Useful information

Let’s think about the word trauma, it is the Greek word for wound, so traumas can be wounds that we hold within our ‘system’. I refer to the system as the mind, body, spirit connection. So when we experience a psychological wound, it can show up in our body as blocked energy, energy that is unable to flow fluidly through the body.

This can not only hinder our psychological and spiritual development, but can also manifest itself as dis-ease. If we think about ourselves as accumulating these traumas/wounds throughout our life, then it can weigh pretty heavily on our system and effect how we function in the here and now.

Stephen Porges, a neuroscientist developed a theory called the ‘polyvagal theory’, it refers to the vagus nerve which has two branches, one travelling up and one travelling down. Simplifying this idea, there is a hypothesis that within our nervous system, we can operate from 3 different platforms. Ventral Vagal, the sympathetic system and the Dorsal Vagal.

The characteristics of the Ventral Vagal are when we are in a calm, relaxed state, we are alert and our social system is ready to connect, it feels a good place to be.

The sympathetic system, also known as fight, flight, or freeze, is activated when the Ventral Vagal senses danger and it’s needs can’t be met through connection so it releases the brake, therefore inducing a release of chemicals to aid us in mobilisation for fighting or fleeing. Once the danger/threat is over, if all goes well, we can then return to ventral vagal.

If, however, the threat is perceived as too great then we can go to dorsal vagal, this is also known as freeze/shutdown, like an animal that is feigning death in order to protect itself. Or, if we are literally exhausted because our system has been operating in flight or fight mode, long after the threat has gone.

Of course, not all mobilisation is detrimental to our system, likewise not all stillness is detrimental, if coupled with ventral vagal. E.g, mobilisation during enjoyable exercise, or stillness during meditation.

Through developing a mindful practice, we can gently begin to notice, what state we are operating from, by bringing our attention to somatic awareness, noticing any tensions in our body, any restrictions in our breathing. If we are carrying wounds of perceived threat through stories that are repeating themselves within our system, then it will make it difficult for our system to maintain a homeostasis, a flowing and functioning in harmony.

In internal family system therapy, developed by Richard Schwartz, they would name these blockages as separate parts of our self, each different part serving a function to protect the system. Usually this strategy helped us at the time, however, sometimes its outdated, and the part no longer needs to protect us in the same way.

Through various psychotherapeutic practices, including relational or EMDR we can process the trauma, allowing the mind to heal itself on a physiological level, helping the trauma metabolise and return our systems to a healthier functioning. Our brains have what is called neuroplasticity, which means we can literally rewire our neural pathways.

Donald Winnicott, a paediatrician and a psychoanalyst, wrote about the ‘true self’ versus a ‘false self’, one that we have learned to operate from through conditioning and trauma, through removing blocks and listening to our inner wisdom we can once again connect with our authentic self.

'Nothing ever goes away until it has taught us what we need to know.'Pema Chödrön

From as long as I remember I’ve always been interested in how human beings interact - relationships – how do they work? - what makes people tick?

I began exploring this formerly in about 1996/97 when I began my journey to train as a Therapist. I trained as an Integrative Therapist drawing from Petruska Clarkson’s Five Relational Model framework, which values the person as a whole; a combination of Mind, Body and Spirit, believing people will need different interventions at different times depending on what feels to be called forward to be acknowledged at that particular time. This could illustrate different phases of our development, as per Ken Wilber’s work, or different aspects could be presented in a single session, similar to ego state work, or Richard Schwartz Internal Family Systems work. My training drew from the humanistic concepts of personal growth and self actualisation, the work of Maslow and Rogers, and existential philosophy including the work of Bugental, May, Frankl and Buber, coupled with object relations theory, incorporating theoretical concepts from John Bowlby, Freud, Klein and later influenced by the work of Daniel Stern.

During that initial period of my training I was very drawn to the work of D.W Winnicott, particularly the idea of the True self versus the False self – the emergent self, who are we underneath the years of conditioning from our environment and the systems we operate in. At the same time, I was also fascinated by the work of Roberto Assagioli, the idea that not only do we have an unconscious process but also a higher unconscious or superconscious.

We are told as a young medical Doctor Assagioli was in his prime around the time when Einstein was developing his theory of relativity in Berne, Freud was pioneering psychoanalysis in Vienna, James Joyce was pioneering literature in Trieste, Jung was developing analytical psychology in Zurich and Heidegger was preparing to espouse existentialism in Fribourg. Assagioli became the founding father of the model of psychotherapy called psychosynthesis. Maintaining that the purpose of psychosynthesis is to help integrate ‘synthesise’ the multiple aspects of the individual personality around a personality centre and later to effect a greater synthesis between the personal ego and the transpersonal self.

This analysis of thinking and feeling, proved to be an illuminating time, however I was sorely neglecting my body and the messages it was sending me. This took me to explore further the work of Nick Totton and look deeper into Embodied Relational Therapy, the training and workshops had a profundity of experiential elements and I began to listen to those deeper parts of me that I had ignored. Learning about body psychotherapy and embodied presentations and characterisations from the work of William Reich.

My clinical work then moved to working with couples and families within a systemic family therapy practice, alongside seeing individuals referred through their G.P, with presentations including anxiety, depression, PTSD, trauma, complex trauma, grief and addictions. I also worked with staff employed in Government funded organisations as well the Corporate Sector.

During my roles of working as a Psychotherapist, Clinical Supervisor, Manager and Clinical Lead within the NHS, I still kept my original interest in what makes people tick what helps us to be well -and what gets in the way!

Maybe it was connected to this, or maybe not, but I stumbled into a yoga class and there began another adventure, this took me further along my path to explore the eastern wisdom traditions and what we can learn from the ancient teachings.

As I head towards my third decade of clinical experience and look to ways to consolidate all my learning, I still believe in a holistic way of working with people, within a safe therapeutic relationship. With the advancement in neuroscience it has helped go some way to prove what clinical experience has taught myself and other colleagues. That we do have biological drives and processes, paying attention to our psychology and temperament is important, along with an awareness of the cultural, political and environmental systems we operate in, and yet, there is something more to the dimension of humanity, something that might be classed as spiritual, or trans -personal, (beyond the personal) this includes the arts and nature as well as the unexplainable. I am still influenced by humanistic philosophy and Assagioli and Winnicott’s ideas that we are already whole, so to me the process of therapy is one of dissolving or uncovering the blocks and resistances and the body work of our armour that once served us, but, perhaps we no longer need….