Can you describe a typical session?
There really isn’t a typical session, though the methods are effective for many situations, because each person’s needs and situation are a unique constellation of factors, even if they’ve received a similar diagnosis to someone else. Plus, what they need today may differ from what they needed last week and the way they respond to what we do will not be identical.
As the client, it’s your show and you’re in charge of where we go. We decide together what we are going to focus on that day, depending on acute symptoms and chronic pain patterns, what your emotional experience is, what themes, limiting beliefs or holding patterns we’ve been working on, what needs attending to right now and what are our long-term goals.
So what are some typical tools or methods you might use in any given session and how would you integrate them into the flow of a session? I draw from, modify, and integrate many somatic disciplines into a holistic methodology. First, we do a check-in and I track for what’s happening in the body and overall system as you describe what’s up for you and what you want to focus on. If we choose to do bodywork that day, that begins with some internal focusing and guided relaxation to cultivate a state where the nervous system can be more balanced and receptive. I have many tools for work on and off the table including manual therapies like myofascial release, trigger point therapy, MET, neuromuscular re-education, movement and mind/body therapies like structural yoga therapy, dance and imagery, and I always incorporate breathwork and apply a lens of somatic psychotherapy no matter what other tools I’m using.
Some sessions are more focused on Sensorimotor Psychotherapy‘, a somatic psychotherapeutic methodology. This bottom-up approach respects your body’s inner wisdom, is informed by the latest advances in neuroscience and trauma therapy, anchors the session in present moment awareness and skillfully regulates the nervous system. We might learn more about your survival strategies, which have served to keep you functioning in the face of trauma but have become obstacles in your desire to make better choices for a more fulfilling life.
In all therapeutic sessions, we cultivate a focused calm state where what is usually not accessible, not conscious, and not able to be tolerated is now all available for safe observation and transformation. Some call this state ‘Witnessing Mindfulness’ ** You are able to, simultaneously, experience, observe and report body-sensations, emotions, thoughts…that might come up, and we will let your body’s response guide the process moment to moment.
This helps us safely access areas of deep emotional and/or physical pain that would otherwise trigger fear or be too much to tolerate, such as when there’s trauma held in the system. It’s like time traveling and your body is the portal.
As needed, some sessions are devoted to life skills and holistic health coaching focused on improving diet or sleep or developing healthier habits and lifestyle modifications. Often there is a need for increasing somatic awareness or some postural retraining, reconstructing movement patterns as in walking or to develop or refine a therapeutic or rehab exercise routine.
Have you worked with people with multiple complex chronic pain, illness, and trauma? What kinds of conditions have you seen improved?
Yes. It’s that intersection where I have found that this combination of therapies gives some hope of reclaiming one’s life from the thieves of not just the illness but our perception and judgement of ourselves and our limitations. My clients are usually highly functional but might feel tethered by a history of childhood trauma with unstable caregivers and compromised by anxiety disorders and invisible illnesses like fibromyalgia or chronic fatigue.
Some clients I’ve worked with have suffered at once from multiple injuries and neck pain with eating disorders and chronic PTSD or post-concussion syndrome with migraines and childhood sexual abuse or difficulty regulating emotions like anger and sadness, digestive disorders with repetitive strain injuries or multiple chemical sensitivities and boundary issues, with sciatica/low back pain.
Do I need to agree with the theories behind somatic therapy, for it to work on me? How can I trust it is safe for me?
You only need to be open to the wisdom inside of you. You don’t need to believe in any theories or what I’m proposing, because the resources you need are all already within you. We mine for them together in a collaborate discovery process. I can help you practice to mindfully observe, learn from, and listen to your own body, with curiosity and without judgment. Hopefully you can learn to trust that process of discovery as you see the results from nurturing that emerging relationship.
Somewhere along the way we forget, get far away from who we are, develop strategies grown in hostile environments that get neurobiologically wired, and that programming can overcome our will. But I have witnessed people slowing down, choosing to get off that runaway train and writing a new story for themselves.
How long will it take before I feel some relief or know it’s working for me? People usually notice a shift in the first few sessions and relief can come even after the first therapeutic session, but this is not a quick fix. It takes consistent effort to change sometimes longstanding patterns. This is a commitment you make to yourself and the more you put into it the more you’ll get out.
