Somatic Interventions in EMDR Therapy

Somatic Therapy and EMDR Therapy

EMDR Therapy and Somatic Psychology Dr. Arielle Schwartz

Feel like you’re tied up in knots? We need to go beyond talk therapy to get free!

Our bodies need to process stressful events through breath and movement. When we do not include body awareness, movement, and conscious breathing in trauma processing we limit our ability to work with our innate healing capacities. Somatic Therapy engages body awareness as an intervention in psychotherapy and addresses the connections between the brain, the mind, and behavior. Modern day somatic psychotherapies such as Somatic Experiencing or Sensorimotor Psychotherapy are most recognized today; however, the field of somatic psychology encompasses a broad range of modalities that have evolved over time.

EMDR Therapists with training in somatic interventions have advanced tools to work with the dysregulation of the nervous system associated with post traumatic stress. Bessel Van der Kolk, premier trauma treatment researcher, endorsed both Somatic Psychology and EMDR Therapy as the best approaches for the treatment of PTSD. Upcoming trainings

“The rich history of somatic psychology contextualizes the types of interventions body-centered psychotherapists use today. This post introduces several key principles from somatic psychology as applied to EMDR Therapy.”
-Dr. Arielle Schwartz Continue reading

Vagus Nerve Stimulation Explained

Knowledge is Power

Psychology in Boulder

Irregularities in the vagus nerve can cause tremendous distress in physical and emotional health. Physical consequences can include irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), heart burn or GERD, nausea or vomiting, fainting, tinnitus, tachycardia, auto-immune disorders, seizures, and migraines. Mental health consequences include fatigue, depression, panic attacks, or a classic alternation between feeling overwhelmed and shut-down. It is always important to discuss these symptoms with your physician. It is also valuable to have access to information that helps us stay informed when it comes to our healthcare.

In a previous post I discuss Natural Vagus Nerve Stimulation as related to the treatment of PTSD. In response to that post I received a series question. Here are just a few:

  • “If I am already experiencing anxiety isn’t my vagus nerve already over-stimulated?”
  • “How can stimulating the same nerve help both depression and anxiety?”
  • “I’m excited to learn about natural vagus nerve stimulation techniques but for how long do I do the exercises?”

Since these questions are quite common this post includes my response to these readers with you.

“Having an understanding about the neural and physiological substrates of the body and mind provides keys that can open many doors. Such an understanding can allow you advocate for your needs with healthcare providers and help you feel empowered in your healing journey. You can learn the practices that help you regulate your mind and emotions and as a result positively impact your physical health. Knowledge is power.”
-Dr. Arielle Schwartz

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Mothering-Dr. Arielle Schwartz

Real Love

Mothering Dr. Arielle Schwartz

When we think about an ideal mother we tend to think about someone who is nurturing, loving, caring, compassionate, available, soft, and empathic. In reality we are not able to nor are we meant to live perfection. As a mother I am tender and kind but I can be surprised by the prickly reactions I have sometimes. I have my moments where I blunder. Other times I feel capable to handle any challenge, be it the skinned knee, the homework struggle, or the hurt heart.

“A few weeks ago I had a difficult moment as a mom. I lost my cool, was piercing and sharp with my words. I called up a friend and downloaded my heavy hearted moment. It is important to know that we are not alone in these spiny moments of mothering. What I aspire to as a parent is to learn these interactions and to stay committed to the relationship. I trust in my ability to repair my mistakes no matter how long it takes. I am learning the art of accepting my flaws and challenging myself to grow in the face of them. Yes, even cactuses bloom.”
-Dr. Arielle Schwartz

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Complex PTSD and Dissociation-Dr. Arielle Schwartz

Healing from Developmental Trauma

Complex PTSD and Dissociation Dr. Arielle Schwartz

Traumatic experiences are by their very definition frightening and overwhelming. Events such car accidents, natural disasters, or acts of violence, change our familiar orientation to the world. It is common to feel flooded with powerful emotions, sensations, or memories as we adapt to new and often unwanted reality. Sometimes we start to avoid places reminiscent of the trauma. Or we might have or have intrusive memories and feelings. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) refers to the presence of these symptoms well after the event is over. However, Complex PTSD and dissociation are another kind of post traumatic stress.

When you experience childhood neglect or chronic abuse your primary orientation to the world is one of threat, fear, and survival. Untrustworthy parents or caregivers leave you untrusting or confused about what constitutes a loving relationship. Fear and lack of safety leaves you scanning your environment for potential threats. A neglected or abused child will rely upon built-in, biological protection mechanisms for survival to “tune out” the threat. Patterns of fear and dissociation inform the developing body and mind.

“Adults abused as children often report feeling helpless, hopeless, despair, deep loneliness, shame, unfairness, injustice, sweeping depression, and suicidal thoughts. Many continue to push the scary, yucky, painful, and confusing feelings far away by resorting to learned dissociative patterns. Even though you are safe now, it can feel overwhelming to acknowledge remnants of historical threats held in body, emotions, and mind. We heal early developmental trauma within a safe relationship that is respectful, predictable, consistent, non-defensive, and has clear boundaries. Gently we redefine our capacity for relationship with a trustworthy other. Slowly we rebuild faith in ourselves.”
-Dr. Arielle Schwartz

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6 Pillars of Resilience-Dr. Arielle Schwartz

Are you Naturally Resilient?

Gratitude Dr. Arielle Schwartz

Resilience is a passion of mine. This strength based orientation is the cornerstone of my psychotherapy practice, so much so that I call my work, Resilience Informed Therapy. Resilience means adapting well in the face of adversity and is associated with a mindset that recognizes our capacity to grow through both positive and negative life events.

