Protective Figure Imagery

The Courage, by Lora Zombie

The image feature in this article is titled The Courage. When you look at it, what qualities do you see? Power, strength, fearlessness, confidence, protectiveness, loyalty? For years I have had artist Lora Zombie’s work in my counselling office. Everyone asks about the art, and for many, the artwork is equally as powerful for them as it is for me. But when The Courage came out (the image featured in this article), I felt the need to share why I find some of Lora’s art so powerful.

When working with trauma in counselling, it is important for individuals to feel emotionally prepared. In EMDR therapy, preparation is done with information sharing and psycho-education, collaboration and transparency, and emotion regulation strategies such as distancing, containment, and resourcing. It is resourcing that I am going to be specifically talking about in this article. 

Resourcing, (also referred to as Resource Development, and Ego Strengthening), is about cultivating strategies that will enable clients to shift out of overwhelming emotions and also to connect with positive resources within themselves. It is the “secret sauce” in trauma work because in order to do the work, clients must be sufficiently stabilized and they must have some ability to regulate emotion

There are many strategies used to assist individuals in developing these abilities. One such strategy is about connecting, through visualization, with a protective figure. A protective figure can be real or imagined, and it is unique to each individual. When we connect with an image of our protective figure being ferociously protective of us, we take the time to notice all the qualities our protective figure possesses. We connect with the sensations in our body that shift as we connect with the image, the emotions, and the positive cognition that goes along with it. As we focus on the protective figure image, emotion begins to settle. What is really happening, is that we activating all those powerful qualities within ourselves. Not only does the image strengthen our ability to settle strong emotion, but it also fosters a sense of empowerment, and cultivates love and compassion

When we lack actual internal resources for processing trauma, the stored negative experience of the trauma can overwhelm our capacity for positive experiences, self-esteem development, and resiliency. Regulating emotion becomes very difficult. Once we have developed the protective figure imagery in counselling, we can later bring up the image in our imagination (in our mind’s eye), perhaps when feeling vulnerable, threatened, or fearful – even during trauma processing. The image becomes an anchor and a source of strength to be drawn upon during healing. (Please note: the resources used during the preparation phase of EMDR are unique to each client).

Lora’s latest artwork The Courage is such a beautiful depiction of the protective figure. I highly recommend it for any counselling space. Check out more of Lora’s work here: https://lorazombie.com

References:

Parnell, L. (2007). A therapist’s guide to EMDR: Tools and techniques for successful treatment. New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.

Parnell, L. (2008). Tapping in: A step-by-step guide to activating your healing resources through bilateral stimulation. Boulder, CO: Sounds True, Inc.

Teal, A. (2018). Super resourcing: An integrative protocol for healing early attachment wounds. (EMDRIA Approved training)

EMDR in your Therapy Session, Part 2

Ever wondered what EMDR looks like in a counselling session? EMDR – which stands for eye movement desensitization and processing, is a therapeutic approach with a wide range of applications. Research has demonstrated that EMDR is effective for working with experiences of trauma (and post-traumatic stress), anxiety, phobias, addictions, to name just a few. To learn more about the components of EMDR, please read Part 1 by clicking here.

There are eight stages to the process of EMDR therapy. It begins as many therapies do: building rapport, gathering intake information (your backstory, so to speak). Knowing your story helps your counsellor understand your needs in counselling, any troubling symptoms that need immediate attention, and also helps you both collaboratively create a treatment plan.

The next stage shifts into preparation, or resourcing. “Resourcing” is the common name for developing those emotional coping skills. It involves helping folks develop the tools they need to self-regulate. This phase involves learning to notice and move through strong, over-whelming emotions as they arise. It’s the part of therapy that works with the treating the symptoms (the pounding heart sensation of anxiety, excessive worry cycles based on past experiences, sleep disturbance, etc.). In EMDR, we work with a rating scale called the Subjective Units of Distress Scale (SUDS for short). It’s a rating scale from 1 to 10, where 10 is the most distressed you’ve ever felt and 1 is no distress at all. The scale is a helpful way for therapists to attune to their clients, and also for client’s to notice their own progress in a session.

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Developing and strengthening emotional coping skills is important, because moving into processing trauma too soon could cause a person to feel unsafe and emotionally flooded. Our job as your counsellor, is to help you be present with emotion without being over-powered by it; learning to turn down the volume on some emotions as you need to, and ultimately helping you feel safe with the counselling process.

