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39 Comments

  1. Laurie S, Psychology, CA says

    Very helpful. Those are really key points and I can recognize them both in my client. Your course on trauma has given the space to go deeper and reflect.

  2. CHRISTINE R, Occupational Therapy, Port Ludlow, OR, USA says

    Beautifully stated. I really like the “self compassion” component when working with highly triggered PTSD habits. Thank You.

  3. Tina, Psychotherapy, Gaithersburg, USA says

    Insightful and clear

  4. Lizzie Booden, Counseling, GB says

    Makes so much sense for when working with a client who is highly triggered in a freeze state. Many thanks

  5. Hans A. Quistorff, LMT, Other, Longbranch, WA, USA says

    My specialty is antalgic posture pain, therefore I am very accepting of their response and acknowledge that to them and with there permission begin to unravel the trigger. It frequently traces back to physical and abuse trauma occurring at the same time.

  6. karen gentle, Counseling, NZ says

    really helpful thank you.
    karen gentle

  7. Belinda Goodwin, NZ says

    Very helpful.
    Thank you. I can use these strategies as well as music to assist my Parkinson’s clients when they freeze and are unable to Move.

  8. Daphne Kamphuis, Other, CA says

    I find Stephen Porges’ approach the the freeze response, and also his manner and demeanour, very helpful and settling for myself and for others whom I work with.

  9. Anonymous says

    Thank you, both. Laura

  10. Elizabeth Lee, Nursing, Cabot, AR, USA says

    Thank you for understanding that feeling safe is essential for the person to be open.

  11. Aura Ahuvia, Clergy, Ypsilanti, MI, USA says

    Has anyone experimented with inviting those in freeze response to shake for a few minutes? By shaking, I mean inviting them into the same activity that animals seem to do in the wild, as when a mouse shakes itself back to life after playing dead in a cat’s mouth (assuming the cat does not eat it). For people, that might look like standing up, closing one’s eyes, loosening at the knees, and just shaking the entire body, from feet through torso and up to and including head and arms. Is there any research studying this as a therapeutic technique?

    • Lise Melanson, Medicine, CA says

      That sounds a lot like what they teach in Tension Release Exercises (TRE). Just beginning to look into it, but it seems interesting.

    • Michelle S, Other, GB says

      From someone who has experienced the freeze response quite often, I feel like that’s too much to ask. I had a therapist do that with me once & it pushed me further into the response, almost to the point of complete shut down & passing out. The most helpful thing for me is a game of opposites, suggest a word & get the client to say the opposite what ever comes into their head first, it re-engages the pre frontal cortext & creates space to engage in conversation again.

    • Bill Jenkins, Other, USA says

      That would depend on which Freeze response you are dealing with. Researchers in the field have unwittingly created some confusion here with some referring to the preparatory arousal/assessing danger state as Freeze and others referring to the post-rupture, collapse state as Freeze (a holdover from early Fight, Fight, Freeze literature now more correctly termed Collapse/Fawn/Float, again, the literature varies). What you seem to be addressing is the post-collapse state. What Porges is addressing is the initial assessing danger state. The neurobiology of the responses is different although they may manifest in similar ways.
      De-escalating the assessing Freeze state is certainly doable as long as you are calming and accompanying them as they back from the cliff, so to speak. Essentially, once Freeze becomes reflexively triggered as an imprinted response to danger (see van der Kolk) you have to be exactly the opposite of the kind of person that triggers that state for them in their lives. This is clearly not the time for a strong, “Snap out of it!” response.
      When dealing with a dissociative state post-rupture (also an imprinted short-cut trauma response), you have to move forward through it back to restoring parasympathetic stasis. The danger is in the past, not ahead. Shaking, deep sighs or exhales, and loosening up can be helpful here but not in the other case. Here you are moving beyond the danger. In the assessing Freeze you are backing away from it to avoid entering the active stages of Flight or Fight.
      It is my opinion that the field needs to clearly disambiguate this confusion and therapists need to learn to recognize both for what they are and respond accordingly. You can’t move forward through the assessing Freeze state without the client running out of the office, and you can’t do the backing away from the collapse state without them being unable to walk out of the office on their own.
      Remember, for the trauma survivor, it is Safety above all else. It must be perceived somatically, not just through cognitive reassurance. Those of us who are trauma survivors must have therapists who understand this.
      I hope this helps.

