RELATE AND REWIRE: A Neurobiological Perspective on how Relationship can heal Anxiety and Depression.

Transcript from the Relate and Rewire Presentation: a neurobiological perspective on anxiety and depression at Medicine Moves Studio on Feb. 07, 2013 by Jim Kragtwyk –Registered Clinical Counsellor, Certified Addictions Counsellor, Trainer and 5Rhythms Movement Psychotherapist in Victoria BC.

Introduction by Rachelle Lamb:

Good evening, good evening people. So wonderful to see so many people coming out, wow, wonderful, thanks for coming. So I’m gonna just share a little poem and then give you a little bit of information about how this came to be, this evening, and then we’ll pass the floor over to Jim Kragtwyk. So the poem is called “The Thing Is” by Ellen Bass.

To love life, to love it even

When you have no stomach for it

And everything you’ve held dear

Crumbles like burnt paper in your hands,

Your throat filled with the silt of it.

When grief sits with you, its tropical heat

Thickening the air, heavy as water

More fit for gills than lungs;

When grief weights you like your own flesh

Only more of it, an obesity of grief,

You think, how can a body withstand this?

Then you hold life like a face

Between your palms, a plain face,

No charming smile, no violet eyes,

And you say, yes, I will take you

I will love you, again.


SO that’s what we can aspire to do, amongst the difficult times. This evening comes about by a couple of converging events, and the first being the decision of a different kind than some other people in this room, to exit life (complete suicide), just after Christmas. And it’s a very, very difficult thing to hear about it because we all have somebody somewhere in our family, but then when it’s that close, it’s a very, very difficult thing and I think everybody has probably, at least at some point in their lifetime, been visited by one, maybe not so much someone in their life but, just, it’s kind of hard to get up in the morning. And so, having been very close to the person who decides to complete suicide and Jim Kragtwyk is a very dear friend as well, and he was calling me up regularly saying “hey, how’s it going?” And on one occasion we met for coffee at Café Fantastico, and we started to talk about how important relating is and what it can mean to us, and the times that we’re living in and I found it tremendously helpful.

And I’m hoping tonight I’ll be able to remember it again. I found it so helpful, and I said “Jim, you know, I really believe that what you just said could be an enormous benefit to a great amount of people. Is it something you would be willing to share?” He said “Oh yeah, I’ll do that.  And so what a generous, a very generous, offer for him to lend us his space first of all. Jim is a Wing Chun Kung Fu Sifu (teacher) a 5Rhythms Movement Psychotherapist and a registered clinical counsellor and he’s a very gentle and dear human being.

So I’m really, really moved that he would offer this, and it will be a great benefit to a great number of people I hope, and all the proceeds go to the crisis intervention and suicide prevention organization of BC, so there’s a lot of giving happening here tonight so if you haven’t yet had the opportunity, please give generously because it can really make a difference to those who decide to leave and to those who have been left behind and to anybody who’s just going through a dark night of the soul, so thank you so much Jim.

Jim Starts talking:

‘Thank you Rachelle.”

This event is being audio-taped and will be sent to you, assuming that there are no technical glitches.

“Yeah, we’re going to do an electronic transcript, and you’ll be getting an electronic copy of what I’ve spoken about tonight. Again, thank you very much Rachelle and yes Rachelle is a dear friend and a wonderful character in my life and brings a lot of variety and for those of you looking for wonderful marketing and promotion, she’s the gal to go to. But seriously, I appreciate everyone coming tonight and giving some of your time and I hope that what I have to offer tonight will resonate and that something will be memorable for you, especially on the heart level.

