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Member driven blogs to spotlight solutions, share opinions, raise public awareness, and contribute to shaping our national mental health policy.  Stay current and up-to-date in the world of somatic psychology and practices.

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  • 22 Jan 2019 4:24 PM | Anonymous

    by Aline LaPierre, MFT, SEP, PsyD 

    Five arguments in favor of the use of touch in therapy

    There is a widespread belief in the psychological community that the use of touch in psychotherapy is illegal. The “taboo” against the use of touch was established long ago. This prohibition, which still persists today, prevents touch from being accepted as a valuable psychotherapeutic approach.

    Here, I evaluate five common questions I have encountered in my years of teaching the therapeutic use of touch:
    1. Does touch unduly foster dependent infantile wishes and gratify Oedipal fantasies?
    2. Does touch gratify a client’s manipulative needs?
    3. Can touch lead to transference and countertransference problems?
    4. Is touching clients a slippery slope to sexual transgression?
    5. Shouldn’t touch be reserved for family and social interactions?

    Does Touching Clients Serve Or Hinder The Goals of Psychotherapy?

    Current developmental research validates the use of touch as an important, if not essential, therapeutic intervention. There is now solid research indicating that critical levels of attuned touch are important for normal brain maturation and for socioemotional and cognitive development. Given that the primary importance of attachment is widely accepted, and that neuroscience provides evidence of the body’s critical role in development, the time is ripe to examine the vital contributions of touch and bodywork in the repair of relational and emotional trauma.

    Argument #1

    Does touch unduly foster dependent infantile wishes and gratify Oedipal fantasies?

    Psychoanalytic tradition asserts that using touch to satisfy a patient’s desire for the missing comfort of the mother fosters a clinging infantile dependency, and serves as a stimulant for Oedipal fantasies.


    Touch is a fundamental mode of human connection in the infant–mother relationship. In order for mother and child to relax into breastfeeding and reciprocal gazing, a baby must be securely supported in its mother’s arms. Secure holding underlies a baby’s feeding and gazing connection.

    Adults who seek psychotherapy have generally experienced some form of abandonment, abuse, or neglect in early life, and often report never having had the experience of being securely held in a way that allowed them to yield into trusting support. I am reminded of a client who insisted on lying down during his sessions, yet kept lifting his head to look around. His neck soon tired, and he could barely continue to lift it. Finally, he uttered the words: “Is anybody coming?” and burst into tears. He remembered lying in his crib for hours, waiting for his mother, who never came. He finally had given up hope that she would ever come, and had fallen into a collapse that became his basic stance in life: “No use trying; it won’t happen.” For this client, being touched was an immense relief. The experience of having someone hold his weary neck and tend to his preverbal needs was transformative. He was able to release the long-held pattern of hopelessness, and open to the gratifying sensations of supportive presence. As our somatic work progressed, he reclaimed his desire to live.

    On an analyst’s couch, patients face away from the analyst, away from relational contact. This helps patients focus on their inner process, and leads to insight and growing maturity. But in cases of early relational trauma, the lack of contact can exacerbate the isolation of clients who yearn for connection, or who have not experienced satisfying nurturing relationships. Abused and neglected individuals have never had the experience British pediatrician and psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott called "going on being" — the secure holding within which a baby can be fully absorbed in the intense work of its development.

    Avoiding touch contact can repeat the physical neglect or rejection undergone by a client as a child. The touch taboo can rob patients of effective, perhaps critical, ways to fulfill primary needs that were never met. Early traumatized clients need neurological repatterning experiences in addition to reworking the cognitive and emotional aspects of their relational traumas. A physically close, but nonsexual, nonviolent, non-abusive, nurturing, comforting, and affect-regulating touch experience can help clients (and their nervous systems) move through the painful early deficits that often continue to bring suffering in their adult relationships.

    Avoiding safe, nurturing touch
    is a cruel re-creation of the original relational trauma,
    a repeat of the experience of physical neglect or rejection
    undergone by an individual as a child.

    Argument #2

    Does touch gratify a client’s manipulative needs?

    It is argued that while some patients are genuinely in need of the reparative contact denied in childhood, others will use contact to avoid self-awareness, and sidestep facing painful feelings.


