As a therapist, I believe in studying the brain and body. Understanding the functions of the organ I am treating has great contributions to therapeutic success. Based on the advances in neurobiological technologies, we can better understand why people act the way they do. Many of our actions are automatic and adaptive, generated by the autonomic nervous system well below the level of conscious awareness.
To get complete relief, I find it necessary to treat beyond the symptoms, which means stimulating brain healing and teaching the nervous system new patterns of responding. Talking about a traumatic past doesn’t necessarily alter the automatic chemical responses in traumatized bodies. For real change to take place, the body needs to learn that the danger has passed and it’s safe to experience the present. In therapy, I will use techniques that are proven to motivate neurological change.
Our Brain and Nervous System
The autonomic nervous system is similar to a house’s foundation– it’s what our experiences are built on. It also serves as our personal surveillance system. This biological resource (Kok et al., 2013) is the neural platform that is beneath every experience. Well below our conscious awareness, our autonomic nervous system is scanning our surroundings, asking “is this safe?” It predicts safety based on past life experiences and instincts. Then, it gives us information on how to respond. Avoid or approach? Connect or protect?
From birth, we are hard-wired for connection and a sense of safety in our bodies, environments, and relationships. In each relational interaction, our nervous systems are learning about the world around us and being conditioned for familiarity and tuned for protection vs connection. Trauma will leave an imprint on the nervous system, which yields consequences for how the brain and body manage to survive in the present.
Genetics can absolutely contribute to our responses, but our perceptions and relational interactions are largely based on our individual life experiences, which are stored in our nervous system. Events with similarities form memory networks in our nervous system.
Why This All Matters
The act of telling the story doesn’t necessarily alter the automatic physical and hormonal responses of bodies that remain hypervigilance, prepare to be assaulted, or violated at any time. For real change to take place, the body needs to learn that the danger has passed and to live in the reality of the president.
Some of our reactions may be irrational because our body is responding as it is still in danger. It may be irrational, but there is a reason. To simplify, we are reacting automatically based on the information our nervous system is detecting and said information’s feedback to neural associations within our memory networks. Higher reasoning is hijacked, and our response is purely survival-driven.
In therapy, I help my clients
- Identify their responses
- Gain an understanding of their bodies instinctual desire to move toward safety
- Trace their responses back to the root event
- Facilitate neurological healing and reshaping the nervous system
Through this process, my clients are more capable of extending themselves grace and forgiveness because they now understand their behavior based on their brain and body’s inclination to protect themselves through autonomic survival responses. Shame and self-blame are reduced when we understand and begin to appreciate how our thoughts, emotions, and behavior are generated by autonomic energies designed to keep us safe.
There is hope! Reread #4! Your nervous system may have been imprinted by earlier life events, but we can retrain your nervous system and facilitate proactive experiences to help restructure it. I use evidence-based practices to facilitate healing, give you emotional freedom, and teach you effective skills for connection.
Dana, D. (2019). The polyvagal theory in therapy: engaging the rhythm of regulation. W W Norton and Company.
Kok, B. E., Coffey, K. A., Cohn, M. A., Catalino, L. I., Vacharkulksemsuk, T., Algoe, S. B., . . . Fredrickson, B. L. (2013). How positive emotions build physical health: Perceived positive social connections account for the upward spiral between positive emotions and vagal tone. Psychological Science, 24(7), 1123–1132. doi:10.1177/0956797612470827