Life is messy. Whatever your life story might entail, nobody’s is simple. It is filled with tragedies and traumas, heartbreak and disappointment. But healing and recovery are possible. No matter how difficult or painful your circumstances, there exist today vast possibilities to help us find a path towards transforming our lives. As people enter our offices unaware of their resilience and the potential for change, we offer them this path towards recovering their Authentic Self.
I know when I first landed on that therapist’s couch, I wouldn’t have stayed very long if I had not known it was possible for me to heal. It is what the great psychiatrist Victor Frankl deemed, “the last of the human freedoms”—the ability to “choose one’s attitude in a given set of circumstances.” Unfortunately, most of us don't have the life tools to consciously choose the path our life takes. Instead, we have learned to adapt to the world around us, molding our identity to fit the roles we have been asked to play. We develop relationships to people, places, and things, believing they might help to balance our emotional states. We create adaptable selves to protect our deeper vulnerabilities, to adjust to whatever messiness life has thrown our way, and we lose our Authentic Self in the process—falling into codependency, addiction, and the false beliefs about who we are and what our potentials might be because we were never allowed to engage that potential in the first place. But belonging is a basic need for all of us, often prompting us to compromise our boundaries and even our core identity in order to feel a sense of connection. And then we end up on that therapist’s couch wondering why the choices we have made for ourselves have left us lost and isolated, victimized and alone.
Almost twenty years ago, my business partner Michelle Rappaport and I opened our therapeutic practice in Memphis, Tennessee. We founded the Experiential Healing Center to help people start finding repair and harmony in their life where before there was only discord. We operate from the belief that nobody has a child with the intention of screwing him or her up. For most people raising children (and for most people in general), they’re simply doing the best they can with what they know until they know something different. And for most families, these patterns of behaviors stretch far into the family genogram. It is handed down generation after generation until finally one member stands up and says, “No more. I want a different life.”
There is a place in everyone where we can achieve Emotional Harmony. In clinical terms that place is known as the "Optimal Arousal Zone.” This book will help you discover and explore that innate place in yourself in order to recover the parts that had to be compartmentalized in order to survive. Unaware of how to be our own choice makers, we lose the pieces of ourselves that make up a whole and healthy human: physical health, emotional wellbeing, social relationships, mental health, spirituality, and our own free will.
When I first went into the psychology field, I decided I wanted to work with foster children, and though my work took me in a very different direction, to a certain extent I still do work with children: they’re just in grown up bodies. When Michelle and I founded EHC, we began in the experiential method. We later incorporated the somatic therapies that have transformed the field of psychotherapy today, applying a variety of techniques to the therapeutic process, using experiential methods to help folks oscillate within their Optimal Arousal Zone in order to skirt the edges of their activation and collapse.
Together, we began to see that both schools of thought were not only mutually supportive, but also practically seamless in their execution. These therapies are action-oriented modalities that are designed to help access feelings and develop choice making about how we react and repair when life pulls us out of our Optimal Arousal Zones. We don’t wound alone, and we certainly don’t heal alone. Somatic Experiential Therapy honors this process, connecting the left-brain hemisphere of rationalization, reasoning, and meaning making to the right hemisphere’s ability for social engagement and emotional processing.
By incorporating Dan Siegel’s five strategies for the brain and Sharon Stanley’s somatic transformation work with our own understanding of these therapies – we began to see that Somatic Experiential Therapy worked in five simple parts:
- Somatic Attention– By becoming aware of our body’s story, we are able to integrate the cognitive, left-brain narrative of our life story with its emotional, body-based effects. Through Somatic Experiential Therapy, these effects become amplified in the initial stages of the therapeutic process wherein the therapist is able to call the client’s attention to their motions, movements, breath, and other reactions.
- Somatic Trust – In working with a trained therapist, people are able to experience a healthy attachment to someone who can help them define boundaries and identify needs. This therapeutic approach necessitates the need for the therapist to have attunement to his or her own Optimal Arousal Zone.
- Somatic Modification – Through the process of somatic inquiry, the therapist is able to help the client oscillate between a regulated state and the edges of their Optimal Arousal Zone, strengthening their ability to react and repair in stressful environments. Through psychodrama, props, art therapy, and other processes that help access the right-hemisphere, we can re-negotiate and repair the behavioral patterns around disordered attachments and traumatic events.
- Somatic Intervention – Through this strengthened resiliency, people are able to unlearn the fixed action patterns of their childhood and family belief systems, and begin to re-negotiate their emotional responses to life’s circumstances. Somatic experiential therapy allows for a meaningful and interactive dialogue between caregivers and clients, which helps to expand empathy and awareness around how their belief systems have impaired emotional harmony in their family systems for generations.
- Somatic Practice –Somatic Experiential Therapy is a deep, integrative process, which requires an ongoing commitment to the work. Much like the Twelve Steps maxim to “practice these principles in all areas of our lives,” emotional regulation and harmony must be taken out of the therapist’s office and into the world around us.
By repairing the disorganized and insecure attachments of our childhood through somatic engagement, and by building resiliency through the use of experiential therapies such as psychodrama, art therapy, role-playing, and play therapy, we are able to connect with the thwarted emotions of our childhood, and rediscover that self that lives within all of us - playful, passionate, unashamed, unafraid, eager to learn and grow.