As therapists, we may sometimes feel unsure about what to do when a client enters a freeze response and loses their ability to speak.
What’s more, it can be difficult to gauge a client’s sense of safety when they’re unable to talk to us.
So in the video below, Janina Fisher, PhD walks us through 2 strategies that can guide our communication with clients in freeze. She’ll also share one question that can help us assess whether a client is frozen or dissociating.
Take a look.
Though and why those? Because little babies nod their heads and shake their heads. It’s a procedurally learned body communication that goes back to six months of life or earlier.
So sometimes, it’s so automatic that even though the client is frozen, they can do a little nod and a little shake and then I can ask yes, no questions. So I was, my first question after can you nod your head and shake it is it are you feeling a lot of fear?
Because it’s so important for that client in a freeze state to know that the therapist understands how terrifying this state is. So I want that to be a question … So I want to get the client’s acknowledgement and then if the client says no, then I might think, “Oh, maybe this is dissociation.” Because fear and freeze go hand in hand.
Think of a deer in the headlights. I know I’ve seen on a country road I’ve seen a deer suddenly appear in my headlights and you see that every muscle is quivering even though the deer is immobilized and so I’m assuming there’s that level of internal quivering in my client.
Now, occasionally the client can’t shake or nod because the freeze reaction is so intense, but one of the things that is true of the deer or the client in that state is that the eyes still move and so then, if nodding and shaking the head don’t work, I ask the client, “Would you be willing to turn your eyes so you can see as far to the right as possible?”
And most clients will do that and then the wonderful thing is and we can try it. As soon as I look all the way to the right, I can feel my head wanting to turn because so often using the eyes to scan as far to the left or as far to the right begins to unlock the freeze.
For more expert strategies on working with the freeze response, sign up for the free Advanced Master Program on the Treatment of Trauma.
In the first module, you’ll get clear-cut interventions for bringing patients out of freeze in a session . . .
. . . from top experts such as Bessel van der Kolk, MD; Peter Levine, PhD; Pat Odgen, PhD; Stephen Porges, PhD, and other leaders in the field.
Now, I’d like to hear from you. What strategies will you try to communicate with a client in freeze? Leave a comment below.