Distress Tolerance in EMDR Therapy and Somatic Psychology-Dr. Arielle Schwartz

Reclaim the Life You Want to Live

Distress Tolerance Dr. Arielle Schwartz

Art by Mark Lloyd

A common goal in therapy is to learn how to handle painful emotions skillfully. We refer to this as building distress tolerance. It is important to learn how to be with difficult feelings because no matter how hard we try, the challenges that accompany this human life cannot be entirely avoided. Practicing distress tolerance reminds us that feeling discomfort does not always necessitate reacting…sometimes simply slowing down can help us be aware of impulsive urges and we can then be mindful about responding in a skillful manner.

If you have a history of trauma, you might have developed a coping mechanism of compartmentalizing your feelings. But, remaining cut off or disconnected from your emotions has consequences. You lose the joy that comes from intimately connecting with yourself or others.

It takes effort to remain compartmentalized and you might begin to feel like you have to keep working, eating, drinking, or distracting yourself to avoid feeling. You might fear that you if you slow down you will be overwhelmed by your emotions. Unfortunately, this can lead to a vicious cycle in which you begin to push away or avoid situations that might bring up anything painful or uncomfortable. But inevitably, something triggers the feelings and they rush to the surface and to escape the discomfort you might be quick to react by yelling, withdrawing, blaming another, or blaming yourself.

“Healing requires patience. I encourage you to reconnect to your emotions and sensations gently and at a pace that isn’t overwhelming for you. You can broaden your capacity to be with discomfort…but it doesn’t stop there. This increased capacity for distress tolerance becomes the foundation for many positive changes such as increased self-compassion and improvements in your relationships with others.”
Dr. Arielle Schwartz

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Death, Rebirth, and Self-Discovery-Dr. Arielle Schwartz

Reflections in the Natural World

Death, Rebirth, and Self-Discovery-Dr. Arielle Schwartz

Light in the Desert Arielle Schwartz

The season of Spring represents many opportunities for new growth snd self-discovery. This process requires that we release outgrown parts of ourselves. Such a cycle of death and rebirth is powerful. I am learning to lean into this cycle in a conscious matter.

One of the reasons that I love the wilderness is to see the ways that water and wind have shaped the canyons, rocks, and trees. I come here to discover that these wild places shape me as well. I return again and again because I know that I will come out transformed. All of life changes us, we inevitably are shaped by our events and circumstances. And we become who we are as we adapt and respond.

Stepping into nature provides ample metaphors for the terrain of our inner wilderness. Walking upon a trail through an old forest burn area, the blackened trunks of the trees stood bare while a fresh carpet of green beamed beneath; a stark reminder of the cycles of death and rebirth. Looking upon the scene I was reminded of the ways in which we all must allow parts of us to die and that as we release that which no longer serves us, we too can rise out of the ashes reborn again.

“This process of self-discovery invites us to remember who we really are and were always meant to be. For most of us, this involves the integration of the wounds that may have once been a source of shame or confusion. Healing asks us to integrate these parts into a cohesive sense of self so that we can reclaim a sense of dignity and the knowledge that we are so much more than our trauma or our pain. Healing allows us to walk in the world with a deep sense of belonging.”
-Dr. Arielle Schwartz

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Healing Preverbal Trauma-Dr. Arielle Schwartz

Finding Freedom through Trauma Recovery

Healing Preverbal Trauma Dr. Arielle Schwartz

Painting by Eugene Ivanov

This post discusses the therapeutic treatment of preverbal trauma. Sometimes the most persistent PTSD symptoms are connected to events for which you have no clear memory. This might be the case if you were told that your life is the result of an unwanted pregnancy, if you endured medical complications around your birth, if you grew up neglected, or if you suffered from child abuse.

In addition to these early memories, some people are unable to remember traumatic events that occurred later in life. This is because traumatic stress can impair brain structures involved with memory. I refer to these as nonverbal trauma memories.

Preverbal trauma and nonverbal trauma memories typically do not have associated words or a clear and coherent story. In contrast, they might come in the form of flashes of images, disconnected fragments, or uncomfortable physical sensations with no known cause.

Most importantly, you might ask whether healing is possible if you are unable to remember these traumatic events?

“In my experience, memory retrieval is not always possible. Moreover, many therapists do clients a disservice when they make memory retrieval the focus of therapy. However, there is hope—you can heal whether or not you remember your preverbal trauma.”
-Dr. Arielle Schwartz
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Vulnerability is Strength-Dr. Arielle Schwartz

Reflections on Being Human

Vulnerability is Strength - Dr. Arielle Schwartz

Winnicott once said, “It is a joy to be hidden but a disaster not to be found.” As a sensitive young girl, my outer world felt like too much for me to handle. I learned to hide. I instinctively retreated to my inner world and I closed the door. It took many years for me to learn that my sensitivity is a gift and that vulnerability is strength—a key to resilience.

“I’ve spent much of my adult life coming out of hiding. Initially, only allowing myself to be fully seen in the presence of a chosen few; those with eyes that see with acceptance and compassion. Over time, I opened more and more of myself to the world. This journey of stepping out is not only worthwhile, it is profoundly liberating.”
-Dr. Arielle Schwartz

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Parts Work Therapy-Dr. Arielle Schwartz

Understanding Inner Conflict

Parts Work Therapy Dr. Arielle Schwartz

Image by Rajasegar

One of the biggest reasons that we do not achieve our goals in life (or in therapy) is because we have unresolved conflicts between different parts of ourselves. This isn’t meant to minimize legitimate barriers—such as poverty, illness, lack of social support, or currently living in an unsafe environment—all of which can interfere with healing. However, if you feel stuck or unable to reach your potential despite your hard work, then parts work therapy might provide valuable insight.