    Psychotherapists are trained to address manipulations and enactments, and a client’s manipulative strategies are not reserved to the arena of touch alone. The fear that gratification leads to avoidance or entitlement is a residue of childrearing techniques handed down from past generations, which were mostly concerned with shaming children into becoming compliant, obedient citizens.

    If the findings of Harry Harlow on the innate need for touch in baby monkeys can be extended to human beings, it should be expected that the need to be touched would arise in the therapy of clients with attachment trauma who were touch deprived. It is detrimental to the nervous system and unfulfilled early need for connection to have clients relive painful memories of “wire-mesh mothers” or “cloth mothers” without offering somatic repair. Client manipulations are a sign that basic needs have been denied, and withholding touch may repeat the original missing experience. In order to avoid painful feelings of misattunement and neglect in their therapy, there is a high likelihood that traumatized clients may depersonalize their therapist and the therapeutic relationship.

    It can therefore be argued that avoiding contact is a cruel re-creation of the original relational trauma — a repeat of the experience of physical neglect or rejection undergone in infancy. Caring touch that offers gentle support may, in fact, lay the foundation that helps patients deepen their capacity for self-exploration.

    The psychotherapeutic use of touch encourages the preverbal self to be cognized, and brings about a strengthening of the body ego. Far from creating dependency, touch sets the separation-individuation process in motion:

    Holding and rocking allows unconscious, preverbal healing to occur. Bodily feelings arising during touching can be profoundly self-communicative, self-informing. They bridge preverbal gulfs, integrating and resolving old emotional-bodily confusions and conflicts. It is as if, in the containing hands of the manual practitioner, the body-self understands itself a little more and can relax and grow in such understanding. (Bevis, 1999)

    Argument #3

    Can touch lead to transference and countertransference problems and block the expression of hostile feelings?

    Psychoanalysis and traditional psychodynamic models maintain that touching patients violates the therapist’s neutrality and negatively intrudes on the therapeutic process. It is argued that, when working with primitive mental states, touch can hinder and contaminate the transference by: a) blocking the expression of hostile feelings, b) triggering the need to protect personal boundaries, and c) foreclosing free association. Additionally, in cases where transference involves the enactment of an abusive past, touch can rekindle a patient’s powerlessness in the face of violation, and trigger unaddressed issues of power differentials and microaggressions. Touch, it is therefore argued, is more than likely to lead to transference and countertransference problems.


    Although these concerns are valid and important, they are also one-sided arguments that reveal a lack of knowledge about the psychotherapeutic use of touch. Why would the avoidance of touch not be equally contaminating to the transference?

    A somatically-trained psychotherapist is aware of situations when touch is contraindicated. In cases where the transference involves the enactment of an abusive past, touch is used with great care, if at all. If the body has been violated, it is acknowledged so that if, and when touch interventions are chosen by therapist and client, they offer a reparative experience that does not rekindle the powerlessness of the original violation. Some types of touch and movement, such as grasping or pushing away, are intended to help clients externalize hostile aggression and assertively express re-owning their integrity.

    Supportive touch that elicits trust and safety can give deprived clients a caring, comforting, affect-regulating, yet nonsexual, nonviolent, and non-abusive experience that helps the body, brain, and nervous system learn to receive nurturing. Touch encourages the nonverbal self to become known, and bodily memories that arise during a touch session are profoundly self-informing. Being held and nurtured allows healing to access unconscious preverbal experience that would not otherwise be reached. In the containing hands of the somatic psychotherapist, the body-self understands itself a little more and learns to overcome the debilitating effects of overwhelming traumatic triggers.

    Argument #4

    Is touching clients a slippery slope to sexual transgressions?

    It is a major concern to those who mistrust the use of touch that it may be interpreted by a client as an invitation to intimate contact, and lead to sexual acting out. When exploring physical, sexual, and emotional abuse, some patients might experience the therapeutic use of touch that is meant to be empathic and compassionate as an invasion of personal space, or an expression of covert aggression.

    It is also argued that since abusive, violating touch is used to enforce power, establish dominance, and maintain control, therapists could fall into the trap of using touch to dominate or manipulate clients — especially in situations where male therapists are working with female clients.


    Psychotherapists are trained to sustain boundaried emotional intimacy in the therapeutic relationship. One may therefore wonder why the profession has such a fear that touch, more than any other intervention, would easily sweep away the professionalism of a trained psychotherapist. Because abused individuals often do not have access to their capacity to set boundaries, the issue of boundary breach is a serious therapeutic concern to the somatic therapist. It is not, however a reason to foreclose on using touch interventions.