What does somatic mean, and what is a helpful way to think about it?
Soma simply means of the body. The way I use the term somatic therapies are methods that include the body, mind, and emotions in healing. Acknowledging that we are energy and matter, our systems learn, operate, break down and heal on multiple simultaneous levels; physical, emotional, mental, and energetic. If we want to reclaim healthy homeostasis, we must regulate the nervous system, find the dysfunctional patterns that have wired our nervous system in suboptimal ways, albeit in an attempt to keep us safe when we were in compromised or traumatic states. Gradually we can replace those patterns, practicing new ones, to rewire neural pathways and support healthier behaviors.
How has your personal experience with chronic illness and pain impacted your work?
My personal experience has taught me to understand, from the inside out, the challenges my clients face every day, because I live it too. Discovering and trusting my inner resources has helped me to turn ‘crap’ into compost. I have had to embrace the patience of accepting limitations and the courage to defy them.
Can you describe the evolution in your career and how you developed this work, including what kinds of training and professional experience helped you refine your approach?
I learned everything I could to help clients coping with chronic pain and illness that were not being served well within our existing medical model. Through the years and as I took on more complex cases, it became evident that many of my clients were trauma survivors. Understanding that connection, responsibly addressing their needs while keeping them safe, intrigued me and became increasingly important in the evolution of this work. Clients often report how frustrating it’s been to not have health professionals who can connect the dots or even have the time or experience to listen and understand their whole story. The lack of integrated, practical resources for addressing complex multi-layered conditions in a truly holistic approach drove what I needed to study.
I, myself, was someone for whom medical and pharmaceutical intervention had caused more harm than good, so I understood the limitations of chasing symptoms and killing pathogens without supporting and regenerating the health of the whole system.
I had a background in dance, psychology, yoga and movement and went back to school to study clinical orthopedic massage and oriental manual therapy at first, which I practiced, innovated, and refined for years before adding Structural Yoga Therapy, Ayurvedic medicine and other somatic movement disciplines. For my own healing I needed to challenge common beliefs about a healthy diet of nutrient dense food, from the soil it’s grown in to how it’s prepared. In my work as an environmental organizer, I’ve been fascinated by the connections between climate change, ecosystem regeneration, biodiversity, soil health, forest ecology, water and carbon cycles and human ecology. This study of natural systems has also informed my understanding of human systems.
I have had a meditation practice since I was 16 so it was only natural for me to carry that awareness and respect for my client’s innate capacity and inner resources into the therapeutic setting.
I had been searching for trainings in somatic psychotherapy focused on trauma for years and finally came across Hakomi and then Sensorimotor Psychotherapy, founded by Pat Ogden. That was the missing piece I had always wanted to study, even back in college, but it didn’t exist as such yet. It has given me a greater neurobiological understanding for what was happening in sessions with clients and a robust bottom up (vs. only cognitive) psychotherapeutic protocol to integrate the work even further. For more info on this wonderful method: https://sensorimotorpsychotherapy.org/resources/#client-education
I’ve developed curricula in holistic health education for health care professionals and college students, presented to the public, assisted at somatic psychotherapy trainings, taught manual therapy to massage therapists and athletic trainers, and continue to learn as much as I can to contribute what I can.
What helps you personally to practice what you encourage in others?
I have had the great fortune of being introduced early in my life to an experience of personal inner peace that is not dependent on intellectual explanations or belief systems but based in a knowing of the self. I enjoy a daily practice where I get to turn my senses inward and spend time with that un-nameable, unchangeable wow within us, that brings me peace even in the midst of the madness.
No matter the distracting noise around me or within my own mind. I get to listen every day to discourse that reminds me what matters most. All of this has anchored me so it’s easier to stay with my breath and remember the reality that I want to pay attention to and not get hijacked as frequently or for long. It takes constant effort, but it works.
It also helps me to be more aware of my triggers, my need to control, my fears, my expectations… so I can see what in the situation is making me uncomfortable, what outcome I’m attached to…and to see how in some situations those fears are driving other people to create the tension… letting go of those unrealistic expectations, not taking on what doesn’t belong to me, being supple and holding onto my peace, helps me create some distance from the problems.
What is the goal for your work?
