NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Sunday, March 4, 2018

Trauma Therapy: Using Grounding Techniques Between Psychotherapy Sessions

In my last article, Trauma Therapy: Using the Container Exercise Between Therapy Sessions, I discussed the importance of the preparation phase of trauma therapy and how the container exercise can help with emotional containment and coping with difficult emotions between psychotherapy sessions or at the end of a psychotherapy session.  In this article, I'm continuing to focus on grounding techniques.

Trauma Therapy: Using Grounding Techniques Between Psychotherapy Sessions

What is Grounding?
Just like the container exercise that I mentioned in my last article, grounding is a stress management technique to help you calm down and be in the present moment.

Grounding is especially helpful when you're in trauma therapy.  It helps you to transition from the memories you're working on in therapy to the present moment so that you're not overwhelmed by thoughts, feelings, images, body sensations or other uncomfortable things that might come up when you process traumatic memories in therapy.

Aside from helping you between or at the end trauma therapy sessions, ground techniques can also help you to calm down and cope when you're generally under stress or anxiety.

How Do You Know If You're Not Emotionally Grounded?
People who have experienced longstanding psychological trauma often become "accustomed" to living with high intensity anxiety and this feels "normal" to many of them.

As a result, they might not know when they're not emotionally grounded and might only see the difference once they've experienced what it's like to feel emotionally grounded or calm.

Signs of Possibly Not Being Emotionally Grounded:
Some of the following signs might be signs that you're not emotionally grounded, especially if you experience many of these symptoms:
  • Experiencing anxiety and worry most of the time
  • Causing or participating in emotional drama much of the time
  • Being spaced out (or dissociated) much of the time
  • Getting easily distracted often
  • Ruminating obsessively 
  • Obsessing frequently about how you look or what others think about you
  • Having frequent problems falling or staying asleep
  • Having chronic pain
  • Having inflammation in your body
  • Having poor circulation
  • Feeling fatigued most of the time
The Benefits of Being Emotionally Grounded
Generally speaking, being emotionally grounded can have the following potential benefits:
  • Getting better sleep
  • Reducing anxiety and worry
  • Improving concentration and focus
  • Reducing rumination
  • Reducing fears about your image and what others think of you
  • Reducing chronic pain
  • Reducing inflammation in your body
  • Improving circulation
  • Reducing fatigue
Grounding Exercises
There are many types of grounding exercises.  I'll mention an easy one, the body scan, in this article that you can practice.  This grounding exercise is often used in trauma therapy, and it can also be beneficial any time you feel the need to calm yourself.

Trauma Therapy: Using Grounding Techniques Between Psychotherapy Sessions

In order for grounding exercises to have a beneficial effect, you need to practice grounding regularly.

If you're experiencing unresolved psychological trauma, it's best to see a trauma-informed psychotherapist before you try anything new.

Before starting any grounding exercises, consult with your psychotherapist.  This particular grounding exercise is generally good for most people, but there might be a particular reason why you shouldn't do it, so speak to your psychotherapist first.

The Body Scan:  
  • Sitting up with your feet flat on the floor, start by taking a few deep breaths and, if it feels comfortable for you, close your eyes.  If you feel uncomfortable or unsafe closing your eyes, pick a spot on the floor to focus on so your attention doesn't wander.
  • Paying attention to your feet, which are placed flat on the floor, notice how the floor supports the weight of your body.  If it feels comfortable for you, you can imagine that there are vines growing from the soles of your feet which connect to the earth so you feel yourself securely rooted.  If that feels uncomfortable, stay focused on how the floor and the earth below the floor support your feet.  
  • Focusing on the crown of your head, move your attention slowly through your body and notice where you're holding onto tension in your body.  Don't forget your eyes, which hold a lot of tension.  Allow the muscles in your eyes to relax instead of holding them fixed (this is easier to do if your eyes are closed or semi-closed).  Also, pay attention to the tension you hold in your jaw and tongue.  Allow your jaw to relax and your tongue to settle at the bottom of your mouth.  Then, proceed throughout the rest of your body.  Wherever you sense tension, picture the tension melting away or going through your limbs and out of your body.  
  • Take a few moments to notice and enjoy your relaxed state.
  • Before opening your eyes, picture the room that you're in with your mind's eye and be aware of the chair or couch where you're sitting.  
  • Opening your eyes gently, take a look around the room and orient yourself to your surroundings.  Continue to feel your feet planted on the ground for a few moments before you transition to doing something else.
If this exercise feels uncomfortable to you in any way, stop doing it until you can talk about it or practice doing it with your psychotherapist.  As I mentioned earlier, it's always best to consult with your psychotherapist before you begin any form of grounding exercise.

Also see my articles:
Coping Strategies in Mind-Body Oriented Psychotherapy
Wellness: Safe Place Meditation
Learning to Relax: Square Breathing

Using grounding techniques, like the body scan, can help to calm you.

If you're struggling with unresolved trauma, it's best to work with a trauma-informed psychotherapist to resolve your trauma.

Generally, the body scan grounding exercise is safe for most people, but speak to your therapist before beginning any grounding exercises.

Getting Help in Therapy
Unresolved trauma doesn't resolve on its own.  It can be debilitating on an emotional and physical level.  We also know now that it can have intergenerational effects and affect your children and generations that follow, so it's important to get help (see my article: Psychotherapy and Transgenerational Trauma).

Rather than struggling on your own, you could benefit from getting help from a licensed mental health professional who specializes in helping clients to overcome trauma (see my articles: The Benefits of Psychotherapy and How to Choose a Psychotherapist).

After you have worked through your trauma, you'll have a chance to live a more fulfilling life.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing therapist (see my article: The Therapeutic Benefits of Integrative Psychotherapy).

I specialize in helping individual adults and couples to overcome unresolved trauma.

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.