And maybe just a little bit more about who I am related to tonight’s topic. And like most people, all of us have struggled or suffered with some level of anxiety, or what we call depression, at some time in our life. Whether it be from some relational issues, whether it the loss of a loved one, even a pet, something changing in our life or having a traumatic incident happen to us. So I would be really surprised if there was one person in this room who actually wasn’t impacted by depression or anxiety. And I’ve had several dark nights of the soul in my life, and I think a little bit of what I’d like to share about one of those nights was about eight years ago when I moved to the west coast of the island to work for mental health and addictions with the Vancouver Island health authority, and I was going on a “grand adventure”. I was going to go live in Tofino and Ucluelet, and I was going to have these wonderful experiences and my left-brain monkey-mind had it all figured out to what was going to happen.

But when I got there, over a period of two years, I was noticing an insidious, ever-deepening, slipping into a dark night of the soul. What people would diagnose as depression or depressive states. And I was really confused about why that was happening. I’ve got a lot of training, I’ve done lots of counselling, I’ve had lots of good relationships, I do a lot of self-care, and, yet, there I was, going into a spiral. And what I realized, in bits and pieces along the way, that it was when I took myself out of my beautiful wonderful support-system in Victoria, which was all about relationship, there were definitely some activities but it was really about the relating with the people that helped resource me, that helped regulate me that kept me functioning. When that was really abruptly taken away, and I infused myself in an environment where I was relatively isolated (even though it was beautiful). I was working with a lot of people whose nervous systems were significantly impaired, and there is a large first nation’s community in the area as well. And I would take a water taxi out to one of the first nation’s communities once a week, and at that time in 2005, they had, had (in a community of 800 people) about 50 suicide attempts. Not all completed obviously, but just that number of attempts is astronomical when you look at the number of people living there. So being immersed in that relational energy, without the support that I had access previously, and being isolated, was a big part of why a pretty healthy, smart guy went into a pretty dark pit for quite some time. And I remember that I tried to really make a lot of connections and relations there and there were some moments, but it really was challenging for me. And so, I would drive to Victoria every second weekend. I couldn’t get out of there soon enough to come back here and get enough of a dose with my Kung Fu students, some of which are here, and my friends and musicians and 5Rhythms dancers and get sort of enough so I could be functional enough to go back there. So I share that part of myself with you, to really emphasize that, as human beings, we are more or less states of mind, we are not these fixed identities with fixed  personalities, we have a lot of variability.

So these states of mind can arise based on our environment, and a significant part of that environment is our relational environment. The people in relationships that we have in our life or that we don’t have. And I think that when we start to look at anxiety or depression, when we talk about it in that language, we talk about it as if it’s a fixed thing, or like it’s some sort of virus that you’ve caught and once you have it you sort of have it and you have to treat it and you have to do these other things and it’s this thing that’s sort of in you. And there can often times be a lot of stigma around that. But when we talk about nervous system functioning, and that whatever gets activated or regulated we have different states of mind. Some of which can include anxiety, some of which can include the symptoms of a depressive state and then there’s that place in the middle. And for those of you who did pick up the handouts, there’s just a visual that I’ve asked you to sort of reference throughout the evening about how the human nervous system functions, and the possible states that are there. And we look in the middle, and we have what we call this “optimal zone of nervous system arousal”. And the nervous system, when it’s healthy, when it’s regulated, when it’s functioning, it gives us energy, our mood is mostly up, our cognitive abilities (the way we perceive and think about the world) are mostly objective, as much as that can be possible. And so in an ideal way, the human nervous system likes to have patterns within a certain range and then within that pattern of regulation it likes a little bit of stimulation, a little bit of variability, a little bit of excitement, a little bit of fun, a little bit of up, a little bit of down. This is the nature of optimal nervous system functioning. When it goes up, past that, and it gets into hyper-arousal, you are in sympathetic nervous system activation.

