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Grounding Techniques in Trauma Therapy – psychology & mental health with therapist Kati Morton

Grounding Techniques in Trauma Therapy – psychology & mental health with therapist Kati Morton

*Dinging noise* -Hey everybody, welcome back! Again, I have a wonderful, special guest Dr. Alexa Altman, who is a trauma specialist, is here. If you haven’t watched our first video together, I encourage you to do that, the link is in the description -But today we’re gonna talk about coping with trauma and building those skills.
-Yes. [Music] -Okay, so in our last video, you described the resilient zone, what trauma is, and the goal of trauma therapy. -When someone is working with you, what are some of the tips and tricks and things to help them -Bring themselves into the resilient zone?
-Exactly, because that’s our first goal, right? -To know, A, when you’re bumped out, because that’s huge, that awareness, -When I’m in the high zone, what does that look like? When I’m in the low zone, what does that look like? So high zone, just, is more of that fight or flight charge – anxiety, panic, anger, agitation Maybe you’re just like, *Grr* inside, right? Low zone is like, “I feel like a robot – I’m just automated in my life, or I can’t even get off the couch,” right? -So these skills are essentially to bring you back into what is that range of resilience. So some of the basic skills, like first things to start with… I would say, is like, using your eyes. And what does that mean? So I’d say, first, we use our eyes to look at things that feel beautiful, safe, connected, So I say, I usually start with, like, look in the eyes of somebody you love. -And some people don’t have somebody they love
-Yeah, you might not, but yeah. -You might not, but you might have, like, a pet. And you might wanna make contact with your pet. Because through our eyes is how we look for signals and signs of safety. -So if we’re looking out and nothing around us is swirling, there’s nothing chaotic happening If there isn’t someone or a pet, we could go to the park or listen to water rushing or something -Like, watching something that’s peaceful.
-Watching something. -But you know, you can see something or look at something – it’s a difference, right? -It’s really like, taking something in with your eyes.
-It’s like the difference between listening and hearing. -Exactly.
-Being engaged – Like, we’re visually engaging. -And sometimes it can be really hard, because you’re intentionally having to move your system in a different way. And so we’re gonna talk a little bit about intentionally moving your attention towards safety And what that looks like, have to repeat that over and over and over again. -And I think that’s an important thing to remember throughout all of our videos together And even other videos, I’ve talked about how important it is to stick with it, because Everything that we’re gonna do that is a challenge in therapy is going to feel horribly uncomfortable Often, I find the coping skills don’t work the first time or it’ll take five or six of them to compensate for the one negative one we’re trying to override So remembering that and keeping that in mind, I think, is key to any treatment. -Another quick, easy tip, this is often used more for people who are in the high zone Low zone is a little less effective, Is grounding. And so grounding is really the experience of your body in connection with a surface. So sometimes that can be sitting in your chair and actually feeling your body, and the weight of your body against the bottom of the chair and the back of the chair And some people really, when they do that, they’re like, “Wait, I can’t feel my body,” because they’re more in the low zone, right? But if you’re in the high zone, you’re kind of feeling like you’re crawling out of your skin And just feeling the connection of your body to the earth – And sometimes grounding can be done walking -But not just like, mindlessly walking, it’s really walking and feeling the bottoms of your feet,
-Like, feeling the pressure of you actually walking. -It’s interesting that that works mostly with the high zone, but it makes sense, Because if we’re totally disconnected, how can we reconnect? -That’s right.
