The Polyvagal Theory and Healing Complex PTSD-Dr. Arielle Schwartz

Illuminate a Path to Freedom

The Polyvagal Theory Complex PTSD Dr. Arielle Schwartz

“No Say it all” Todd Williamson

If you have grown up with long-term, chronic trauma exposure you might find it difficult to accurately perceive whether people or places are safe or trustworthy. Sometimes, it can become difficult to tell differentiate between experiences that occurred in the past and what is happening now, in the present moment. The polyvagal theory helps us understand the neural circuits involved in these types of symptoms of PSTD and can illuminate a path to freedom.

Initial research about stress and trauma identified the sympathetic nervous system as responsible for PTSD symptoms. As a result, symptom reduction emphasized accessing the healing power of the parasympathetic nervous system and the “relaxation response”. At that time, the parasympathetic nervous system was only associated with our ability to rest, digest, regenerate, and heal from injury. While the parasympathetic nervous system does play a role in healing, it isn’t the whole story.

“It turns out that the parasympathetic nervous system is not only associated with relaxation but is also implicated with symptoms of PTSD. Stephen Porges introduced the polyvagal theory as a means to help us understand this dual function of the parasympathetic nervous system. His work reveals an evolutionary older survival mechanism in which the parasympathetic nervous system leads us to immobilize or “faint” in the face of a life-threatening event. Most importantly, the polyvagal theory teaches you to engage your social nervous system to consciously inhibit your defensive system. This allows you to finally find freedom from trauma symptoms and experience a deeply nourishing sense of safety here and now.”
Dr. Arielle Schwartz

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Somatic Psychology and The Satisfaction Cycle-Dr. Arielle Schwartz 

Explore The Satisfaction Cycle

The Satisfaction Cycle Dr. Arielle Schwartz

The satisfaction cycle is a concept that comes from Body Mind Centering (BMC) which was developed by Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen. This influential work in the field of somatic psychology proposes that our early learning of developmental movement patterns influences our sense of who we are in the world. For example, knowing that you are safe to explore your environment, that you can reach for what you want, and that that you can receive it once you get it provides a deep sense of accomplishment and gratification. Most importantly, movement patterns that are not sufficiently embodied can create disruptions not only in your physical development but in other areas of your life, such as the ability to relax, learn, process your emotions, communicate your needs, or have meaningful relationships.

Before you were able to stand, walk, or talk, in fact, even before you were born, you began to explore your world through your body. Your natural reflexes such as sucking, curling, reaching, and grasping movements allowed you to know yourself. You progressed through rolling and crawling until you eventually learned to walk. None of this needed to be taught to you, these reflexes act like a set of blueprints. However, this instinctual developmental process can be disrupted by relatively common events such as the birth of a sibling or by much more disturbing childhood events such as neglect or trauma.

As we grow up it is common to lose connection with our instinctual self. Our use of symbols and language disconnects us from the simplicity of our embodied experience. Moreover, if you have experienced abuse or neglect as a childhood, you may have had to override movement impulses to survive.

Somatic psychology reminds us that the body does not just hold the memory of what happened to you, it holds the memory of what wanted to happen. For example, you can think of a child who was threatened and wanted to kick, scream, or run away but wasn’t able to do so for fear of making a bad situation worse. Somatic psychology helps us to slowly and mindfully reclaim these movement impulses as part of our healing. Embodying the satisfaction cycle can help you to connect to your inner sense of self and restore your birthright of balance in mind and body.”
Dr. Arielle Schwartz

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Embodiment in Nature (A Travelogue)-Dr. Arielle Schwartz

Come Home to Your Self

Embodiment in Nature Dr. Arielle Schwartz

Spending time in nature is simultaneously calming and uplifting. Research suggests that simply walking in nature could lower your risk for depression, improve symptoms of anxiety, and improve cognitive functioning. Moreover, practicing mindful embodiment in nature with yoga or walking meditation can further align mind and body with the rhythms of our natural world.

This post offers photographs and reflections inspired by my recent trip to Peru and Ecuador. These images are from hiking the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, trekking in old growth Amazon rainforest, and exploring the Galapagos islands. These travels evoked a deep respect for these extraordinary places and enhanced my appreciation for those who work to protect our precious planet.