Then we go into those states where we basically have three reactions that we’re able to have on our behavior. Some of you heard the fight and the flight reaction but the third one is the freeze. So we’re basically in a stress response or survival mode. And we are only physiologically capable of one of those three behaviors; fight, flight or freeze. So when we get activated, in terms of anxiety or fear or whatever may activate that, that’s all that’s really available to us. And so we’re going to have a physiological arousal, we’re going to have emotional states; fear, worry, caution, terror (depending on how significant it is). And then we’re going to have patterns and perceptions that are gonna match that, we’re gonna be looking out at the world and looking for the threats. Seeing threats maybe where there aren’t, and worrying about things well in advance, so this is basically what we’re talking about: anxiety. Or in the extreme case; post-traumatic stress disorder, which IS an anxiety disorder. When the nervous system hangs out there, for whatever reasons (and I’ll talk about some of the causes of that later on) but it’s not a sustainable stage for our nervous system. This is supposed to be a short-term survival state through our specie’s evolution we develop mostly in the reptile part of our nervous system-so just to survive.

So say a saber-tooth tiger is chasing us, we can run away, we can fight it or we can hide from it. That’s what the freezing is, the camouflaging, but while that’s happening, a whole bunch of things are happening physiologically that stresses and strains the body. Your stress-response system gets activated, there’s all these stress chemicals that move through our organs and tissues and hormones. All those sorts of things, the body cannot sustain that indefinitely. So after a while when anxiety is activated for a sustained period of time… we’ll have a nervous system crash. The body will shut down. We’ll slip back down, (again if you look at the bottom of your diagram), into hypo-arousal. And maybe in an overly simplistic way, that’s the body’s and nervous system’s way of shutting down and preparing for death. So physiologically that’s what’s happening, the systems are slowing down, shutting down, going into a deeper state of hibernation. And so again, when the nervous system gets activated into that, we’re going to have corresponding emotional feelings with that: sadness, shame, guilt, disappointment. Our cognitions and our perceptions and our beliefs about the world are going to match that, so we’re going to see things in a not-so-hopeful way, despite objective evidence to the contrary of what other people might be saying to us. We’re not able to actually see it, feel it, believe it and act upon it when we are in hypo-arousal.

In an ideal world, and in an ideal human experience, we’re in that optimal zone where we have a little bit of stimulation and joy in life but it doesn’t go too high and it doesn’t go too low.  If it does go too high it should be just for a very short period of time to deal with an actual real threat, and then we’ll dip back down to recover and then we’ll come back up. Ok, that’s the basic functioning of a healthy nervous system. So how does a healthy nervous system actually form? And this is the part about relationship.

So for some of you in the room who may like to do a lot of reading or maybe even parents who have maybe heard of attachment theory or attachment parenting. And the way that developing the nervous system right from the moment of conception till birth and onwards, learns how to regulate itself physiologically; mood, energy, all of those things, is through the relationship with the primary caregiver or caregivers. So I am physiologically developed based on my relationship with, for me, my mom. There are some other people who were really important, you know my father to a lesser extent, and four sisters who really did a lot of good work that my mother wasn’t able to. Thank God for that. But it’s in that relationship where there are two elements, and I should write these down because these are pretty important (in terms of attachment and regulation). So number 1: needs fulfillment. And number 2: is attunement. So again, we stay with the framework of evolution and nervous systems, so what needs fulfilment? Survival. Basic survival. I need to be kept safe, I need to be fed and I need to be protected. So that’s more the reptile part of our nervous system. The mammal part, and especially the primate-mammal part of our nervous system, is: we need to be loved, we need to feel that we belong and that there’s a place for us. And that needs to be reinforced on a regular basis enough of the time. And the research says that, as parents, you need to get it right about 30% of the time (big sigh of relief for all you parents in the room, right? Phew) it doesn’t have to be perfect, it doesn’t. 30% of the time in a mostly attuned way. And for the other times that you don’t get it, all you have to do is go back and repair it. “Ah, jeez, I really screwed up; let’s go spend some time together”. That’s all you have to do. You have to acknowledge it and repair it and the child becomes more resilient towards it. But most important, for me, is the attunement piece.

