There’s a tendency to stereotype trauma survivors: they’re shut-down, devoid of energy, and the slightest hint of their previous trauma will either make them angry or inconsolable. But according to trauma specialist Diane Poole Heller, rather than being fragile, trauma survivors have inside them a wealth of restorative healing energy, should therapists know how to properly access it. “When clients have the opportunity to release their sympathetic impulses, they actually go into a celebratory outburst, feeling masterful and proud,” she says.
The typical, self-protective responses to trauma, as well as the feelings of release that come when it abates, Diane explains, is actually hardwired into our biology. And like a shocked animal escaping prey, she adds, trauma survivors who are released from their hypervigilant state feel a rush of relief and elation.
In the following video clip from her 2013 Networker Symposium Keynote address, Diane explains how allowing the sympathetic nervous system to play out in the safety of your consulting room creates a healing experience for clients, and shares a video from her own work that demonstrates this.
Allowing traumatized clients to express their bottled-up emotion is an exercise in balance, Diane says. “As clients are expressing their sympathetic responses, the challenge is comparable to being a surfer and finding the right wave, allowing the maximum amount of arousal without dissociation.” But by understanding the competing body states of sympathetic arousal and rest, and how trauma rewires them, therapists are in a better position to help clients heal.
“When we do a corrective experience, they’re designed to pull on the deepest parts of our attachment system,” Diane says. “If we can have an intelligent relationship with our trauma, it can fuel the transformative process and take you to a wonderful, expansive place.”
Diane Poole Heller
At a time when psychotherapists trained primarily in the “talking cure” are increasingly recognizing the need to “read” clients’ nonverbal communications, particularly those buried in early attachment issues, Diane Poole Heller has been a leader in addressing the unconscious issues that clients are often unable to express. With an approach grounded in Attachment Theory, Peter Levine’s Somatic Experiencing method of trauma resolution, and spiritual healing techniques, she’s traveled around the world teaching integrative mind-body methods that deepen the resonance of the therapist–client bond.