Embodiment in Nature Dr. Arielle Schwartz

“Embodiment in nature is a simple yet profound way to reset body and mind. We can experience the flowers, clouds, wildlife, and the subtle filtered quality of light as it passes through the branches of the trees. To retreat into nature inspires reflective awareness. Such mindful presence can so easily become lost in our intensely fast-paced and stressful world. Consequently, the quiet mind we cultivate in nature is so very necessary. Once discovered, we can offer the gift of spacious awareness to our relationships, work, and community.”
-Dr. Arielle Schwartz

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Catch the Upward Spiral and Strengthen your Resilience-Dr. Arielle Schwartz

The Power of Positive Change

Catch the upward spiral Build resilience Dr. Arielle Schwartz

Do you ever notice how one small positive change can shift your perspective? Recently, I had one of those rough days and was feeling irritable and down. I decided to get out for a walk anyway. After ten minutes, I began to notice the subtle colors of the clouds as the sun lowered in the sky. The feeling of the wind on my skin helped to lift my spirits as I reclaimed a sense that “everything was going to be okay.” Before long I had a familiar spring in my step…I had caught what Alex Korb calls The Upward Spiral (New Harbinger, 2015).

Whether you are recovering from trauma or facing lifelong depression, the upward spiral can help you focus on the cumulative effect of the small changes you can make to improve your mood each and every day. Korb offers a recipe for a balanced life with a cup of positive thinking, a heaping tablespoon of good habits, and a sprinkle of mindfulness.

“There are many ways to overcome obstacles and create positive change; you might choose exercise, therapy, relaxation, meditation, art, music, or keeping a gratitude journal. Most importantly, only you know what brings you joy. Once you find a recipe that works in your life, I invite you to commit to a regular practice devoted to bringing balance and resilience to your life. The combined power of your chosen practices can help you catch the upward spiral. Not only do you benefit, but research indicates that resilience is contagious—that we benefit vicariously by witnessing each other overcome challenge.”
-Dr. Arielle Schwartz

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Mind-Body Therapies for Vagus Nerve Disorders-Dr. Arielle Schwartz

Restore Health for Vagus Nerve Disorders

Vagus Nerve Disorder Dr. Arielle Schwartz

A healthy vagus nerve supports your digestive system, helps to regulates your sleep patterns, and calms down your nerves. Learning to regulate vagal tone is associated with a reduction in inflammation and better prognosis in people suffering from chronic illness, migraines, auto-immune disorders, anxiety, and depression. If you suffer from any of these vagus nerve disorders, then this post is for you.

“Healthy vagal tone involves engaging your social nervous system. You can learn to manage the symptoms of vagus nerve disorders by skillfully working with your mind and body to tone your vagus nerve. Mind-body therapies effectively increase your resilience by helping you develop your capacity to feel safe, calm, and connected—even during times of stress.”
-Dr. Arielle Schwartz

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The EMDR Therapy and Somatic Psychology Book-Dr. Arielle Schwartz

Enhance Embodiment in Trauma Treatment

EMDR Therapy and Somatic Psychology Book Dr. Arielle Schwartz

(Through the end of December 2018, you can order the EMDR Therapy and Somatic Psychology book directly from W. W. Norton at a 20% discount with free shipping. The coupon code is EMDRSP18 Click here to order.)

As therapists, our clients ask us to guide them through the process of healing trauma. Some feel shocked, numb, and cut off from their emotions. Others feel overwhelmed by fear and panic. Most importantly, trauma also leaves an imprint on the body. Often, we sit with our clients as they wrestle with intolerable sensations. Effective trauma treatment requires a holistic approach in which therapists have the skills to effectively help clients cope with the cognitive, emotional, and somatic symptoms of PTSD. It is imperative that therapists learn how to help our clients and ourselves stay embodied in the midst of the powerful relational moments that form the basis of effective therapy. Such is the purpose of the EMDR Therapy and Somatic Psychology book.

This new book that is co-authored by myself and my colleague, Barb Maiberger, M.A., serves as a guide to help EMDR practitioners integrate somatic therapy into their sessions. We wrote this book to meet the growing interest in a synthesis of Somatic Psychology with EMDR Therapy as a comprehensive trauma treatment model. We offer interventions as scripted protocols to enhance embodiment within the 8-phases of EMDR Therapy.

“This integrative treatment model will teach you how to invite the client to sense and feel the body as a foundation for working through traumatic memories in a safe and regulated manner in order to facilitate lasting integration. Grounded in the science of interpersonal neurobiology, we guide you, the therapist, to increase your own embodied awareness which provides a basis for an attuned therapeutic rapport. In all, we hope you will come away with advanced ways to help your clients reclaim their lives from the costs of PTSD.”
-Dr. Arielle Schwartz

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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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