    Therapists who use touch interventions learn to track the subtleties of biological communication. The therapeutic use of touch, like any modality, requires professional training and emphasizes the development of personal somatic self-awareness on the part of the therapist. Those who see touch as dangerous do not understand the profound respect for the intelligence of the body that somatic training inspires in its practitioners. It is the therapist who is not trained in somatic techniques and body psychotherapy who is at higher risk of transgressions.

    When exploring issues of physical, sexual, and emotional abuse, a somatically-trained therapist is aware that touch can trigger experiences of personal boundary breach that could shut down a client’s capacity to trust the therapeutic process. The touch taboo speaks to the violation of boundaries, and untold suffering caused by sexual and physical abuse. These tragic touch dysfunctions bring mistrust to the use of touch as a therapeutic intervention. Unfortunately, they also foreclose on the deep yearning and disappointment that neglect and the lack of loving touch leave in client lives.

    Few of us have been touched in aware and attuned ways.
    Our fears about touch reveal the pervasive dysfunctions of touch
    that bring therapists to mistrust it as a therapeutic intervention.

    Most body-centered disciplines, such as medicine, surgery, chiropractic, nursing, bodywork, and physical therapy, use some form of touch for which practitioners are professionally trained. Each of these disciplines has a code of ethics to safeguard the patient and ensure the practitioner’s professionalism. The ethical criteria for the use of touch in psychotherapy follow similar guidelines to those in other health professions:

    • Professional training in the modality employed
    • Proficiency in using the chosen techniques
    • Obtaining client-informed consent
    • Attunement to the client's therapeutic issues and needs, and maintaining open communication
    • Confidence in the choice of the therapeutic intervention


    Argument #5

    Should touch be reserved for family and social interactions?

    This argument holds that touching is a natural expression of emotional connection, and should therefore be reserved for family and social interactions such as handshakes to express friendship, a touch on the shoulder for empathy, or a congratulatory hug to express joy.


    Avoiding touch can have the effect of perpetuating the belief that psychological issues do not concern the body, thereby reinforcing the split between psychological and somatic dimensions. Avoiding touch maintains the impression that psychological issues are more important than bodily experience.

    The therapeutic use of touch and bodywork connects the cognitive self with its biological intelligence to help clients understand how thoughts, emotions, and sensations work as a unified whole. The therapeutic use of touch is an implicit language that directly addresses and integrates nonverbal physiological needs with psychodynamic awareness. Like attachment parenting, it puts a premium on giving individuals what they need to grow their capacity to be strong, independent, and loving.

    In Conclusion

    The following words by Bessel van der Kolk encapsulate the healing needs of the early traumatized self:

    "How do you quiet down the frightened animal inside of you? The answer to that is probably in the same way that you quiet down babies. You quiet them by holding and touching them, by being very much in tune with them, by feeding and rocking them, and by very gradual exposure to trying new things."

    References available on request:

    Dr. Aline LaPierre, PsyD, MFT, SEP is the founder and director of The NeuroAffective Touch® Institute which offers trainings in the therapeutic use of touch. She is past faculty in the Somatic Doctoral Program, Santa Barbara Graduate Institute (2000-2010). Aline is the coauthor of Healing Developmental Trauma: How Trauma Affects Self-Regulation, Self-Image, and the Capacity for Relationship now available in ten languages. She is currently Vice-President of the United States Association for Body Psychotherapy (USABP) and Deputy Editor of the International Body Psychotherapy Journal (IBPJ). 

    Aline LaPierre NeuroAffective Touch

    NeuroAffective Touch® (NATouch™) is a neurologically informed psychotherapy that uses somatic psychology, touch, and body-centered approaches as vital psychobiological interventions.

  • 30 Dec 2018 4:42 PM | Anonymous

    By Reza Mohammed B.S. with Dr. Andrew Hahn, Psy.D. and Joan Beckett, LMHC

    Sarah was a 42 year old mother of two who came in for a session because of profound anxiety, that she described as “the most anxious I have ever felt in my life.”

    “I feel like I am going to jump out of my skin, this anxiety is paralyzing and overcoming my soul/being. I can’t breathe, I am having a hard time concentrating and I don’t feel like I can be around my in-laws and family this week at Thanksgiving,” she said.

