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Resources

Following are free resources that I would recommend and aide the therapy process. You may find some more helpful than others. This will be a growing toolbox of resources I would like to add to over time.

Sandy Beach

The 4 Elements is a simple tool that you can use wherever you are, and in just a few minutes. It has been used all around the world to help people after stressful life events. In 4 simple steps, it brings together evidence-based techniques that can help us feel calmer and more in control.

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Helpful chart to map what happens to our nervouse system when we are in fight, flight and freeze response

Wild Flowers

FREE meditation app to help on wide ranging topics such as anxiety, stress, relationships, trauma, healing and sleep

Balancing Rocks

Radical Self Compassion practice by Tara Brach

Window with Plant

Helpful diagram to understand when we have moved out of our sense of safety and calm

Blade of Grass

An EMDR calming body based technique, simple and effective

Resources

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Esther Perel is a master relationship therapist, speaker and author. Plenty of resources and podcasts on her website.

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Evidence based, practical and a wealth of resources on parenting and couple relationships.

Parent and Child

Evidence based, compassionate and practical parenting resources by psychologist Karen Young "Sometimes the only diagnosis is human" quote by K. Young

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Very helpful site by neuroscientist Mark Brady; translating complex brain science into practical ways it can improve relationships.

  • cecilia1865

Cultivating Safety is the treatment


I believe the quality of the therapeutic relationship is crucial to the effectiveness of therapy with clients. When we feel safe in a relationship it allows our nervous system to relax and deactivate the 'survival', primitive part of our brain and allows the higher more evolved parts of our brain to be online.

A safe, relaxed state is modulated primarily through an embodied connection, a felt sense when we are in the presence of another person who we experience as safe (not always through words in an explicit way).

Neuroscience explains how our experiences affect neural changes in the brain, especially experiences that impact our thinking, feeling, and body/physiology. That is why you can read, listen to podcasts, and have a lot of ‘knowledge’ and insights about a topic but that does not necessarily create the deep changes we desire in our lives. Experiences are a more powerful teacher than just information.

Professor Stephen Porges, psychologist/neuroscientist, describes how we experience the world happens through our 'neuroception' - how our neural circuits assess cues of safety and danger which occur automatically and unconsciously based on our procedural memory. We’ve all had the experience of walking into a room and immediately getting a sense of feeling accepted, comfortable, and belonging or the opposite without having spoken to anyone.

It is very difficult when we are in a dysregulated state when our survival system is active to be able to take in and be ‘present’ in a session and be able to absorb and apply strategies or interventions to make effective changes. This is similar to how we see children who find it difficult to learn if they are feeling anxious or sad. This state would activate their 'survival brain' which is not conducive to learning.

There are two main pathways that can be activated based on how we experience and perceive our sense of safety or danger. These two pathways are known as the sympathetic and parasympathetic pathways. The sympathetic pathway is activated if we sense danger - whether internally or externally - and is stimulated into a hyperaroused state ('fight/flight/freeze'). This is like an 'accelerator' in our system, mobilising us for action. The parasympathetic pathway is activated when we are in a state of calm and safety, which is a down-regulating state like the 'brakes' in our system. In this state, we are able to engage our rational, logical brain and thought processes.

Experiences of unresolved trauma can also very quickly shift us easily into dysregulated survival states. Trauma is a subjective experience. As renowned trauma researcher Gabriel Mate says, trauma is not just what happens to you but what happens inside of you as a result. Trauma's effects are felt when you do not have the internal resources to cope with an experience or stressful event(s) and have no safe person to lean into. Often there will be a sense of profound disconnection from self and others.

We have evolved to survive and we will automatically find ways to be able to manage. However, some of our most ‘destructive’ or shameful behaviors are often attempts to survive the unbearable. These mechanisms are adaptive, in the 'service of survival'. But ways of being in the world in the service of survival (which exist at a 'lower brain'/primitive level of living), are not conducive to thriving, vitality, and mental well-being. In order for us to live in this mode, we need integration - activating our higher level pre-frontal cortex brain, and a sense of connection between brain and body. This can be called healing or wholeness – that we make sense and our experiences make sense. We can then feel there are more options, we have more agency in our lives, and a sense that we can be active participants - present, flexible, creative, and alive.

Our optimal state is when we are in our social engagement state (Porges) and this is when we feel safe, and connected to ourselves and others. Learning and changes can therefore take place, we are able to tap into our innate resources and absorb the resources offered to us by our therapist.

Being able to experience safety again within ourselves and with others can allow for the integration to happen and move toward wholeness and healing.

- written by Cecilia Ma, Accredited Mental Health Social Worker, and Trauma Therapist

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