You see, even when a client has made significant progress in therapy, they often still report feeling numb, and not fully present in their own life.
That’s why interventions designed to help clients reconnect with their sense of vitality and pleasure can be crucial in the treatment of trauma.
In the video below, Janina Fisher, PhD shares how she used a parts approach to help her client feel more alive – even joyful.
Have a look.
I used my treatment model called trauma informed stabilization treatment which focuses on the attachment relationship between young, unintegrated clients and whomever the wisest, best self we all have become as adults and as a result of our experience. And so, he started to be able to connect as he felt for this little boy he had let speak. And he could feel the little boy’s pain. He could feel the impulse to protect and comfort that little boy. And that gave him aliveness. But it wasn’t the aliveness he was looking for. He was looking for aliveness in pleasure, in joy. He wanted to feel joyful.
And then gradually, we were able to get to this intellectual part. So I said to him, I said, “You have a very, very strong, powerful intellectual part, very sharp, very smart, very articulate.” And I said, “I get that intellectual part helped you get out of dodge.” And he said, “Absolutely, absolutely. Because I was never home because I was at debate club, or I was doing this, or doing that. And this brain of mine got me to college “And because of it, I’m here now.” So I said, “Yes, you owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to your intellectual brain, to this thinker inside you.”
I always identified the intellectualizing part as a kind of hero who’s helped the client to survive. Because if I start by trying to get the intellectual part to feel or to allow other feelings to surface, the intellectual part is going to give me a hard time. So we started with this awareness of how often the … I think I called it the thinking part, how often the thinking part popped up. And there was a day when he started to feel some emotion, and the thinking part immediately analyzed it. And I said, “Wow, look at that. You had a feel.” And the intellectual part said, “Get out of your heart on into your head.” And I immediately analyzed it. “Do you still feel the feeling?” And he said, “Not really.”
“So looking at that, the intellectual part saves you from this feeling that you’ve been wanting to have. You’ve been wanting to feel alive, been wanting to feel your feelings. And the intellectual part keeps bypassing the heart and taking your back into your head.” And so that’s how we got to the aliveness, really, was through his recognizing the intellectual part of interrupting his moments of connection, whether positive or negative emotional connection, and not going there, making a choice to notice what was in his heart instead of automatically defaulting to his head.
I asked him to remember all the things that he’d done in his life, or still doing, that felt good. And then we could start having him begin to reinstate those things that made him feel alive in his life. So he remembered that he loved to dance, he loved music. And so we worked on a plan where instead of exercising dutifully and effortfully, he would dance for the 15 minutes of exercise, twice a day, that he thought he should get. And he was ecstatic. He said, “I haven’t had this much fun in years, maybe in my life.” And so, it was one thing after another. It was like rediscovering all the things that had given him pleasure, and giving himself permission to feel the pleasure rather than just engage in the activity.
To me, that combined working out the trauma, but also working very practically, because sometimes trauma survivors, survivors of neglect, have to retrain their brains and bodies to connect to those things and those feelings that are important to you. It’s not just deep therapeutic work. We also need a lot of retraining in order to access qualities and feelings that we all possess, but access to them has been lost because of the trauma.
For more expert interventions for helping patients access feelings of aliveness and pleasure, sign up for the new program on Mastering the Treatment of Trauma.
When you register, you’ll hear insights and interventions from Bessel van der Kolk, MD; Judith Herman, MD; Janina Fisher, PhD; Pat Ogden, PhD; Ruth Lanius, MD, PhD; and more. Just click here.
Now we’d like to hear from you. What strategies have you used to help patients restore feelings of aliveness? Leave a comment below.