                “We just had a pre-thanksgiving meal where I had a confrontation with my father. I told him I forgive you for everything you have done to me, and the only thing he responded was I don’t recall being mean to you. He has dementia so that was the end of the confrontation...There is just this unrest inside my being, I can’t seem to calm it down. I woke up at 4AM today and couldn’t fall back asleep, it’s too difficult to function in my life right now. I have no idea what is causing this unrest.”

                “There is a lot of fear along with anxiety that makes things doubly difficult, the only comforting thing is cuddling with my family. That is all I want to do, I don’t want to do anything else,” she said with an exasperated look on her face before breaking out in tears.

                “Now I’m sensing some anger inside, which I have been unaware of. It’s coming from my spine, there is a lot of emotion there. Yoga brings up a lot of emotion for me, it feels like that. After I saw my father and family yesterday, I felt pain in my upper right back, and my inner right ear inexplicably...It’s interesting because when I was a teen, my father struck my head and ruptured my eardrum.”

                “I’ll do anything to make this stop, I am desperate.”

                Muscle Testing indicated that Sarah’s highest priority intention was nothing she said, and we could not work directly on anything she said. It indicated that Sarah’s highest priority intention was a deathwish. A deathwish pattern is present when some part of the client wants to die. It typically results from one of two situations:

                Something so terrible happened that a part of the client wishes to be dead. And/or

                A parent cannot stand something about themselves, projects it onto the child and wants to destroy it. The child perceives that in order to receive the parent’s love, it must let itself be destroyed, i.e. they must die.

                A deathwish pattern can manifest as mental hopelessness and suicidal intention, emotional despair and depression and/or physical illness.

                After I explained this to Sarah, and asked her if it resonated in anyway, she began crying. “Both my sister and I attempted suicide as teenagers because of our parents,” she said through her tears.

                MT indicated that the inducting statements were to be “ A part of me wants to die, A part of me wishes I were dead, Someone who was supposed to love me wants me dead, and in order to receive their love a part of me has to die.” MT also indicated that the root cause was at age 11. When I asked Sarah if this resonated, she said she immediately felt “[her] back on fire.”

                As she fully allowed and experienced “ A part of me wants to die, A part of me wishes I was dead, Someone who was supposed to love me wants me dead, and in order to receive their love a part of me has to die,” she immediately felt a “pressure right around vagina, heat and tension in mid-upper back, a nervous inner angst in mid-upper back, and feeling like screaming at the top of [her] lungs and hitting something, spazzing out”.

    As she fully allowed and experienced the sensations, a narrative came to her:

                “I feel like I am having a nervous breakdown, I give up, it’s like I am competing and I surrender. I think this is when the sexual abuse began, I am feeling strong sensations in my vagina. I can’t remember how early it was when it began...I thought it began when I was being groomed to be abused and molested sexually. I did everything my father and my friend’s father wanted me to do, to please them. I talk about knowing myself and taking care of myself all the time, but I didn’t truly know myself. I am feeling this throbbing energy in my crotch...yes, this sexual abuse began at age 11. I am feeling sensation in my left inner ear, right inner ear, tension in jaw..”

                “When my friend’s father touched me, fondled me, and brought me to orgasm, I would contain the orgasm. He would ask if I came, and I would say yes. Although it felt good, I was afraid. I am feeling strong sensations in crotch/ inner ears, the focus is flipping back and forth...I’m remembering that when I smoked my father’s cigarette, he hit me as hard as he could in the ear, and tore my ear drum. That has stayed with me.”

                “I’m experiencing a throbbing sensation in my vaginal croch, and I’m now remembering sitting on the couch at my friends house with her sister, and their father. Their father fondled me and went into my vagina as I sat next to his sleeping daughters’ watching TV. I feel petrified as I was succumbing to a man fondling me, and I was afraid my friend and sister would wake up, so I laid as still as I could.”

                “My friend’s father frequently asked me if I came/ orgasmed because I didn’t know how to freely orgasm, and I always contained the sensation in my body. And so, I was pleasing him by allowing him to do that. Part of me felt good to finally be noticed, but another part of me felt violated, polluted and dirty. I always had conflicting feelings.”