Parts work therapy attends to the conflicts between parts that when left unresolved can sabotage your efforts toward healing. For example, within therapy there are times when you might be attempting to work through a difficult or traumatic memory. Even though you are ready to heal, there might be a part of you that interferes with the process in an attempt to protect you from vulnerable feelings that feel threatening to your sense of self.

“Successful treatment of childhood trauma or Complex PTSD requires the ability to work with parts and ego states. Within parts work therapy, you achieve trauma resolution by recognizing disowned parts and giving these parts a voice. The goal is to help you develop an embodied sense of self that can compassionately hold your emotions, vulnerable sensations, and young parts of self.”
Dr. Arielle Schwartz

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Vagus Nerve Yoga-Dr. Arielle Schwartz

A Mind-Body Approach to Wellness

Vagus Nerve Yoga Dr. Arielle Schwartz

The vagus nerve plays a central role in your emotional and physical health. The vagus nerve extends from the brainstem down into your stomach and intestines, enervating your heart and lungs, and connecting your throat and facial muscles. Therefore, any yoga practices that stimulate these areas of the body can have a profound influence on the tone of the vagus nerve. Vagus nerve yoga helps you reclaim balance of body and mind using tools of mindfulness, conscious breathing, and physical postures.

“Healthy vagal tone can be thought of as an optimal balance of parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous system actions that allows you to respond with resilience to the ups and downs of life. Read on to learn 7 Vagus Nerve Yoga practices that will help you better manage stress and reclaim emotional balance.”
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Grounding-Dr. Arielle Schwartz

Connecting to the Earth

Grounding Dr. Arielle Schwartz

Within somatic (body-centered) psychology, grounding refers to our ability to experience ourselves as embodied. Grounding refers to your ability to sense your body, feel your feet on the earth, and as a result calm your nervous system.

Grounding is a key resource for trauma recovery and can help with emotional overwhelm. A simple way to ground is to literally stand outside with bare feet and tune into how you feel. You can imagine the earth is like a sponge and allow any tension to release in a downward direction out of your body. Clint Ober refers to this process as Earthing and his research suggests that grounding reduces inflammation, pain, and stress.

“Grounding invites you to sense your body, notice your tension patterns, and surrender the weight of your physical body into gravity to feel the support of the earth. As a resource for trauma recovery, grounding can help you reclaim a sense of safety, feel rooted in the present moment, and strengthen your resilience.”
-Dr. Arielle Schwartz

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Speak Truth to Power-Dr. Arielle Schwartz

Out of the Shadows

The Complex PTSD Workbook Dr. Arielle Schwartz

Shining Through by Arielle Schwartz

Nowadays, people are talking. Each day we are hearing the latest news of sexual “misconduct” as women (and men too) finally feel safe to tell their stories of assault and abuse.

Why has it taken so long for these stories to come to the surface?

Understanding the sequelae of trauma responses can help us understand why those who have been abused can remain silent, sometimes for many years.  Continue reading

Nonviolence and Self Protection-Dr. Arielle Schwartz

Ahimsa and the Open Heart

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I spend a good amount of time in what I call peaceful warrior pose. This posture reminds me of the powerful combination of staying grounded, powerful, and simultaneously open hearted.

In response to the ongoing, daily barrage of news reporting violations and violence, I set my sight on an intention of nonviolence.

I believe that nonviolence starts right here, with me…with my thoughts, my words, my actions. Nonviolence starts with what I say to myself; how I talk to myself in my head. Nonviolence is about finding a capacity to hold myself and others with loving kindness.

Nonviolence is about letting go of my need to be right, for this inevitably makes another wrong. It is about coming to the table interested in listening to another with an open heart. Continue reading

How Does EMDR Therapy Work? Dr. Arielle Schwartz

EMDR Therapy for PTSD

How Does EMDR Therapy Work? Dr. Arielle Schwartz

Traumatic experiences can derail your life unless you have a way to process the event. EMDR Therapy helps you work through these difficult feelings and gets you back on the right track. The developer of this approach to trauma treatment, Francine Shapiro, says that we all have an innate capacity to process information and learn from all experiences, even difficult ones. She calls this process Adaptive Information Processing model. However, trauma can interrupt this natural process and can lead to distressing symptoms unless you have an opportunity to process the emotions and memories related to the event.

How does EMDR Therapy work? In order to better understand this process, we turn our attention to the way that memories are stored in the brain as a form of neural networks. A neural network is a group of interconnected brain cells (neurons) that fire together. Traumatic memories are maintained as maladaptive neural networks that result in a limited ability to adapt, process, and resolve traumatic stress. You can think of this like a record that has a scratch in it. The needle will skip on that spot repeatedly unless we intervene. (If you were born after record players went out of use, you can think of a CD that keeps getting stuck in the same spot).

“EMDR Therapy changes maladaptive neural networks by connecting the traumatic memory with new information. The distressing thoughts and emotions are blended with new positive thoughts and emotions; embodied awareness allows frozen sensations in the body to resolve through healing movements.”
-Arielle Schwartz

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