-That spark is harder to get started. -Harder to get started. So I always typically say, for somebody in the low zone, it’s just feeling sensation in your body So you might try a hot shower, and really letting yourself feel the water against your skin, and movement. So any movement, it can be dancing, it can be yoga, If you’re gonna do yoga and you’re in the low zone, I highly recommend seeing a yoga therapist Who’s trained in trauma, who has some awareness so she can do some gentle movement and yoga -With some more knowledge about how trauma physiology works. -Because there are things like heart openers that might not feel as safe and it might overcharge our systems. If you know anything about yoga, know that there are people out there like that. And if we have any resources, I’ll put everything in the description so you can find some things in your area and something that can work for you. -Alexa’s gonna give us some tips and tricks, and ways to kind of bring ourselves back into the resilient zone And so we’ve come back to the whiteboard, and… Teach us a little bit about what you teach your clients. -So one of the things that we know is that when you’re in the high zone or you’re in the low zone That there’s an intentionality, like you have to work hard to direct your nervous system Out of danger, essentially, back into safety. And so one of the things that’s really important to know is that we have this capacity For our brain to change, it’s a fancy word we use for the capability of the brain to change And it can change throughout the entire life span. We’re not just limited to childhood for that. Is neuroplasticity, which essentially means the brain can change. -And so you can teach an old dog new tricks.
-Absolutely, totally, yes. -And so, one of the things I think about for neuroplasticity is, I used to ski with my dad when I was a kid. And we’d be the first one on the mountain – you know, a ton of powder, And my dad would have this way, this big skier that he was, of making these giant turns, and You know, creating a real track in the snow. And he did the funniest thing, He’d go back down the same way, he just liked making deeper and deeper grooves in the snow over and over And so he’d do it, and throughout the day he’d get faster and faster and faster Because of course, you know, the snow gets sleek and deep. -You’re packing it down.
-You’re packing it down, right. -And so that’s really neuroplasticity, is this idea, is all of these skills that we’re gonna be teaching and doing You’re gonna be doing those at home, is every time you practice you basically create a deeper groove In the neural connection in your brain. And I think it’s really important – Notice, it’s like my dad would zoom up and down and up and down, But this is a process of getting back up, going back – I’m saying, skiing back down – Doing the skills, sometimes it’s fast, sometimes it’s slow, What I see really happens often is, let’s say you do some grounding, or let’s say you try to orient your eyes to something safe And your system doesn’t settle, and then you kind of give up on it. Essentially, the more you practice – And you can practice on your own or you can practice with a safe person, The better your system gets at it, the faster and the more automatic it becomes. In the beginning it’s very intentional, and then it becomes second nature. “Oh, this is just what I do.” -Yeah, it’s almost like I remember – Back in the day, I used to play softball, when I was in middle school And I was on this travelling team. And I remember we would learn – Not just throwing the ball, we were learning the little whip of the wrist. And I remember the coach coming around and saying – I forget the amount, but he was like, It takes, you know, 10,000 times of repetition for this to become an automatic thing that you don’t think about. And so a way it’s like, we’re gonna have to keep trying these and keep doing it -Before it feels like an automatic thought. And to like, rewire it out of the unhealthy. -And out of, actually, what has been a prolonged threat response. That the system is meant to come back into safety, it’s just been a prolonged state. And I think it’s really vital to talk about that, because these skills aren’t just useful to bring your system back into resilience But also if you’re working with a therapist, and you’re doing trauma reprocessing, Which – I think we’re gonna talk more about that, These skills are necessary to do that trauma reprocessing. So they’re helpful therapeutic skills, too, on your way to recovery. -Well, because if you’re in therapy – Like, I work with a lot of clients who will struggle in the moment in therapy And so we need to use those skills even there to remain in the resilient zone, Because something that Alexa taught me, is that in order for trauma therapy to work, We have to maintain ourselves, we have to keep ourselves in the resilient zone. -In order to reprocess that material.
-Otherwise, our brain isn’t allowing us to do it. -It’s like, it’s too overcharged or it’s too undercharged and we can’t heal it. -Exactly, so they’re really important skills for life and for therapy. -We’re gonna be practicing something over and over, do you have any specifics you start out with, Or certain things that you find are the most tried and true? I know everybody’s different and everyone’s got something different that works for them, -But what works the best in your experience?
