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Saturday, August 11, 2012

Coping Strategies in Mind-Body Psychotherapy: Remembering Your Happiest Memories

Mind-body oriented psychotherapy, like clinical hypnosis, EMDR or Somatic Experiencing, usually begin with "resourcing," which is another way of saying developing coping strategies before any work on trauma or other issues begins.  One of the most common ways of beginning resourcing is for the therapist to ask clients to bring in 10 happy memories. 

Depending upon which mind-body psychotherapy method is used, the therapist helps clients to amplify and integrate these experiences so that clients can call upon them as part of their coping strategies in the work.  This helps clients by giving them tools to use either in their daily lives or in session if they come to a particularly difficult part of working through a problem or memory.

As a psychotherapist in NYC, I use all three treatment modalities (EMDR, Somatic Experiencing, and clinical hypnosis) in my work with clients.  After the initial consultation and getting some history about the problem as well as family history, I usually begin by teaching clients the Relaxing Place meditation, which is a place (either real or imagined) that they choose.  I help them to get into a light meditative state and then I assist them to experience their relaxing place with as many of their five senses as possible.  Then, usually, if they feel comfortable, I ask them to visualize themselves "anchoring" the experience somewhere in their bodies so they can call on this relaxing place whenever they need to help themselves to relax.  I usually ask clients to practice this meditation at home so that it becomes second nature to them to call on it when they need it.

Happy Memories as a Resource in Mind-Body Psychotherapy
Usually, after I teach clients to do the Relaxing Place meditation, we work on their happiest memories.  These memories, which are chosen by the client, can be from any time in their lives:  from early childhood to the present.  The entire process is collaborative. Clients choose which memory to begin with in our session.

To give you an idea of how this works, I've included the following fictionalized vignette:

Linda - During the Resourcing Stage of Psychotherapy Work:
When Linda came to therapy to work through issues related to an abusive childhood.  She had been in talk therapy before and she made some progress on these traumatic issues. But she discovered that her traumatic childhood was still having a negative effect on her ability to be in a romantic relationship.

After the initial consultation and history of the trauma and family history, we worked together on the resourcing phase of treatment.  She had never done meditation before, so she was somewhat concerned about whether she would be able to do the Relaxing Place meditation.  But with my support and encouragement, Linda came up with a place in the country that she experienced as peaceful.  I guided her into a light meditative state and helped her to use her five senses to experience this place on a deeper level.

Everyone has different abilities with regard to his or her senses.  Some people can closes their eyes and visualize in detail, while others have a better sense of hearing (like when you "hear" a song in your mind).  Others have a better sense of smell or tactile sense.  It doesn't matter whatever abilities you bring to this experience.  The most important thing is to be able to experience the relaxing place on some level.

The next step involves using your imagination to take this experience and imagine placing it somewhere in your body, sensing that you're storing in your body--wherever it feels right to you.  So, some people picture themselves storing it in their hearts or in their stomachs.  There's no right or wrong with this.  It's whatever works for you.  Practicing the Relaxing Place meditation at home helps you to consolidate this experience.

When it was time to work on her 10 happiest memories, Linda had some difficulty.  She came up with two memories to start, so we work on those.  The first happy memory was about the first time she performed at a dance recital when she was 10 years old.  Although she had been nervous before she went on stage, once she began to dance, she felt completely in the flow of the dance.  She felt light as a feather as she relied on the body memory of the dance to carry her along.  She felt unbelievably happy at that moment, and the dancing felt effortless.

We worked on this memory by getting Linda to re-experience these feelings in her body--the flow of the dance, the muscles in her legs as she moved, the feeling of lightness in her torso, and so on.  We worked on this as if she were re-experiencing it in slow motion so that she could experience it in a very nuanced way.

We also focused on how happy she felt and where she felt this happiness in her body.  She said she experienced the happiness as an expansiveness in her chest and in her shoulders and arms. We spent time with these sensory experiences so she could amplify them.  So, whereas in her original experience, she might have been barely aware of these feelings because they passed so quickly, we spent time to allow them to deepen.  Then, I helped Linda to use her imagination to "anchor" the experience in her body so that she could call on this experience at any time.  She chose to "anchor" it in her heart.  As she was doing this, she was also aware that, with her eyes closed, she was seeing a deep royal blue color.  Her association to this color was that it was a powerful color for her, so we incorporated it in this "anchoring" process.

Over time, Linda began to realize that she had other happy memories that she had not thought of in a long time.  This wasn't surprising to me because it often happens that people who think they have few happy memories will come up with other happy memories once we begin the process.  We also used those happy memories as part of the resourcing process with Linda "anchoring" those experiences in her body too.

After we completed the resourcing phase of treatment, which was about three sessions in her case, we began to work on the trauma.  Linda was able to use her Relaxing Place meditation and the happy memories we worked on whenever she felt she needed to, both in session as well as between sessions.

Remembering Your Happiest Memories as a Resource in Psychotherapy
Everyone is Unique When it Comes to Coping Strategies and the Resourcing Phase
Everyone is different when it comes to the resourcing phase of treatment.  Some people start with strong internal and external resources that they developed before they started treatment, so they don't need as much time in the resourcing phase.  Other people haven't developed adequate resources, so they need more time in this phase.

Some clients come to treatment wanting to start working on their trauma on Day One.  Often, they have  been dealing with the repercussions of their trauma for a long time, so it's understandable that they would want to work on it as quickly as possible.  But rushing into trauma work isn't a good idea.  Clients need to be adequately prepared to be able to deal with whatever might come up, and doing resourcing first is an essential part of that work.

The resourcing phase helps to ensure that clients are more likely to have an emotionally safe experience in therapy.

All of the mind-body psychotherapy treatment modalities that I've discussed have their own professional websites, so that you can find out more about them:

Clinical hypnosis (also known as hypnotherapy):  American Society of Clinical Hypnosis

Somatic Experiencing:  EMDR Professional Organization - EMDRIA

EMDR:  http://EMDRIA.org

I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing therapist.  

I work with individual adults and couples.

To find out more about me, visit my website:  Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist

To set up a consultation, call me at (212) 726-1006.

For a related topic, read my article:
EMDR Self Help Book: Getting Past Your Past




photo credit: Khatleen Minerve (Sakura) via photopin cc

photo credit: *Leanda via photopin cc







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