So if we’re a young infant or a toddler or whatever age, there are certain needs. So you need to be fed, need to be diaper changed, maybe a hug and be kept warm. But it has to be on the infant’s or child’s schedule. So if you have a regiment, probably like my mom had because she had seven kids, I mean, she did things on schedule. She’s gonna feed everyone at the same time, she’s gonna probably have an assembly line of changing diapers and hugs if you got them if you were lucky, she didn’t have the luxury of actually really paying attention and really noticing on that mammalian distinction level of what you really, really need and then giving it. So it’s to know when the child needs a hug versus space, to know when they need food, to know when they need to be burped, all those sorts of things. So when need’s fulfillment is fairly consistent, and it’s done in an attuned way, they say that a secure attachment has been formed between the primary caregiver (being usually the mom, but now not always necessarily) and the child. Along with that comes out mostly, optimal zone of nervous system arousal and regulation.

You can imagine, before we have explicit memory of around two-three years of age but you can imagine just where these little instinctual beings are really intuiting and feeling… their way in the world. And if we notice that the people that we’re completely dependent on, that we develop that neuro-chemical bond in the womb with, and we know their smell, and we know the song in their voice when they’re talking to us, that when we get our needs met, and they’re paying attention and they’re tracking, well you can imagine what happens to the nervous system . . . it relaxes. And we start to get the formed sense, the felt sense that the world is a safe place. People will look after me, I am loved, and I am wanted. Ok, they’re not thinking about this, this is a purely felt instinctual sense. And then you can also imagine that, if it was less than the 30% and it was done in a mis-attuned way, or it was very erratic (love was given one day, then the next day it was complete abandonment, or there was abuse or violence in the field, or if mom was depressed or if dad was violent or…) all of these things are in the emotional field. This is what dys-regulates the nervous system. For those of you who are parents, this isn’t rocket science, you know that when you come home and you’re in a good mood and you’re feeling positive and happy and regulated, there’s hardly any actual parenting you have to do with your kids, they more or less just go along with how you are that day. Maybe with a few exceptions. But if you come home stressed, if you come home whatever it is, you’re gonna get some sort of reflection back from your children, and even if they’re teenagers, they still regulate on the emotional level in the home more so than any explicit parenting that you can do with them or rules or all of that stuff. So a side tip, just for those parents, the best thing you can do for parenting, take care of yourself. Take care of yourself, be happy, be joyful, be peaceful, be calm, all the other stuff will fall into place over time.

But going back to the insecure attachments, so if there is volatility, abandonment, neglect, abuse in the field, then the developing nervous system is not gonna be sort of humming along on that nice regulated pattern. The nervous system is going to, again, go into two responses or a combination of the two. It’s going to start to develop hyper-vigilance. If it’s not feeling safe, it’s like, man, you’re not paying attention here and like I haven’t seen you for two days and those sorts of things… it becomes tense. Physiology starts to change, muscle tone starts to change and you know all those things, then the monkey-mind starts to develop. So you can imagine what the thinking patterns or the thoughts that might start to emerge from a child who’s starting to get memories and use words, but their felt senses are around fear and tension and contraction. And then their language and their thinking are going to be shaped into that felt sense or from that felt sense. They’re going to start to see the world from that felt sense. Mostly, not exclusively, there are always exceptions. And if I’m wearing rose coloured or blue coloured glasses, everything I look at is going to have that sort of color to it, especially the things that are not quite so clear or things that are ambiguous- I will fill in the missing information with my own projections of my own emotional states.

