it is useful to acknowledge the fact that Satir’s teachings offered a gold mine of principles that might be of interest to themselves and their clients.