Many folks who have experienced trauma have an overall feeling of being unsafe, so cultivating a sense of safety has to be a primary focus.  You need to feel comfortable with your therapist before you disclose all the tough stuff. And, it is super important that you build the emotional coping skills to be okay after and between sessions. EMDR respects these important features of trauma work. 

With the ability to regulate emotion and connect with a degree of internal safety developed, we can begin the next stages of EMDR: Desensitization.  I know you remember what that means from Part 1! This is where trauma processing begins. For those of you wondering what on earth this part of therapy looks like, let me demystify it for you. 

During this trauma processing stage of EMDR, a session starts out with resourcing, then moves into target selection (which just means you choose what the session focus will be). Because I work with trauma, that often means we want to start out with the first traumatic memory or the worst traumatic memory. Wait! Please don’t slam your laptop shut and storm off – I know that can sound frightening, but you will be ready for this stage because of all your hard developing and practicing emotion coping skills during the preparation stage! 

Once we’ve got that memory selected, we connect the negative belief that goes with it, the emotion it evokes, and where you feel it in your body (the sensation of the emotion). 

Side Note: Why do we Need to Cultivate Awareness of the Felt Sense of Emotion?

Cultivating awareness of how we feel emotion in our body is super important. Trauma can often leave folks feeling disconnected from their body. They can get caught up in staying in their head (thoughts), because perhaps it feels safer. However, our body still carries all that tension. Maybe it gets experienced in the form of stomach aches or digestive problems, holding the breath/shallow breathing, muscle tension, or a clenched jaw. This disconnection from the felt sense can become so habitual, that many folks stop noticing it. But all that tension and unrecognized dis-ease can cause all kinds of health problems. 

So, with the pairing of the trauma memory, with the negative belief, the emotion it evokes and how distressing it feels, and how you sense it in the body, we add BLS and start processing that old memory. Whatever your distress level was at the beginning of the session, your therapists goal is to guide you through the processing to get that number down so that you are anchored in a sense of internal safety when the session ends. 

And here is the amazing part: as the BLS is repeated, the brain is processing the trauma to reconcile it as a past event. When your brain and your body can reconcile trauma as a past event, it means you can anchor into the present moment. You shift out of survival mode and can more accurate attest that you truly are safe now. 

Emotional Activation (Feeling Triggered):

Have you ever noticed that when something in the present moment reminds you of a trauma you experienced, the emotion that arises feels completely raw and overly-excessive to the present situation you are in? That is what unprocessed trauma can feel like. There is an amazing little brain system we all have, called the limbic system. Its sole job is to keep us alive. Experiencing trauma can keep us popping into that limbic system survival mode way too frequently. Constant survival mode living can leave people feeling emotionally reactive (as though we are constantly in fight, flight, for freeze), and emotionally exhausted. The brain just doesn’t recognize that the trauma is over, that you are safe now. That is why counselling is so important for your overall health and functioning.

During processing with BLS, emotion becomes less intense. One of the session goals is to keep reducing activation – getting your SUDS number going down, so that you are shifting more and more out of distress. 

EMDR_Congition_ListAs a result of all that emotion process, you are able to connect with a positive belief, and we install it with BLS (the next stage in our 8 stage model). Instead of the negative belief a person started the session with, such as perhaps “I am not enough”, folks now get to decide what positive belief is more preferable, (such as “I am worthwhile”, or “I did the best I could”). We link the positive belief in with BLS so that when the client thinks about the past experience, he or she is no longer washed over with thoughts of being not enough – and in fact, that old negative belief feels distant. The past event really does feel over and anchored in the past, and linked with the positive belief. It may still evoke a degree of emotion (after all, we can not erase the past from having happened), but the sadness or fear that arises going forward when the memory is recalled, will be less intense, and will fit the situation you are in.

Containment metaphors amight be used at the end of a session, as well as a body scan. The body scan is a super useful tool to strengthen the positive sensations associated with the positive belief, and also for identifying any distress still present. The final stage of the session (but not yet the 8th stage of EMDR), is a debriefing of sorts, where we can review strategies for anchoring in the present moment, handling emotion as it comes up, and discussion what to expect after the session in terms of emotions percolating and taking care of self between sessions. 

The subsequent session starts out with an exploration of anything that came up between sessions, and a re-evaluation of thoughts, beliefs, emotions, and sensations connected with the work from the previous session That’s the eight stage of EMDR, and then the process continues until folks feel as though they have worked through the pieces they entered into counselling to address. 

