When it comes to treating trauma, we’re often working with clients who have a low tolerance for distress.
And when faced with traumatic memories or difficult emotions, they may respond by slipping into a state of hypoarousal to defend against the pain.
So in the video below, Janina Fisher, PhD shares how she helps hypoaroused clients come back into their window of tolerance.
Have a look.
Helping a hypoaroused client connect to affect usually results in the client becoming more numb, more hypoaroused. So what I do, and this is really a Sensorimotor Psychotherapy way of thinking, is I increase the activity level and activation level in the room. I laugh a lot. I swear a lot. I’m irreverent, and I see clients who are very numb start to have a little more energy.
Or I’ll say, “Let’s stand up. I’m really tired of sitting.” Because to a hypoaroused client, if I say, “Maybe you’d be less numb if we got on our feet,” that might not work because that client’s numbing is a body defense against more feeling. It’s not going to help if I say, “Let’s stand up so you can feel more,” but if I say, “I’m so tired of sitting. Would it be an imposition, would you mind if we stood up?” Clients usually are very willing to stand up. Then, once they’re on their feet, they have a little more energy.
Or I’ll ask them to switch chairs with me. I say, “I know this is a really crazy request, but could we switch chairs?” Then they could sit in my chair, and they say, “Wow. The room looks really different from here.” Then sometimes they get silly, and they say, “And what would you like to talk about today?” Then they laugh, and I laugh, but we’re not doing something that isn’t therapeutic. We’re increasing their arousal so they’re more in that window of tolerance. They can feel more, but what they’re feeling is a positive feeling. It’s not the kind of positive feeling that’s triggering like pride, happiness, giddiness. It’s a positive feeling at a level that’s not threatening.”
Having concrete strategies to help clients tolerate and process difficult emotions can be key to healing.
So if you would like to find out how the top experts in the field (like Peter Levine, PhD; Pat Ogden, PhD; Ron Siegel, PsyD; Shelly Harrell, PhD; and more) help clients build a greater tolerance for emotional distress, click here.
Now we’d like to hear your thoughts. How do you help clients who have a low tolerance for difficult emotions? Please leave a comment below and let us know.