This week I came across an interesting piece of recent research about resilience from Arizona State University. They challenge the existing scientific claim that most people are naturally resilient after exposure to a traumatic event stating that this misunderstanding can lead to dangerous consequences. For example, individuals who do struggle after a traumatic event, who do not rebound quickly, might feel as though there is something wrong with them. Clinicians who assume clients “should” be more resilient might inadvertently blame the victim. Policy makers might fail to allocate funds for interventions post traumatic events.

I think of resilience as a process, not just an outcome. You wouldn’t brush and floss your teeth on Monday and think that sufficient for the rest of the week. Likewise, resilience is best served when we actively participate in supporting our physical, mental, emotional, social, and spiritual health each and every day. You can build your resilience by engaging in small actions such as a call to a friend, writing for 5 minutes in your journal, or taking a walk around the block in the evening. While each one of these steps might seem small, collectively they can help you to feel strong, relaxed, capable, and more connected to others in the world.This post pulls together a wide range of research on resilience into what I call the 6 Pillars of Resilience

“Resilience is not a trait that you either have or do not have; it is a set of strategies that can be learned and practiced and by anyone. There is a wide range of resilient behaviors, some of which will resonate with you and some will not. My invitation to you is to create your own personalized approach that helps to build your resilience each day.” Dr. Arielle Schwartz

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Depth Psychology-Dr. Arielle Schwartz

The Study of the Soul

Depth Psychology Dr. Arielle Schwartz

My family and I just returned from a trip to Chaco Canyon, Grand Canyon, Zion, and Bryce National parks. Being in these places provided a powerful reminder of history and culture as we walked in the footsteps of the Pueblo people, gazed upon the remains of their homes and ceremonial grounds. Profound images of Kivas and the ancient people whose lives peacefully revolved around the seasons and celestial markers of time. Thousand year old stone structures were aligned with the passage of the sun revealing powerful alignments with the solstices and equinoxes. Moments of awe and a sense of being on sacred ground were amplified by the timing of our trip that happened to coincide with the spring equinox and the full moon.

This trip reminded me of my psychological roots. My mother introduced me to Jungian Psychology as it was a passion of hers as she had the opportunity to undergo many years of her own analysis. When I began my studies in psychology I too was drawn to this depth approach through many years of dream work and embodied process work. Psyche is the Greek word for “soul.” Psychology in true form is the study of the soul.

“Depth psychology explores dreams, stories, myths, symbols, culture, and history as ways to access a sense of meaning. This provides substance behind the superficial, yet equally important, aspects of life. Of course, we need to work, to pay the bills, to cook the meals, and to wash the dishes. Equally, we need to feel connected to something bigger than us to know how our unique thread fits into the fabric of all life.”
-Dr. Arielle Schwartz Continue reading

Grief, Grit, and Grace-Dr. Arielle Schwartz

The Complexity of Grief

Grief, Grit, and Grace Dr. Arielle Schwartz

Grief is a normal response to loss that changes our familiar orientation to the world. We must adapt to this new and often unwanted reality. This post is part of a series exploring grief and loss with a deepened focus on the complexity of the process.

Sometimes loss brings up our unfulfilled hopes and wishes that things had been different. Sometimes we also have loving and tender memories to reflect upon. This range of complex and conflicting emotions is part of what makes grief so challenging. Having an understanding of the neuroscience of grief can illuminate ways that we can navigate that complexity. Take the time to attend to your unique experience as you move through your process of grief, grit, and grace.

“The holistic organization of who you are as a person cannot be reduced to neuroscience, nor to one set of emotional responses. Just as the music that comes from a well played violin is more than the strings, the bridge, or the bow, you too are more than the sum of your parts.”
-Dr. Arielle Schwartz Continue reading

Healing Grief and Loss-Dr. Arielle Schwartz

The Sacred Journey of Grief

Resilience and Post Traumatic Growth Dr. Arielle Schwartz Boulder, CO

Inevitably, grief changes you. You can never go back to the world as you knew it because you are not the same. As a result you may feel as though you’ve been sent into the wilderness without a map. However, knowing models of the grief process and descriptions of the common experiences can help you find your bearings.

The process of grief is a circuitous journey. A path made of many small stones. Each step forward might feel like a micro-movement but overtime you forge new trails; loop around landmarks until, eventually, new territory becomes familiar.

“I believe grief and loss is a sacred journey. To relate to death asks us to reflect on what it means to be alive. This process is an initiation. Maybe you discover new strength, your capacity to persevere, or the necessity to surrender and let go. When death touches our lives we are reminded that it is a profound act of courage to engage in life, knowing that loss and pain can and will happen.”
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Holistic Transformation-Dr. Arielle Schwartz

Sustained Change

Holistic Transformation Dr. Arielle Schwartz

The late yoga master B.K.S. Iyengar said, “Change leads to disappointment if it is not sustained. Transformation is sustained change, and it is achieved through practice.”

This quote got me thinking.

“I began to think about my daily and weekly practices. The ones that help me feel grounded, clear, and ready to face each day. I thought about the tools that re-energize me when I feel drained. It became clear that what keeps me in balance is to have consistent practices that support my whole being: physically, psychologically, and spiritually. I think of this as holistic transformation; an engagement in daily practices that organize body and mind towards wellbeing. Ultimately all of our transformational practices are about coming closer to our true nature.”
-Dr. Arielle Schwartz

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A Tribute to David Bowie-Dr. Arielle Schwartz


David Bowie Dr. Arielle Schwartz

Never in the history of my work as a psychologist has the death of a musician entered the therapy room so powerfully. I can imagine similar collective waves of grief and anger after the assassination of John Lennon. Assertively I heard again and again throughout the week some version of “I am who I am today because of him” and “he gave me the courage to be myself.” This week’s post is in honor of you, David Bowie. You have left your mark on our world. Continue reading