                “I was seeing my best friend’s father from age 11-18 before I stopped. I attempted suicide when I was 16 from the inner toil and stress of the relationship...I’d like help where to go from here”

                This was a crucial point in the session. One of the gems of Life Centered Therapy is that everything is part of the process even those statements or beliefs that the client is sure are simply content level statements about the here and now. What Sarah may believe she means is that she was unable to do this process because she felt she needed guidance on where to go from this point, it was much more likely that her content level reaction was in reality a process level comment, i.e she was in a story where she needed guidance on where to go.

                Muscle Testing indicated that this content level statement was a part of the narrative itself. We gained movement by saying, “You’re still in the story. You’d likehelp where to go from here. What happens next?”

                “I have trouble feeling alone, and I never want to leave my acupuncturist. I always feel alone, needing help, I needed a lot of help when younger, I needed to be saved, rescued. The abuse I endured on a regular basis always left me so alone...both my inner ears are killing me.”

                “ I have a chronic problem of grinding my teeth when I sleep. It’s from the angst of enduring the hell of my younger victimization. There is this intense tension in my Jaw right now.”

                MT indicated that an acupressure intervention called boundary tapping was necessary. Sarah intuitively felt that the necessary statements were: “I am in full control of my body and who touches me, I am at full choice about taking on other people’s emotions, and I am not truly alone when I am with myself. I have the ability to comfort myself in a way so that I don’t feel alone.”

                When she checked in with the “paralyzing anxiety” she reported that it had moved from the worst in her life, a 10, to “total calm, a 0”. The pressure right around her vagina had lessened, as had the mid-upper back heat and tension, nervous inner angst in mid-upper back. The feeling of screaming at the top of lungs and hitting something, spazzing out, had gone completely”.

    This session is a powerful example of how efficient and effective the therapeutic process can be when the mind and body are properly utilized together. The wisdom of Sarah’s body held the key to her healing; the powerful sensations that arose for her were a window into a series of traumatic sexual and physical abuses that she had been unable to handle at a younger age. The unexplainable pain in her inner ear was a remembering of her father striking her in the ear and rupturing her eardrum, and the throbbing energy in her crotch may have been a crystallization of the molestation by her best friend’s father, during which she had to contain herself to avoid waking her up.


                Due to the fact that the anxiety completely vanished, we can assume it was a direct result of these crystallizing experiences that were unconsciously playing out in her mind-body system. By tapping into the deeper wisdom of the body, Sarah was able to access what she needed to heal and release it so that the worst anxiety she had experienced in her life dissipated from a 10 to a 0. If we were to use cognitive behavioral or other forms of talk therapy that only utilized the conscious mind, we’d be unlikely to get the same results because of one foundational premise: the body holds a memory of any experience we have had that we couldn’t handle, and we have to tap into our unconscious minds and a deeper level of wisdom in order to heal most efficiently.

    Every time we experience some kind of shock, it creates an imprint in our body. Sooner or later, this imprint leads to some kind of difficulties in our life. The difficulties get stored in our body as a discomfort and present themselves in our sessions as body sensations. In this way, the body holds the key to our healing, as it is a direct doorway into where exactly we got stuck and our difficulty crystallized.

    Learn More About Life Centered Therapy

  • 3 Dec 2018 5:47 PM | Anonymous
    This is an article from Jan M. Bergstrom, LMHC, SEP, DaRTT. It is based on her new book that covers specific body based interventions for dealing with stress.

    It never fails to surprise me that during the holiday season I receive so many calls from my clients that are stressed out. In my 23 years of practice, I see my clients come in and are in a state of "rev" in their nervous system. Here are some great interventions from my new book coming out this Spring 2019 for use with your clients or with yourself during stressful times, including the holidays. Enjoy!

    Grounding and Centering Practice in Action

    Grounding and Centering are two other practices that reconnect you directly with the resources that are naturally available in your own body. It is important to reestablish your relationship to both the ground and to your body’s center, the place where action and feeling originate. These functions are compromised during trauma reactions. In trauma, you lose your ground, so an important part of healing is learning how to find your ground and center again. As you ground and center yourself before each exercise or process in this book, it will help you create a feeling of safety, and a sense that you are in charge. Here is how you do it.

    Grounding Technique

    1.     Sitting in a chair, gently push the heels of your feet into the ground. Notice the sensations in your legs when you engage the muscles and release the muscles. Experiment with finding just the right amount of pressure in your feet.