-In bringing people back into their zone – -So first I start out by just naming on a piece of paper all the things that represent safety to you. So it might be specific people, it might be places you’ve been, it might be just your association to maybe even a place in your house. You know, people meditate in a corner of their house, maybe there’s a place in your house that’s like, Your most beautiful, comfy, safe place. Or something from childhood like a comfy blanket or a pillow, or a picture of your grandmother – I say that because that’s mine. -I still have my blankie. -Yeah. Still have your blankie.
-I do. -Yeah, my grandmother’s next to my bed.
-Yeah, it’s like we keep certain things around. -So see, make a list, maybe it’s a spiritual figure. And so then you take that list and you write as much as you can about each of those things. Almost like free association, which is just like write unedited as much as you can. -Like, if your grandma – You know, referring to my grandma, I’d be like, -Oh, making pierogies together and Christmastime…
-Chocolate chip cookies… -The smell of her house, the color of the tile, what it felt like to touch her crinkly skin, right? So you wanna go through all of your channels of sensory information – the sights, the smells, the touch, The taste, the essence. And really, what we’re doing – Okay, I’m gonna draw it – Is we’re opening up your channels of association to safety. And so think about that, that’s just not a mental construct, it’s not a mental image, It’s a full body experience of safety. If I had it my way, I’d want as many channels of safety as I can. So it might be your grandma, it might be my childhood dog, Poppy. Right? It might be this magical vacation I went on at 15. So you want to get as big of a list, and if you wanna call some friends or family to help you come up with that list, Because sometimes people come in my office, they’re like, “I don’t have any.” -And I was like, “Well, you’ve been alive a long time…”
-I’m sure there’s at least one thing… -“I’m sure there’s one, and let’s just start with one.” And I sometimes have people go call friends and family to help them think about some other ones. And so you’re gonna expand that list, and then as you expand that list, what’s really important – Another part of deepening this groove – notice what you feel in your body when you are writing that list and you’re thinking about it. So some of the things that you’re gonna be looking for that tell you you’re back into those channels of safety are… Usually warmth in the chest, or warmth in the belly, -Often like a longer exhale…
-I was gonna say, the breath is so nice, and the slow… -We’re gonna get back to that breath, there’s a really good one, is you know, your face might feel different, Some people, when you get back into safety, you’re more aware of your face. Because you’re out of alarm and threat, and you’re kind of feeling a softer face. Usually the eyes get softer, right? So I would say look for those indicators – it’s like your cue that you’re moving in the right direction. -Even maybe less tense hands and muscles and stuff, we’re not so – -Like muscle constriction.
-Yeah, interesting. -Oh my God, did you feel that? I just felt it – Yeah, that you’re gonna feel the decrease of that muscle constriction. So after you’ve done that, and I would say this is kind of like your resource book. Some people even make a box, and they’ll put resources in that box… -I have a lot of people who create self-help boxes and distraction boxes, and putting all of your items in there. -Yeah, and you’re rewiring your nervous system as you do that, You can visit your box… It’s nice if you visit people, too. But if people aren’t around, you’d have this other place to go to. -Or if it’s the middle of the night, right? That’s sometimes the best, And then we have all of our things in there. -So another thing is, if there’s a safe person, I always say ask that safe person to leave you a voicemail message Or send you a video of their face, their voice, and something you can carry in your back pocket Because again, it just grooves in your channels to safety and connection, with a safe other. -And you can access it any time.
-You can access any time. -So another tip, and you said this, Kati, about that big breath. One of the things we know about our breath is when we’re in that high zone, -Our breath is trying to mobilize us to meet –
-So it’s fast and short. -Right, because we’re trying to get ready to run, right? Or that freeze, which almost – Some people say, “I forgot I wasn’t breathing,” right? -Yeah, they hold their breath, I’ve seen – right.
