Treating Trauma: 2 Ways to Help Clients Feel Safe, with Peter Levine

Treating Trauma: 2 Ways to Help Clients Feel Safe, with Peter Levine


When a person has experienced trauma, almost nothing feels safe. And when someone doesn’t feel safe, no amount of talk can convince them otherwise, because trauma is something that happens deep in the core of our brain and body. So how can we work with both the brain and the body to help patients feel safe? Particularly when they’re not in your office? In the next few minutes, Dr. Peter Levine
is going to demonstrate two techniques that patients can use to self-soothe and self-regulate. And what’s especially useful about these techniques is that you can give them to your patients to use whenever and wherever they are. Let’s hear from Peter. When a person is traumatized, almost nothing feels safe. And as therapists, we want to be able to convey, at least in the smallest amount, an island of safety – that there is a way to feel safe. Something has happened to you and you survived it. Now, we’re going to go back and I’m going to pick up some of those pieces that you left behind, so you can be whole again. The other thing that is important in trauma therapy is that, as soon as possible, the therapist needs to provide tools. It’s important to help the client learn tools that they can use to help them feel relatively safe. Because if the only place they feel safe is with you, the therapist, then when they leave, and they again start feeling horrible, terrified, helpless, very frequently they’ll shame themselves into what Fritz Perls called “the top dog.” They’ll feel …completely dependent on the therapist. We can help if we can give them even the smallest tools for self-soothing, for self-regulation… I often demonstrate a number of these with a client. I don’t know if you can see this – I might
move back a little bit – but here is what you do. You take your right hand and put it here, under your left arm on the side of the heart. And put the other hand on the shoulder. This is just to get the feeling, Ruth and
for everybody else who is watching – of what this sensation is like, not just of your hands but of what is going on inside of your body. Most people report a settling. This helps us become aware of our container. We’ll probably get into this a little bit
more, but the body is the container of all our sensations and feelings – it’s all in the body. And the container of the body is the outside of our body – our shoulders, the sides of our thorax… When we can feel our body as the container, then the emotions and the sensations do not feel as overwhelming – they’re being contained. I usually suggest people do the one I just
described first. A second one – is to just put their hand on their forehead and the other hand on their upper chest, and then wait. They can do this with their eyes open or closed – whatever they feel more comfortable with. A lot of people like to do it with their eyes
closed; others don’t feel safe enough. This is a way to just feel what goes on between the hands and the body. Sometimes they will feel an energy flow, or a change in temperature…. I just ask them to keep their hands there – it could be just a few moments or it could be five or ten minutes – they keep their
hands there until they feel some kind of a shift. Then I have them take the upper hand here – keep the lower hand on the chest – and put this hand on the belly. Again, I ask them just to wait until there’s some shift – till there’s some flow. And sometimes, if people are unable to sleep or they’re afraid they’re going to have nightmares, they can do simple positions like this. And they fall into sleep much better, and often their dreams are much more useful. There are other techniques – the tapping,
the energy psychology approaches – and for some people those work very well. For other people you can use tapping. Another thing I suggest is literally tapping the skin all over so they get a sense of the boundary. For people who are traumatized, there is a hole in their boundary. Through tapping, you can help the body to remember that it is the container, and then they feel more able to deal with their sensations and their emotions. Also – squeezing the muscles in different parts of the body also helps with getting that sense of boundary. When the nervous system has been hijacked by trauma, it’s crucial to resource patients with these kinds of body-oriented techniques. When we do that, we’re giving patients the tools they need to feel safe, not just when they’re with us, but also so that they can restore their own sense of safety between sessions. Now I’d like to hear from you. As you’ve watched Peter demonstrate these techniques, how will you use them in your work with patients? And what other techniques have you found effective in helping patients feel safe? Please leave a comment below, and thanks for watching.

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