    2.     Bring your awareness to what your feet feel like in your shoes as they are resting on the floor. Wiggle your toes and name the sensations that arise. Become aware of your feet on the ground.

    3.     Begin Deep slow breathing – explore pace breathing by Marsha Linehan, where you slowly inhale to a count of five, completely expanding the rib cage and belly, then slowly exhale to a count of seven until your rib cage has contracted and your shoulders have dropped. Do this at least five times.

    4.     Gain physical support from a comfortable chair. Bring your awareness to your buttocks as it sinks into the chair and your back as it is being supported. Name the sensations that arise. Experiment with slumping over and then sitting up straight, lengthening the spine as you do so. Imagine having a string pulling you up straight. Notice any and all sensations as they arise. Does your back hurt? Your vertebrae creak? Can you feel the blood leaving your head? Do you feel taller? More in control? Become aware of each sensation, whether physical or cognitive. Don’t judge these sensations, just greet them.

    5.     Focus non-judgmentally on the sensations you can feel throughout your whole body. Start scanning your feet and slowly move up through your legs, abdomen, torso, into your arms and hands, finishing off at your neck and head. Just allowing whatever shows up to be there.

    6.     Tense, then relax your muscles. Try using an exercise ball if you have or can get one. If you don’t have one, try a beanbag, a roll of socks, a crumpled towel—anything that you can hold in your arms or between your legs and squeeze tight, hold for five seconds, then relax for five seconds. Notice the sensations and the difference between the engaging muscles and releasing muscles. 

    This same practice can be done with movement, such as Tai Chi, Qi Gong or Yoga. Take a class and see if you can focus on what is happening in your body moment by moment rather than thinking about your day or what is in the future. If you start thinking about the past or future, don’t worry. Just gently bring yourself back to your body awareness and breathing.

    As with the Mindfulness practice, this Grounding Technique will help you to calm yourself, control your thoughts and triggers, and enable you to bring yourself to the present at will—whenever you find your thoughts and anxieties spiraling into the past or worries of the future.

    The Grounding Technique becomes even more powerful when it is combined with the Centering Technique. This technique is a bit more unique, but every bit as transformative.

    Centering Techniques

    1.     Place one hand on your heart and notice what happens in your body when all thoughts are dropped, and you focus on just your hand. Observe the weight of the hand, its temperature, the sensation of the hand itself and the sensation of it resting over your heart. Notice any changes in your breathing, your heartbeat, even the energy you feel in your hand. Visualize in your mind’s eye a warm ball of golden energy swirling around in your hand as it rests upon your heart.

    2.     Keeping your hand on your heart, gently place the other hand on top of your head. Apply a slight pressure on the top of your head to create a sensation of being grounded to the earth. With the hand on your heart, focus on channeling warmth and empathy throughout your body through this hand.

    With practice, you will find these techniques are effective in helping you to gain and remain calm and detaching yourself from the thoughts and memories that haunt you. By learning how to become aware of your thoughts and the sensations they awaken in your body, you will gain mastery over them.

    Techniques to Help Stay Grounded and Centered

    There always comes a time when you find it hard to stay present with an emotion or body feeling. This is totally normal, and you may find yourself wanting to stop your investigation of the material that is coming up. No problem! In fact, it is important to know when to stop and what to do. I recommend healthy alternatives rather than medicating your feelings by eating, drinking, taking drugs or engaging in self-abusive behaviors. Here are some healthy techniques for staying grounded and centered. You may have heard these suggestions a thousand times and, like anything we hear a thousand times, they may go in one ear and out the other. But this time, try something different., Try at least three of these exercises, just once. Afterwards, reflect on how your body feels, and how your mind feels. Then do them again, another day. You’ll be surprised with the difference such simple activities can have on both your body and your mind.

    1.     Go outside and take a walk in your favorite place. If you find your thoughts spinning off into worries as your feet carry you along the pathway, bring your mind back to the moment. Observe the sky above you, the earth below you, the flora and fauna. How many birds can you see? Smile at the people you pass. When you get home, see how many things you can recall from your walk. The more alert you are to the world that surrounds you, the less space there is in your mind for worries.

    2.     If you have a dog, take your dog for a walk or go to a dog park. Use the time to truly enjoy your pet’s own joy for the outdoors.

    3.     If you have a cat, pet and play with it. There is a reason we call our pets “pets.” Just petting the fur of a dog or cat can have a comforting effect on both the pet and ourselves, as our endorphins are stimulated.