-Like, slow heart rate. -Slower breath, because if you’re feigning death, you don’t need to breathe much. So you can intentionally do a longer exhale, like a four-count. Let all the air out. So that longer exhale, we’re gonna be talking a little about this part of your nervous system, That that longer exhale engages, called the social engagement system. So, you know when you watch a mom feed a baby, and they might be really fussy and stressed out And then they engage with the mom, and they – The feeding’s going well. And the baby’s looking at the mom, and there’s that eye gaze, and they’re sucking and swallowing, And then their nervous system calms down, right? That they’re basically getting what’s called, through the social engagement system They’re getting, actually – They’re wiring in the experience of safety and connection, And that when that’s done a lot, it’s reliable – and I can get so stressed out, but I can come back to that connection and be soothed, right? So Stephen Porges, this really bright scientist, discovered – Wait, we don’t just have this brake in the nervous system that turns the lights out when we’re really stressed out into freeze, We also have this calming system called the social engagement system that happens through eye contact, Through sucking, swallowing, through ears being engaged and hearing – our social brains love voices, You know when moms talk to their babies like, “Oh, hi honey!” Right? -The up and down –
-We like the voices that do that – -It’s very soothing to us. We’re wired for that connection, -It’s what separates us from reptiles.
-It’s what makes mammals so adaptive… -And why we like to be in groups, right? Our survival depended on us cooperating and being together. We would have not survived – We only have two legs, and we’re not that fast. -I know, it’s true.
-So we really needed that to survive. -And I think what’s so cool, when I learn about social engagement system Is, you know, if it was thrown off early in life, let’s just say, -Yeah, Mom wasn’t there, there was…
-Maybe she was ill, maybe there were other things going on. -Maybe there was trauma, or maybe we were even in incubators, they worry about the attachment with babies who were premature. -Right? That that social engagement system becomes less reliable, that we tend to protect ourselves more with fight/flight. -So are there things, then – in relation to that, if that’s so vital, What are some things that we can do on our own or put in our boxes, that we’re already creating. -I love that. If we’re building that social engagement system, the one, in a way, that’s the most effective calming system Is that we want to build things that cue that part of our system – That system is more related to our, again, our eyes, our ears, our larynx – like, our throat And the muscles of our neck and head, So in our box, things that are visually pleasing, Olfactory – Our sense of smell is really right there in the very beginning of life, things that are pleasing, Maybe it’s the smell of someone familiar to us. Or maybe it’s the smell of something that we had as a child that brings us back. -So sounds would be important too, so it’d be like creating a playlist, or… -Music. That’s melodic –
-Yeah – -So we tend, again, to like sounds that are up and down, up and down. -Or a video –
-Disney songs are like that. -Lullabies are like that.
-That’s the reason they get stuck in your head, I would assume. -Forever, right? And they all have that voice, and – yeah. -So even the video, like Alexa mentioned before, the video of someone that you love and care about could also be helpful, because of the voice. -But even – I think YouTubers, right? You go onto YouTube, and you see a friendly or familiar face. -Your face. No, really, like, you keep – You know, in a way, building the connection to a friendly, consistent, familiar face And so that might be coming on and watching some videos. -Yeah, it’s true, and hearing a soothing voice that you’re used to hearing. I’ve heard some of you think my voice is soothing. -You’ve got that soothing voice. And then the eyes, because we also like eyes that are warm and engaging. Sometimes if you’ve had a lot of trauma, your eyes can feel kind of frozen, right? Where you feel like you don’t feel that same warmth in them, that same connection in them. So looking at eyes that are warm. -So photos could even be good for that, or videos as well, like we’re talking about. -Yeah, and it can be somebody you know, But oftentimes, people might often feel that – Oprah comes up a lot, Sometimes it’s people you don’t know – Gandhi, So you can utilize that social engagement system with anyone. -Yeah, even with people you’ve never met that just have an impact on you, and feel safe and warm to you. -So the other thing you just did – I had to just take it, because you did it, Is you put your hand on your heart. So another way we can regulate, in addition to that long exhale, and these friendly faces, -Is hand on heart and belly – have you done this one?