I always ask clients what their goals are, so that is the foundation as we begin to assess your needs and develop a plan. The first phase might be pain relief if that’s an immediate concern. If sleep is disturbed, that would be a priority because healing can’t happen without your glial cells (the night janitors in your brain) having that time to put things back in order. Increasing awareness and connection with the body, reducing anxiety and interpersonal problems, having more agency to make the choices you really want to make, being able to access more calm in the system to begin feeling the peace that is already inside you.
In our work, we’ll discover your resources to better navigate the triggers that happen in daily life, especially with family, to better manage chronic pain, illness, and anxiety, to thrive and not just survive.
But how can you teach an old dog new tricks?
Maybe sometimes we need to let go of the old tricks. Being open to the fact that the ways you’ve done some things your whole life, the way you see yourself and the world may not be serving you now, even though there’s good reason for those old tricks, that were trying to keep you safe. Your body is telling you that, in sensation not words, to get your attention. The function of pain is to tell you something is wrong and it’s a great motivator. In acute pain like after an injury, it’s simpler first aid, rest, repair. In chronic pain, it may involve changing unconscious habits, including assumptions, addictions, posture, movement, counterproductive beliefs, discovering why you get triggered and respond in certain ways, why you can’t give yourself what you need to be whole. So much of learning is unlearning.
What are some ways you see a connection between bodywork and emotional work? Between the structure and experience?
I’m continuously fascinated by the connections and working at the intersections. In the interview “Connecting the Dots” I explore this question further, but one example is with interoception, defined as ‘the sense of the internal state of the body… Misrepresentations of internal states, or a disconnect between the body’s signals and the brain’s interpretation and prediction of those signals, have been suggested to underlie conditions such as anxiety disorders, PTSD, eating disorders, depression, OCD, ADHD, etc. ‘ This explanation is a modified excerpt from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Interoception
Working with connective tissue in bodywork and somatic therapies is a potential avenue to cultivate body awareness because there are even more receptors in connective tissue for interoception than for proprioception. Some have posited that piezoelectricity can partially explain the mechanisms by which myofascial release and trigger point pressure work impact the system. https://www.explainthatstuff.com/piezoelectricity.html
We, like all life, are the union and relationship between energy and matter. I hope to post some writing related to this exciting, inexhaustible topic.
Would a “well adjusted” person NOT have trauma stored in their body?
It’s more like the effects of trauma are held in our nervous systems, limiting beliefs, posture, habits, and unresolved emotions, and expressed in behavior patterns. I think of trauma differently than I used to because we all have our share of imperfection and I’m finally accepting of that in myself. If we’re born of human parents, and live in this world of noise and imperfection, it’s likely we have some trauma even if they’re minor. Our systems can handle and overcome adversity but many of us have suffered from complex sustained trauma, neglect, and abuse especially emotionally painful relationships with childhood caregivers. Not having our needs met in our early years negatively impacts neurological wiring and resetting from that requires a trustworthy environment to change patterns and create new neural pathways and habits.
What does mindful (an overused term) mean to you?
I actually don’t like that word so much and believe something was lost in translation. Being full of mind, to me, implies stuck in thinking. I’d rather be heartful. I do sometimes though use the word mindful in my work, since it’s code these days for present moment awareness, especially in somatic psychotherapy. I just define my terms.
The British Buddhist scholar T. W. Rhys Davids coined the term at the beginning of the 20th century, attempting to translate sati, a word in the Pali language of ancient India, in which many original Buddhist texts were written. It roughly means awareness or remembrance. John Kabat-Zinn later picked it up as he developed his Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program and it has stuck ever since in the jargon of our modern contemplative practices.
For me, I read ‘sati’ as remembering what we really are and maintaining an awareness of that inner reality. In my experience, this goes beyond what mindfulness practices embody.
** Ron Kurz , (founder of Hakomi and mentor to Pat Ogden, founder of SP) explains the type and function of mindfulness in the Hakomi and SP method like this: “You can’t take the engine apart while it’s running”….“Witnessing mindfulness is very important when working with traumatic memory because the act of witnessing keeps the frontal lobes firing so that amygdala driven fear responses don’t overwhelm the client. As long as the client can stay mindful of her experience and reporting her experience, she will not go out of the window of tolerance “
Lenore Bryck, LMT, RYT, RMT, CSYT, NCBTMB CE Provider, SP Level II Graduate