      • Robin iNTP, Nursing, South, AL, USA says

        What makes you believe he is addressing a preliminary/assessing freeze state? I got the opposite impression from the video. I absolutely agree with what he states btw. You are frozen because you have marshalled two conflicting systems, and have collapsed into inaction, Because the conflict between the two systems appears unresolvable at the moment. The assessment has been made and the conclusion reached, which is why you are frozen.

        I also agree that it is well high impossible to motivate someone out of that state during therapy, anything you do or say feels intrussive and further activates ANS. The best you can hope for is to hold a safe place and communicate that safety so that the ANS backs off.

      • Frethman Hervas, Coach, EC says

        Beautiful!
        Self-Compassion, self-regulate, and create a safe environment… to co-regulate

      • Rosalind Hildred, Other, CA says

        I agree with Bill Jenkins. The two states are different. I’ve been practising with my cat re the first instance of arousal to danger state. A cat on the prowl has wide open eyes, and you’ll find that if you approach your cat with wide open eyes, they will be alert for whatever danger (prowling enemy?) might be present. If, however, you approach (or even if your cat has just hopped on your lap) with half shut eyes, the cat will take less time to assess the ever possible danger and more readily relax. So basically if you can slow your breathing and seem almost half asleep (but engaged with him of course), the cat will decide everything must be OK. At some very deep unconscious level this helps for me too, and I think it is worth checking out. It’s no good talking baby talk to a person, but as Dr. Porges says, you can certainly modulate your voice. Think, “Oh poor baby, that was scary” and show sympathy, but don’t be condescending or harsh in any way. And as any animal whisperer will attest, calming down the already paralyzed creature is also helped by a calm totally unthreatening manner, quiet and even dark (think putting the stunned robin into a small box for a short while, to let it go through it’s shaking and regrouping alone.)

  12. Barb Leigh, Counseling, CA says

    Energy shields are a great idea! When I used to meet clients in my office, pre-Covid, I would always imagine a safe energy field surrounding it. I would also take a few minutes to ground myself, and to ask for guidance from universal consciousness. Many times I experienced almost a little electrical charge, a “knowing”, a small gesture to make a client feel safe. It was as if all my years of academic training and life experience amalgamated into one moment of intense understanding of another who then felt some measure of safety.

    • Rosalind Hildred, Other, CA says

      Barb Leigh, I like this. Similar to the feeling of reading “the cards” (like the Motherpeace cards) I suspect. Checking in with the universe. Whatever the cards come up with, it’s all OK somehow, and the person feels uncannily understood.

  13. Diana Grainger, Social Work, CA says

    This was a great quick video. I feel more calm after listening to it myself as a helper. As clients are in this state I feel my own sense of panic take over at times. This was a great reminder. I love the polyvagal theory!

    Thanks again for this 🙂

  14. Ellen O'Laughlin, Teacher, CO, USA says

    Thanks, good info, but this speaker should try to not use multisyllabic words — translate into simple language that is better understood by people who are stressed.

    • Sidney Simons, Another Field, Fayetteville , AR, USA says

      Stephen Porges, M.D. is the scientist who wrote the book on The PolyVagal Theory. I’ve studied it extensively. It’s full of multi-syllabic words. It seems to be aimed at those who are in this profession, not necessarily clients

  15. Sarah Roeh, Another Field, Wakefield , MA, USA says

    Thank you for this, I think it is very helpful.

  16. Gail Ranere Nunes, Counseling, Cambridge, MA, USA says

    I once worked with a child who would completely shut down and disengage in the classroom. It was clear that this student was somewhere else during those moments.
    As our counseling sessions progressed, we began to engage in a sensory intervention; making meatballs out of sand. Eventually we brought this tool into her classroom and with adult support, she could use it when she would engage in this freeze response.
    During those moments, she would sit on the floor and make 17 meatballs. At times she would talk and at others she would not. It was important for this child to understand that she had some level of agency in these matters. Eventually, she learned that she no longer needed the meatballs but could talk about her feelings instead.

    • Rosalind Hildred, Other, CA says

      Gail, I agree that sensory intervention can be a good one. I personally use physical activity to advantage as an adult. Get up and make tea for instance. It’s a routine well practised activity that is both soothing and constructive, and gives that feeling of “agency” you mention.

  17. Rose Spisito, Coach, USA says

    I appreciate Stephens counsel on having self-compassion and compassion for the one who is in freeze mode and changing the tone of ones voice to meet the frozen part of the other. I don’t know at this time if I totally agree with not making eye contact. I’m my most frozen moments eye contact and having someone close by was essential to my sense of safety so I suppose it’s all relative to the situation.