-In yoga, you do it. -So the heart and belly – And it’s interesting because I think 80% of people do right hand on heart, left hand on belly? But you decide, because it’s very different, then, if you try one and then you do the other Almost everybody’s like, “Oh, no, I like this one so much better.” -Yeah, you’ll feel weird.
-You kinda feel weird, you’ll feel like, “Oh, that’s just not soothing,” -So hand on heart, hand on belly and doing that long exhale is very soothing and regulating. -It’s so interesting for me, as a yogi person, how many yoga things are done to soothe our nervous system And to calm us down. Because all of the hand on heart and stomach we’ve done, The breathing, obviously, is a very key portion of it, you know. Even, my yoga teacher does a lot of visualization, like imagine that you’re in this place that you love, Pick a place and you know – when we’re calming down from the practice. And all of that is actually done to soothe us. -This ancient wisdom – maybe they didn’t have the neurobiology, but they had the wisdom. -Yeah.
-Yeah. -As you build your boxes – We’ll call them resilience boxes, As you build those, are there other things that they could add That work with the hearing, the neck, the throat? -So we’re talking about really bringing back online the social engagement system, So vocalizing and what that vocalizing does and working these muscles in the throat, larynx, and pharynx Is, again, it turns on that engagement system -So it could be singing…
-I used to be in choir, surprisingly. -Really?
-Yeah, I got a scholarship for college. -And so it was really – It’s funny because I miss it sometimes, and I find it so soothing. Even though it’s actually almost a weird workout of sorts, but it’s soothing. -Well, you do this, right? And it kind of opens the diaphragm – Oftentimes when we’re singing, we’re doing a longer exhale, which is regulating to our nervous system. -It’s like, forcing regulation.
-And then also, -Listening and having those – That inner ear opening to sound and harmonizing, There’s a reciprocal nature. We’re having to resonate with another voice Is all very connecting and regulating. So if you don’t have a choir, you could sing with the radio – -In the car.
-And that’s where chanting comes in in yoga, -And spiritual practices, it opens that channel of social engagement. -So along the lines of the neck and the throat, and you talked about children when you’re feeding, and you’re sucking and swallowing Would a sucky candy, or a lollipop or something – -That’s why people sometimes, when they’re stressed out, you see them chewing, right? Or smoking, right? Part of that is that soothing nature around the muscles of the jaw and face. -They’re trying to get regulated.
-That’s so interesting. So throw some sucky candies in the box too. -So I’m really curious, too – If your viewers can find other mechanism to stimulate the muscles of their face, their eyes, their throat, -What else – Play around with it, I’m curious –
-Yeah, let us know in the comments -‘Cause I think it’s really great – The cool thing about the community is that Everybody has different experiences and different things that have worked for them And so I think it’d be really cool to share what’s helped you, Is there a particular thing that you do, or something like massaging your neck Or – You know, I know there’s all sorts of things out there that are available. What works for you? Let us know. Well, thank you so much for helping us create our resilience boxes, and understanding a little bit more about resiliency. And I hope that all of you found this really helpful, if you haven’t watched our other video make sure that you watch that as well. Click here to subscribe, because we are creating a lot of videos, you don’t wanna miss ’em, And send me pictures, “#Kinions” Of your boxes! Have you created resiliency boxes? Let us know, we’d love to see those. And we will see you next time. Bye!

0 thoughts on “Grounding Techniques in Trauma Therapy – psychology & mental health with therapist Kati Morton

  1. Smoking cannabis. Satiates most of requirements for the grounding techniques for me, such as stimulating the jaw and throat, deep breathing (with and without smoke or vapor), creating intent and interest in a simple activity, and the smell tells me I'm in a safe environment (if I smell cannabis, I'm in a safe place where that is private). I think there is more to it than chemistry.

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