So sad people, we will be attracted to the sad songs, we’ll be attracted to lost little puppies, we’ll call those people in as partners because we are attuned and used to that in our field, we know it, we recognize it. For those of us who maybe have a lot of anxiety or fear in the field, well we’re going to be noticing and feeling all the threats that are around us, real and imagined, potential or in the moment. We’re gonna miss the flowers on the side of the road, we’re gonna miss the children playing, we’re gonna be looking for “ooo that bus that just turned around the corner over there”. “What’s the stock market doing” or you know we can go on and on with those sorts of things. We’re oriented to that certain type of emotional field. That allows us to then find and re-confirm and habituate certain ways of being in the world. So that’s in the fear response, the hyper-arousal. The hypo-arousal is more or less when we’ve either, as I said earlier, been so stressed out we’ll crash down into hypo-arousal, or if there’s been persistent neglect. The nervous system basically forecloses and says “I’m just giving up cuz it’s just not going to be happening here”. “I’m not getting fed, I’m not getting nourished, and I’m not getting stimulated”. So the nervous system goes: I have to conserve my energy” and basically hide out in this state of hibernation, maybe until something changes. And if that happens long enough, the nervous system likes patterns. When all the little interconnections and the cells happen in the neuro-pathways, they form basically like software in our nervous system, and it likes to repeat itself and it likes to strengthen it. So after a while for two, three months, two, three years, there’s been volatility or sadness in the field or depression or stress, it just sort of starts functioning on its own. That’s just what it’s going to be like. So our primary relationships really have set the foundation and the base-line for our emotional life and field as we grow up.

Now, that’s not to say that other things can’t change it, we are very capable of change, what we call “neuro-plasticity”. And there are things that will make us resilient. So for me, because my parents weren’t available, I have four amazing sisters. And they gave me enough nurturing and enough attunement so that I could actually survive my family of origin. Without them, it would be a very, very different story; I’m really clear on that. It may have been a high school teacher, or it may have been someone else who cared and paid attention to me/you. Somebody got it right just enough for you to be here today. Some of us don’t make it, they didn’t get that break. So as bad as it may feel for you or people you know today, just know that they got enough to be here today. But we want more maybe, we want to thrive instead of survive.

So. How do we do that? Well, I mean there are lots of different things, but I’m going to focus mostly on relationship. I say to a lot of my clients when I work with them “relationships are the best medicine that you can get, and it’s also the most toxic”. So, if you really want to change your internal world, you also need to look at your relationships. And I’m just feeling the room right now as I say that, and it’s like “ooo okayy.” So, you know, I didn’t “accidently” become a therapist. I learned very young to attend to other people’s needs, other people’s hurts, other people’s wants, before mine because I didn’t learn the whole self-love piece in the way I would’ve ideally liked it, and maybe it was my birthright as an infant. I had to sort of get out little bits and pieces out of forty-some odd years. So for those people who might be in “service” as part of their profession/career or in their relationships, if I was a betting person, I would probably put some money down that there’s probably a bit of an insecure attachment with those people, probably, not everybody. But that’s one of the survival skills that when there is a threat in the early relational field that we use to survive. It’s like “wow-howw, mom and dad, they are not doing well.” I have to prop them up. I gotta be the cute baby, I gotta be the noisy baby, I gotta be the crying baby, I gotta be the acting out baby, I have to be the baby that does all the little tricks. I have to be the baby that has to make mommy and daddy feel better because they’re sad or they’re stressed or they’re depressed or whatever else. So I go in and I help them just so they can give me enough of my needs fulfillment to survive. And then I grow up thinking “this is normal.” And then guess what, I’m attracted to a field, a profession, where “oh, this is great. This feels like exactly what I’ve been doing all my life, and I’m really good at it.” Well, maybe. Maybe I’m ok. Right, but I have a lot of practice at it. So in service to other people, but not really attuning and attending to my own needs. So I’m still carrying this old pattern of relating (which was survival based) into my adult hood. No one told me when to drop it.