I hope this summary of what EMDR in a therapy session looks like has been helpful. Remember,  while we can not erase traumatic experiences from your memory, with EMDR the brain can reconcile it as a past event. We can lessen the intensity of the emotion the memory evokes, as well as the meaning attached to it. We learn to notice when we are shifting into the limbic system and either act to maintain safety or anchor back into the present moment acknowledging the memory as well as our present moment safety.  

If you want to learn more about EMDR, please check out the EMDR International Association website, or EMDR Canada. Both of those websites also list EMDR therapists by location, so you can even tap into those resources to find a practitioner close to you. 

Be well.

Relaxation for Children

Progressive Muscle Relaxation for Kids

(Free PDF Printable Script Included!)

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Scroll down for free pdf

Having difficulty falling asleep at night is one of the most common symptoms folks I work with present with. Whether it is part of the anxiety they are coping with, the fallout from a stressful day, or a trauma symptom – not being able to fall asleep at night can be an incredible source of additional stress.

One technique that can help with settling down at bedtime is a type of meditation called Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR, for short). Progressive muscle relaxation (PMR) is a relaxation technique that guides and directs focus on one area of the body at a time, first tensing the muscle and then relaxing it, to promote full-body relaxation (Anxiety Canada; Schwartz & Knipe, 2017).

This type of meditation has benefits that reach even beyond the bedtime routine. Helping children develop a habit of using PMR to settle can help with:

  • learning to relax chronic tense muscles
  • release patterns of holding the breath and taking shallow breaths
  • notice the difference between tense and relaxed muscles, in order to cue a relaxed state when the first sign of stress rises (a super helpful skill for kids who experience anxiety and need strategies to ease out of the anxiety state)

Remember Compassion for Distracted Minds
When learning something new, remember to encourage your children to go easy on themselves. It is normal to lose focus during PMR, and any meditation, for that matter. When this happens, remind your little one to gently return his or her attention to the muscle group, with kindness toward self, and continue on.

When Self-Doubt Rears it’s Head
Trying something new can be a little daunting for many people. It can even crack open the door for self-doubt to creep in. You know self-doubt, it’s that low voice that incessantly asks, “Am I doing this right?” or shuts you down with the louder “I can’t do it!”. Honour that little voice of self-doubt by using a guided PMR script. Check out the attachment, or give a listen to the YouTube link.

PMR Script: (printable pdf):  PMR_revised2020

YouTube PMR: Live Happy Counselling Narration

There are also some great books designed to teach kids PRM:

  • Angry Octopus: Children Learn How to Control Anger, Reduce Stress, and Fall Asleep Faster, by Lori Lite

Mindfulness in the Face of Uncertainty

Rarely do we truly have control. But, the illusion that we do sustains us in our daily life. It gives us a sense of the world around us as a predictable place. Right now as our world is battles with the COVID19 virus, we don’t have that sense of predictability. And that can leave many folks worried, fearful, and desperate. I’d like to offer a few simple ideas for you to consider bringing into your daily life. In the face of uncertainty, these mindfulness-based tools can assist you in returning to the present moment.

Please know that these ideas are not ‘one size fits all’. Please take what works for you, adapt it, or grow it to make it more suitable to your daily life.

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Start your day with a Reflection: Take a quiet moment before the action of your day amps up. Listen to meditation on your smart phone, or just draw your attention inward and ask yourself what you need to stay well this day. Then, set your intention for the day. Setting an intention can just foster an area of focus for the day. For example, it could be “Today I will be present and kind”. It creates an anchor for you to return to throughout the day. Writing down the intention and placing it somewhere you will see it throughout your day can help ensure your bring your attention back to it as needed.

Get out of Bed and Get Dressed: If you are isolated or in quarantine at this time, and your daily life has been interrupted (you are no longer going to work, to school, etc.), please still get up and get dressed. Maintain your morning hygiene routine, or start the one you’ve always wanted and never had time for.  Your mental health with benefit from the day being bookended with getting up and getting dressed in the morning, and washing up and putting on pyjamas at the end of the day.

Daily Goal Setting: Regardless of your living situation, set 3 small, achievable goals for each day. These goals can range from “I will get out of bed at 8am and take a shower this morning”, to “I will sit on the floor and play a game with my child today”. Set 3 small goals every morning, and take a moment to reflect on them each evening. Achieving the small daily goals will build self-esteem and integrity with yourself, because you accomplished that which you intended to accomplish.