  18. Julie T, AU says

    Police officers these days desperately need psychoeducation like Stephen Porges offers here so they don’t, through ignorance or arrogance, escalate situations with people locked in defense modes.
    They seem to take resistance to their attendance quite personally.
    Australian research suggests most aren’t wanting trauma orental health training so they’re unlikely to elect to do it. However, since they’re first responders to situations involving mental health and trauma, this training should not be an option. It should be compulsory; at least until a specialised service is developed and funded generously and in perpetuity.

    Police are trained & primed to ‘catch the bad guys’. This brings with it a whole baggage of assumptions, prejudice, intolerance, impatience, resentment, disdain…
    Their limited resources force them to focus on a quick resolution.
    It’s counterintuitive for them to put in the time to calm a severely distressed person but if they don’t, they escalate a manageable situation into a flipping out situation that’s managed by force. This compounds the trauma, compounds the social problem, and far too often leads to avoidable deaths during the process of arrest or in custody.

    • gunter shaffer, elkton, MD, USA says

      Brilliant.
      Speaks volumes.
      We all need training in fight, flight and freeze responses.
      Not just for “our responses” but for “their responses” as well.

    • Clare Schreiber, Psychology, USA says

      Hi Julie, I agree with you, and I think the tips offered here are suitable for police officers.

  19. Sylvia Sage, Coach, GB says

    Thank you for sharing this.
    We were lucky to have Stephen Porges on our tutor team on The Neuroscience of Change programme – this is really fundamental learning.
    The freeze response is often overlooked and misunderstood. It is really important to share this and build greater awareness of this freeze response and, for ourselves as practitioners, to learn to be deeply present in the moment, and over time to build a range of helpful responses in supporting our patients/clients – no two will be alike, and no situation will be the same as the last.

  20. annie nehmad, Psychotherapy, GB says

    I am familiar with Porges’s ideas and they influence my practice. But I am left with a question: what if safety cues (soft friendly voice, smile, etc) are associated with the abuser? This could well have happened in childhood sexual abuse…

    • Rosalind Hildred, Other, CA says

      Quite true Annie. It could easily creep the person out totally! In a case like that, showing agreement or at least recognition, a direct “That’s TERRIBLE” would give them validation, and hopefully strength enough to look at “what now?”

  21. Viveca Stenius, Other, FI says

    Like i have said before I am talking from the patient´s perspective. This recipe is quite wrong I think. It is part of the idea that feelings are dangerous, an idea that is deeply rooted in psychotherapy. My experience of what is helpful is the complete opposite. The way to meet arousal is to go with it to the peak. Let the storm come. Be there in the knowledge that you can take it. Be there to support the patient in the feeling of deadly danger. Because on thinks that one is going to die. The therapist must know that you are not going to die. Calming the patient is avoiding the trauma and thus the truth. For reading: J Konrad Stettbacher: The Meaning of Suffering and Jean Jenson: Reclaiming your Life.

    • Viveca Stenius, Other, FI says

      J Konrad Stettbacher´s book is titled: Making Sense of Suffering.

    • Louries Lovell, Another Field, CA says

      Interesting perspective… as someone who has experienced a wide variety of trauma interventions, I’m very curious to know whether you have studied in depth the understandings around developmental trauma, attachment trauma, early complex trauma, etc. Especially re the complicated and considerable impact on the natural and gradual development of the emotional capacity and resources needed within a person’s own being to meet the intolerable feelings from the trauma. The approach you describe has proved to be retraumatising and devastating for a large number of people.

      • Nakot Ade, Other, DE, USA says

        Interesting although I would agree with Stephen Porges approach.

  22. Patricia Collins, Counseling, GB says

    Thank you, I am finding this helpful and potentially an area I would like to explore to further my knowledge and practice.

  23. Nicole Mahl, Health Education, AU says

    In your category section u do not have a section on betrayal . In particular I’m interested about info about betrayal of patients by professionals of diff kinds eg human service staff, corrupt police/law, psychologists and othr heskth professionals Drs , mental health staff etc who firstly purposely abuse their clients to prolong trauma of their clients to further cause increased betrayal and distrust ; ,falsifying g documents and systems that r predatory to provide income streams and or upholding dysfunction fraudentky by the professionals at the clients expense . Perhaps as a study of interest !! Or a monetary or game gain . Can u List specific areas where this has occurred and why . Who has done specific studies in this area . Some r religious, cultural biased or male privedge being upheld at the expense of the clients wellbeing.

  24. Patricia Stewart, Counseling, AU says

    Thank you so much, it makes complete sense to me. Trish.