So, we want to change that ideally. Because if we continue to do that in our adult life, well guess what’s going to happen? As a mammal, I know I’m jumping over a few places here, but as mammals, as we walk around, I mean, I project a little energetic beacon (and this is not west-coast, woo-woo stuff, this is neuro-science.) we have neuro-receptors that pick up that information and get activated in an eventual, vagal part of our nervous system; all the nerves that come up around the face, and into the top part of the chest. Those things start to activate when I’m in a positive healthy relationship with other people. So these are the things that help regulate the nervous system. What also happens, if I’m around unhealthy energy, is I will pick that up as well. So right now, all of us, are basically co-regulating, so all the “stuff” in this room; we’re all picking it up, and we’re all sharing it. So if you’re trying to make changes, in terms of depressive states or anxious symptoms, you’re going to want to look at who you’re hanging around with, and what the nature of those relationships are. Like, are you of service to other people or is it a healthy sort of reciprocity. And if I have this old pattern of caretaking and noticing and tracking the “needy” people in the room (because that’s what I’m actually used to seeing in the room) as a point of survival, well, this is what and who I’m going to continue to call into my life of relationships. So if you walked into a room of say 100 aesthetically pleasing and equally pleasing people (they all were sort of attractive, on the same level on that sort of physical realm) there’s going to be two or three of those people who right away catch your attention (“you and you and you”-pointing to crowd), and you don’t know why because you haven’t spoken to them, you haven’t said a word but there’s something about them. That’s what I’m talking about; it’s that ventral-vagal activation of knowing and feeling and intuiting “oohh-kayy, that little smile you have there, sort of reminds me of my mom, even though I won’t think of it that way.” Or that aloof look, “oh the unavailable dad.” And all of the sudden it’s like, “oo what’s your name?” I’ve done this several times. But if we don’t know that we’re doing it then we’re like “oh my god, there’s my beloved” or “I’m falling in love” and you create this story around it. So, relationship is really important in terms of regulating your mood, your energy, your way of thinking, all those sorts of things. But, if we aren’t aware of what our relational patterns are, what our attachment was (from childhood) I mean you can just sort of look at your history, and it’s probably pretty clear what it is. You know, are we chasing unavailable people, are we running away from people who are chasing us, have we just foreclosed because it’s either never really shown up or every time I go in there it’s just too painful and after several painful experiences my nervous system says “forget it, I don’t want to put myself through that again.” Any questions so far, as I continue to move along? Yeah?

(Woman from crowd speaks) “Yeah I’m wondering, so when one has a deregulated nervous system, energetically people pick it up, either consciously or not, but energetically pick it up, and for people who subconsciously know what’s going on, so I’m your friend and I’m wondering what’s going on and you’re like ‘eh-eh, ok. I’m going to avoid you.” It’s kind of like, well I guess what I’m hearing is that ok so if somebody’s got a deregulated nervous system, they need a community but now the community’s like “oh, you’re deregulated, oh, I can’t be deregulated, oh, get away from me.”

(Jim again) “Yeah, I hear what you’re saying, it’s not exactly what I’m suggesting, but I will speak to that.”

(Woman) “I just wanted to get clarity on that”.

(Jim) “So if we look on the way we used to live, in my idealised version (a lot of anthropologists will sort of agree), we lived in a tribe, we lived in a village. In many ways we lived and moved and breathed as an organism in and of itself as opposed to a whole bunch of individuals. And in that sort of organic rhythm of living, when people would sort of step out of regulation (for whatever reason; maybe there was a death or maybe there was a rite of passage going on), there was just intuitively people would sort of shift and go and do what they needed to do, and they just knew what to do. Through a long, long time of evolution and relating. And it was a felt sense. It wasn’t like “oh, jeez, I think I should go over there”, we just knew. It was just like “oh, you need a hug, and you need to come out in the woods and sit with me for five days, and you need to go and just dig in the dirt for a bunch of time.” So we had a larger group of regulated energy to attend to the one or two people who may, for that short time, be struggling. Our modern life does not support this way of community relating. We outsource that work to people like me and other sorts of helping professionals. And in that outsourcing of our modern world, let me just back up a little bit. Our world is very individualistic, it’s very compartmentalized and fragmented, and in many ways very separate. I had to ‘schedule in’ a coffee with Richelle, to hang out with my friend. And I have to schedule in these self-care activities, like it’s all in these little pockets. That’s a larger reflection of a fragmented society that we live in. and with that, we’re gonna be somewhat fragmented in our nervous system no matter how healthy we are in the great relationships we have, just living in that field, that toxic field, that separated field, is going to cause some dissonance. So I think the answer to your question is: “if I am picking up in the field that someone is struggling, it’s not that I want to avoid them like they have the plague or anything, it’s just well how can we get support for that person?” And what I was reflecting I think initially was you know if I was the person who was struggling with anxious or depressive symptoms, I want to be very careful about who I let into my energy field. Because if I’m vulnerable, I’m not the person who’s going to be able to be out there giving support, I’m maybe gonna be the one who’s gonna need some from a larger group or community.

