NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Friday, November 24, 2017

Expanding Your "Window of Tolerance" in Therapy to Overcome Emotional Problems

Many clients start therapy overwhelmed by their problems.  A traumatic or stressful event often leaves people feeling psychologically and physically dysregulated, so psychotherapists, who specialize in trauma and who understand the concept of the "window of tolerance," can help clients to get regulated again.  But first, let's define what we mean by "window of tolerance" (see my articles:  Reacting to the Present Based on Your Traumatic PastCoping With Trauma: Becoming Aware of Your Triggers, and Managing Your Stress and Overcoming Trauma).

Expanding Your "Window of Tolerance" in Therapy to Overcome Emotional Problems

What is the Window of Tolerance?
According to Dr. Dan Siegel, the window of tolerance is a term that refers to the optimal level of arousal or optimal zone.

When clients are in their optimal level of tolerance, they are neither hyper-aroused nor hypo-aroused.  They are able to deal with problems as they come up because they're at their optimal level of arousal.

Expanding Your "Window of Tolerance" to Overcome Emotional Problems

During times of extreme stress, if clients are experiencing hyper-arousal, they're in the flight/flight mode, which includes hypervigilance, anxiety, racing thoughts and possibly panic.

If they're experiencing hypo-arousal, they're in the freeze mode, which includes emotional numbness, feelings of emptiness or emotional paralysis.

Everyone's Window of Tolerance is Different
Some people have a very narrow window of tolerance and they're easily overwhelmed.

Others have a wide window of tolerance and they're able to take negative events in stride.

Generally speaking, people with a wider window of tolerance can function better after a negative or traumatic event.

How Negative or Traumatic Events Can Change Your Window of Tolerance
There are some traumatic events that can change your window of tolerance even if you usually operate in the optimal zone.

The stress related to the negative event can overwhelm even people who are normally high functioning if it's overwhelming enough.

For instance, someone, who normally feels comfortable walking down the street, can become hyper vigilant after he is mugged.  Whereas before the mugging he felt that the world was generally a safe place, now he feels the world is unsafe and he's constantly looking around him for possible danger.

Psychological Issues That Can Develop When You're Outside Your Window of Tolerance
If you have a narrow window of tolerance, you can develop psychological issues like anxiety or depression, especially if you've experienced a series of trauma issues and you haven't resolved these issues in therapy

You might also develop posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms, including flashbacks, feelings of derealization (the world around you feels unreal), nightmares and other possible PTSD symptoms.

Get Help in Therapy to Expand Your Window of Tolerance and Overcome Trauma
A skilled trauma therapist can help you to develop internal resources and coping strategies to expand your window of tolerance and overcome the trauma (see my article Developing Coping Strategies in Therapy).

Get Help in Therapy to Expand Your Window of Tolerance and Overcome Trauma

These internal resources and coping strategies could include mindfulness, meditation, being able to separate "then" from "now" (when the traumatic event occurred), and so on (see my articles: Staying Emotionally Grounded During Stressful Times and Psychotherapy and the Mindful Self: The Benefits of Mindfulness).

A trauma therapist can help you to overcome trauma by using trauma therapies, such as  EMDR Therapy or Somatic Experiencing.

If you're aware that you're overwhelmed by traumatic events in your life, don't suffer alone.

You could benefit from seeing a trauma therapist who can help you to achieve your optimal level of functioning, overcome trauma and lead a more rewarding life.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing therapist who works with individual adults and couples.

I am a trauma therapist who has helped many clients to overcome traumatic events so they could lead a more fulfilling life.

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

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.