    4.     Call a close friend and reach out for support. If you are in recovery, call a fellow member or your sponsor. Be sure to listen and be there for your friend, as much as your friend is there for you. If your friend is unavailable for such an emotional call, don’t judge your friend. They might be in the middle of taking care of their own needs. Ask them to call when they have more time, and call someone else. Remember, we are all struggling. The more thoughtful you are of your friends’ time and needs, the more thoughtful they will be of yours.

    5.     Work out moderately at the gym or at home. If you haven’t worked out for some time, start small. If you find yourself watching TV, use the commercial breaks for short spurts of exercise. Try finding a five- or ten-minute YouTube video you can work out with. If you go to the gym, start with twenty minutes, work up to half an hour, and make a fifty-minute workout three times a week your goal. Don’t push yourself too hard. Be gentle with yourself. You’ll get there.

    6.     Dance to your favorite music, journal your feelings, draw or use some medium for an artistic expression of what you are feeling. Indulge in your playful side. You never lost it—you just learned to ignore it as you matured. Let it out!

    7.     Move your body and open your arms and spread them out to create a circle. Experiment with expanding the size of this ‘container’ until it is “big enough” to hold all the feelings and sensations or “all of the parts” of your pain.

    8.     Use your body to put one palm on the side of each knee: push arms against the outer part of the knees while simultaneously pushing out with the legs. Or use the arms to push against the side of the body. This creates resistance and engages your muscles to fight back, which can give you a feeling of empowerment  .

    9.     If you have a flashback or start to dissociate or “fade out,” become aware or what is called “orienting” to the external environment (or room). This technique can be a helpful way to “come back” into the room. To do it, just choose and describe three things in the room that you like and reflect on why like them.

    10.  You can also turn your head and neck and slowly as you focus on objects in the window, the wall, the door, the lamp, the bookcase. Or focus on objects that might be comforting  such as your most favorite object, or cues that tell you where you are.

    Mind’s Eye Imagery

    Mind’s eye imagery is a technique that draws on images to calm and ground the body. Remember all these resources I’m referring to are those internal or external cues that help you to find a safe place to return to when you become triggered as you navigate through your childhood trauma.

    I usually ask my clients to think of a time in their life when they traveled somewhere, had a favorite animal they loved, connected with someone special and experienced a felt sense of calm, acceptance, grounding, centeredness, and safety. Once they find this experience (or several experiences), I ask them to write them down. These visual image resources will be used throughout the rest of the book for any of the processes that we journey through. They will act as anchors. An anchor is like a ballast. It gives stability in times of need. And that is just what you are seeking.

    Mind’s Eye Imagery Practice in Action

    While in this grounded and embodied state, sit somewhere where you are comfortable, and close your eyes to contemplate these scenes below. Allow yourself at least a minute for each scene. Notice your felt sense or bodily sensations. See if you can put words to them. Some examples might be: calm, relaxed, soft, warm, centered, tight, airy, spinning, or whatever words describe the sensations. Remember, don’t judge the sensations—just find a word that best describes the sensations you feel as you contemplate the scenes that follow.
    1.     Sitting on your favorite beach listening to the ocean waves
    2.     Hiking up your favorite mountain, reaching the top overlooking a beautiful valley
    3.     Looking across the Grand Canyon and the river that flows through it
    4.     Being on a tropical island
    5.     Sitting in a cozy cottage with a warm fire burning in the fireplace, the snow gently falling outside
    Did these scenes calm you? Excite you? What changed in your internal state as you contemplated these scenes? Did you find one that brought you instant calm? If you didn’t, think of a time when you were traveling or in nature and you loved what you were seeing and feeling. If so, you have created a room in your mind where you can find instant comfort. When stressed, anxious or triggered, go to this place and relax. There’s no admission to be paid, no taxes or mortgages you must come up with, no applications to fill out. This place is yours, available to you whenever and wherever you find yourself. Welcome!

    About the Author:
    Jan M. Bergstrom, LMHC, SEP, DaRTT has been in private practice for 23 years working with individuals and couples. She is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor and has a master’s degree in counseling psychology. She enjoy her work and brings years of experience and expertise to all her clients.

    Find out more:


    1 Linehan, DBT Skills Training, Handouts and Worksheets, Guilford Press, 2014

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