Frequently Asked Questions
Somatic Experiencing® is different from traditional talk therapy, so you might be curious about what happens during sessions. What I have learned is SE is like a box of chocolates; you never know what you’re going to get! In my experience, each session can be vastly different from the last depending on what is brought into the session and what shows up through our work together that day. The nervous system can have different ideas of what it wants to reveal, explore and heal than our conscious intentions.
To provide some insight into sessions and the process, here are a few of the commonly asked questions from clients new and experienced.
How long will it take for me to feel different?
The speed of change and the way change shows up really depends on your nervous system. A nervous system that has been in ‘freeze’ for a long time is going to take more time to ‘thaw’. We are working with patterns that may have been in place for your entire lifetime, so these are going to take some time to shift.
The overarching approach of SE is titration, meaning we don’t do too much too fast, as this is why the nervous system classifies something as trauma to begin with. This can be frustrating in the beginning (I speak from personal experience!), however, after just a couple of sessions, it becomes very clear why we don’t go in too fast and stay in those stickier places for too long.
In my experience, huge changes can happen in as little as a few sessions. However, deeper trauma such as developmental trauma is just going to take more time (and patience), as we’re working with a younger nervous system and older, more entrenched patterns. I think of this rewiring like building new pathways in the brain. Old patterns are well-worn grooves that we fall into easily and likely without even knowing we’re ‘walking’ in them. One of our goals is to build new, healthier pathways.
So, what exactly happens during a session?
During the first session, I usually gather background information about your health and family history, any symptoms you’re experiencing and your trauma history. My goal is to not re-traumatize with a lot of details but to get a sense of what your nervous system has experienced so I can put a treatment plan together. I also gather this information so when ‘something’ shows up in sessions, I know some of the story behind it and how we can work with it. I provide SE psychoeducation, and if we have time, you might get to practice what it’s like to feel inside your body (hello, interception!). If it’s appropriate and with your consent, I may introduce simple touch work so you can get a sense of the when’s and why’s this would be introduced. We also discuss your goals for our work together.
After the session, I develop a treatment plan that I feel will best address your goals, and I am always happy to share this if you’re curious. Future sessions could then entail seated work while you practice interoception or pendulation (moving between points of focus in the body), assessment/treatment of your defensive orienting systems, movement-based activities, vocalizations, and/or touch work while seated or on the table.
What is therapeutic touch?
If it is appropriate, I could propose we introduce some element of touch into a session. If this doesn’t feel right for you, you get to say no. (Boundaries are awesome! Expressing them and having them respected is even more awesome!) Touch is one of the many tools I use and certainly not the only one.
Touch can be done seated or standing, or we may move to the table for other kinds of touch work where it’s easier for both of us if you’re reclined such as when working with the kidneys/adrenals. In addition to the kidneys/adrenals, touch can happen on the joints, arms, legs, pelvis, feet, head, hands, stomach, and/or chest; it really depends on our intention for the session and what shows up. You are fully clothed on your back (or side if this is more comfortable) when on the table and for the most part there is no movement with my hands. This is careful and considerate contact with intention. Bolsters and blankets are available for your comfort.
I use the tool of touch for various reasons: to repair ruptured relationships with touch, to prime the system to encourage the emergence of deeper self-protective responses, to bring more regulation into the system, and to work with deeper body systems that are ‘stuck’ (i.e., digestion, adhesions and breath). Trauma introduces all kinds of patterns into our nervous system. Part of our work is to recognize those patterns and shift them so you can heal and move on with your life.
How will I know I’m getting better?
The shifts I have heard from clients through our work together include:
- Increased capacity for stress;
- Feeling safer in the world and in intimate relationships;
- Healthier relationship dynamics;
- The return of curiosity about others and the world;
- Not feeling as ‘jumpy’;
- Reduced hypervigilance;
- Feeling more present;
- Being able to express healthy aggression more easily and more often;
- Increased ability to recognize and set boundaries;
- Increased comfort with touch;
- Feeling more empowered, strong and hopeful;
- More easily able to express needs and;
- Having more empathy for those around them and themselves.
In my experience, these changes are permanent. Once your nervous system feels the beauty of space/expansion/relaxation/empowerment, it prefers this way of being. This is the new pathway!
What is the Psychobiological Approach to Couples’ Therapy (PACT) and how do we know if this is right for us?
PACT is a polytheoretical (meaning it has it’s origins in other modalities and treatment philosophies) approach to couples’ therapy. In PACT, the focus is on the couple as a two-person system and not the presenting problems. This keeps the attention on how the couple functions in relationship with each other. Primary to this approach is attachment and moving the couple towards secure functioning behaviours versus the likely insecure attachment adaptation behaviours that have been driving their primary relationship (and likely all other relationships). In my experience, PACT is empowering for both members of the couple.
Why is the first PACT session so long?
During the first session, I gather extensive information from each member of the couple on their individual life histories including family of origin and traumas (big and small), and how things are functioning in their primary attachment relationship with their partner. No area is off the table for investigation, as the little things can sometimes be the big things. Prior to the first session, each member of the couple will complete a partner attachment inventory and this will be shared during the first session. This will help each member of the couple gain deeper understanding of their partners’ wants and needs in the relationship, and their attachment adaptations. I’ll also use this to inform the treatment plan.