Talk therapy vs. expressive therapy
Traditional therapy is “talk therapy” which is useful in many ways. It helps people identify issues that need to be addressed and build insight about how to go about making changes. Talking about your feelings and problems is a good start but it’s often not enough to make lasting changes and actually feel better. Often I get calls from people saying they reached a plateau with their current therapist and need something more. I can give you the “more” you are looking for! I enhance therapy by also using experiential and expressive methods which means you will make progress more quickly.
Guided imagery has a wide variety of applications including helping with emotional regulation, increasing one’s sense of resiliency and strength, coping with painful memories, and decreasing anxiety. I’ve used it successfully with clients who have specific fears as well as nightmares and chronic pain. Like Inner Journey, guided imagery involves shifting the brain into a more relaxed and receptive state but is primarily led by the therapist with verbal prompts. It is different than Inner Journey in that it’s not body-centered, and it’s less interactive between client and therapist. One of the benefits to doing guided imagery in therapy rather than just buying a CD or picking something online is that I can tailor it to your specific needs and wants. Many clients choose to record guided imagery sessions so they can listen to them on their own for reinforcement. I’ve been told that my voice is very soothing which is a key ingredient to effective guided imagery. I use alternating bilateral stimulation in conjunction with guided imagery (see section on EMDR for more info).
“Inner Journey” is a term I created that refers to a combination of techniques I use regularly. It incorporates both guided imagery as well as somatic focusing to gain access your own inner wisdom. During this technique, the brain is shifted into a more relaxed and “trance-like” state. It is not traditional hypnosis or pure guided imagery; rather it is much more interactive between the client and therapist, and between the client and their own body. Inner Journey can be used to gain insight and self-compassion, decrease anxiety, help understand a behavior, and heal emotional wounds from childhood. This is the main method I use to help people access different aspects or “parts” of themselves that they weren’t previously aware of and experience release of emotion that they didn’t know they had been holding for years. See my blog on Internal Family Systems to learn more about “parts work.” I have found it to be extremely powerful even in just a few sessions for clients who are open to this type of technique. Clients have reported real and lasting change as a result of doing Inner Journey. I use alternating bilateral stimulation in conjunction with Inner Journey (see section on EMDR for more info).
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a method that uses alternating bilateral stimulation (going back and forth between the left and right hemispheres of the brain) in order neutralize the “emotional charge” attached to a traumatic memory or belief. It is a misnomer that you need eye movement in order to achieve the bilateral stimulation, but this was the original method using a light that traveled horizontally back and forth and the client would follow it with their eyes. Instead of using a light stick (which requires the client’s eyes to be open and therefore makes it more difficult to use imagery), I have a little gadget that provides a gentle buzzing sensation through hand sensors that alternates left and right. There is a structured protocol for how to use this modality and I’m having wonderful results with it thus far! Most people are fairly skeptical that this method would help since many traumas take place in childhood and so the memory may be kind of fuzzy, but I have had consistently positive outcomes and am a firm believer that EMDR can help anyone with both acute and complex trauma experiences.
If I only did therapy from the neck up, I would be doing clients a disservice since we hold emotion in the body and our bodies need to be comfortable and soothed in order for us to feel better overall. Incorporating yoga and movement has been an important part of therapy with many of my clients and I use it as often as I can with clients who are open to it and when it’s appropriate. My office is large enough to accommodate two yoga mats, and I provide yoga blocks as well. Gentle yoga as well as Restorative Yoga are both very helpful in nervous system regulation, so I think of yoga more as a natural medicine than a form of exercise. While yoga does indeed help with strength, flexibility and balance, it just as effectively helps regulate the nervous system, improve focus and concentration, and lift one’s mood. Some yoga poses are better for calming and grounding, and others are more activating and energizing. I will tailor the yoga and movements to accommodate clients’ needs including avoiding certain movements if the client is dealing with an injury or chronic pain or physical condition. It is not uncommon for clients to release emotions while doing yoga and this is an important part of the healing process. I have training in using yoga to help heal trauma and I use a trauma-informed approach. This means I do not do any physical touch with clients and am respectful of boundaries.
Before we could use language to communicate and understand the world, we experienced life through imagery and through our senses, so it makes sense that by using art we can heal on a much deeper level than by just talking in session.
While I am not a licensed art therapist, I have plenty of training using art in a therapeutic way. If you can let go of the product and instead focus on the process of creating art, you will find profound therapeutic benefits. Even seemingly simple creative exercises can provide important information that we can use to help you grow and heal. When we create imagery, we access the right hemisphere of the brain which is where sensory information is stored as well as emotionally charged memories. We can then completely bypass the logical, thinking mind and instead tap into the feelings and subconscious aspects of ourselves. It is quite common to have emotions surface while creating art so I prefer for clients to do that in-person. My job is to hold safe space and be present during this process so I can best support the client.
During my 25 years of practicing yoga as well as through my yoga teacher training, I learned the science behind breathing and what a powerful tool it is! Some breathing techniques decrease anxiety while others energize and ground the body as well as ease depression. If you are a trauma survivor, your breathing pattern needs attention for sure. Trauma impacts our breathing and makes it difficult to actually get enough oxygen which perpetuates the problem. I can’t say enough about how effective breathing exercises are if done regularly. Every time I have done breath work in session with a client, that person has left saying they feel so much better and want to do it again! The more you practice specific breathing exercises, the more natural they will become and you won’t have to think much about what to do or how to do it. You don’t want to wait until you are about to have a panic attack to try to remember what to do. Practice “whenever” and you will see the cumulative benefits. Plus, breathing is free, portable, and you always have access to it!