Go Outside: If you are socially distancing or in quarantine, take a few moments to go outside. You don’t have to be in a public place to be outside. Take a short walk or even just sit outside. The change of scenery will help bolster your mood.

Connect with Love: if you are living with children or have a spouse, make sure to connect with them with love each day. These are uncertain times for them as well, and they are likely also feeling fearful and/or worried. Try speaking their love language at least twice a day. If you aren’t familiar with the concept of love languages, check out: https://www.5lovelanguages.com/quizzes/

Don’t Stop Connecting: If you live alone, please maintain your social connections. Call, text, or e-mail with at least one person a day. Do not go this alone.

Take care, and please stay safe.

Calm in the Storm – The New Book on Settling Strong Emotion!

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Before we can heal from trauma, we need to develop the ability to be with the strong emotions associated with trauma memories. These skills are taught in counselling, but what about all the folks that haven’t yet started up counselling? I have been working on that resource, and I am so pleased to tell you that it is now available!

Calm in the Storm is collection of simple emotion regulation strategies that can be used by anyone who experiences anxiety, panic, and symptoms of post-traumatic stress – to shift them out of intense emotion and back into a place of internal safety. The book is written in a way that can help folks develop a new relationship with emotion, one that lets them off that roller-coaster ride of emotional ups-and-downs, that enables them to feel more in control.  

When it comes to symptoms of anxiety and post-traumatic stress, we need to know how to regulate emotion – those are all those grounding and containment skills designed to bring us back to the present moment and enabling us to shift out of high motion. Healing the trauma or underlying reasons that spike us into anxiety is important, but folks need a starting point. This book is that starting point. It will ignite hope and spark a renewed belief in one’s inner potential. It isn’t meant to replace counselling, but the book is a great starting point for folks who need to develop some basic regulation skills before delving into trauma work with a therapist.

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“Once we discover the ability to settle strong emotion, the emotion itself becomes less frightening” – Susan Guttridge

Pick up your copy of Calm in the Storm today, and please check back and let me know which strategies worked best for you.

For sale now at the following locations:

 

 

What does Change mean to You?

If you are like most people, change can feel over-whelming. Change is about moving beyond the familiar, the predictable, the traversed terrain. And to be honest, that can evoke a little fear. And a whole lot of uncertainty. What do we most often do when we feel fearful and uncertain? We proceed with caution. In the face of change, that might look like vacillating between options with indecision; it might look like clinging to the past; or worse, seeing the past as all good through those delusory rose-colored glasses. Fear kicks our survival instincts into action, which might just leave us sticking with what we know, leaving us fleeing from change.

A sense of loss is another emotion that accompanies change. We often associate loss with emotional suffering. When we allow ourselves to fully experience and allow all of our emotions, we find that it’s less about ‘suffering’, and more about processing, letting go, and kindling hope. We need to feel our emotions, and allow ourselves to embrace the hard work of planning and implementing and revising that new life directions invite.

A Recent Big Change

After several years having an office at Arise Chiropractic, I found myself in for a change. I was in need of a new office location. And like so many of us, I experienced strong emotions as I encountered uncertainty, hesitance, and doubt. Eventually, uncertainty melted away as a new opportunity unfolded, and hope began to re-ignite. As the move became a reality I felt a bittersweet sadness: excitement for the new opportunity combined with loss as I said goodbye to the Team I’d spent the last 3 years being a part of. I took my time: having the important conversations with others but as well as with my own emotional processing. I do believe that change can make us stronger. We come face to face with our doubts. Moving out of our comfort zone challenges us to be braver, to be stronger, to be more self-aware, and maybe even a little more compassionate. I took the leap of faith and moved. I ordered new furniture, then cancelled the order and started over. I painted, then I re-painted. I moved in the furniture, only to move some out and re-arrange other pieces. I put art up. I took art down. I sat in the room and pondered the space. But in the end it all came together. And the creation is now a beautiful, comfortable, cozy, private space for the healing work of counselling to unfold.

When we embrace change, including all the emotions change evokes – anxiety, worry, frustration, and anger and sadness – we grow as people. Sometimes it’s about taking a leap of faith. And it is always about believing in yourself. Trusting that no matter how the cards fall, you won’t fall. Be open to change – you are capable of more than you know!

Check Live Happy Counselling out at my new location: The White House Wellness Centre. 

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