(Question from woman in audience): “there are a lot of teachers that say, when you’re in a low/lost state, the best thing you can do is give service to others….” (Indiscernible)

Mmhmm, mmhmm, if you have enough vitality running through the nervous system to actually physically go and do that, and then once you get in the field of other people maybe that co-regulation can be helpful. It might, for a time, give an illusion that “oh jeez, I’m helping these people that are much, much worse off than I am” and I can feel better for a time. But in my opinion, it’s not going to be a long-term, sustainable solution. And, uh, are those teachings based with a modern-day content or context, or are they in a more tribe-based, community-based context?

(Woman): all teachers… (Indiscernible)

So that’s a really interesting statement. All I would say to go back is: does it fit, does it attune with the actual environment that’s going on now. And I give you an open ended question, left open ok. Any other comments or questions? Yes!

(Different woman) “Could you talk a little bit about the difference between setting boundaries and helping others and setting walls? I’m trying to get this visual of this energetic flow that you’re talking about but could you visualize that… (Indiscernible)… healthy boundaries, as opposed to the… ()

Ok. And, it’ll be a felt sense, that’s how you’ll know. So uh, can I borrow you Rachelle? So this is a very common exercise in many sort of helping professions. You can hang out right there. Richelle loves working with boundaries by the way *haha* yeah, that’s not quite true. So what I want to do, if I want to set a healthy boundary with Rachelle, I want to really check in on the felt sense of it as opposed to “oh, well, she’s a nice enough gal, she’s smartly dressed and, jeez, I probably would wanna get really close to her, alright so I’ve already dictated that I wanna be over here. So my head has dictated this idea of a boundary or “what is right”. And I’m not listening to myself; I’ve gone to this story, to this projection, to whatever it is. So what I wanna do is: I wanna be curious! Like how close do I really wanna be and imagine you have no clue whatsoever because most of us don’t until we actually get there. I won’t know until I have the experience. So again, some of the necessary requirements are; I need to go at a speed that I can notice the activation. ***crowd laughs, Rachelle laughs*** so, it’s right about here for me (Jim approaches Rachelle slowly and pauses). So even if I go a little closer, lean a little closer, my chest starts to tighten up, my breath changes, and I just sort of lean back a bit and it sort of drops down here a bit. I think maybe even another half step back. And so the felt sense of this boundary is that I’m fairly relaxed and present, I haven’t gone into an aggressive posture, and I haven’t sort of glazed off into dissociation or run away even though I can, cuz I’m doing a thing here. But I could leave this room easy, like that *snaps fingers* if I wanted to, and my body could still stay here, that’s another survival skill and we’ll talk about that later for a little bit as well. So the felt sense is “it feels good, and I’m here”. So in this moment right now with Rachelle, this is a healthy boundary. Walling people off, as if I, for example, have had so much relational trauma or even critical incidence trauma and my nervous system is just in protective mode all the time. And just the thought of getting close to another human nervous system, which is latent and has been generalized with so much previous trauma, part of me is like “here’s my wall”. I don’t expose my heart, I turn off to the side, I’m glaring at her to keep her away from me and I have a closed posture. And the felt sense of this is my eyes are bugging out of my head, my jaw is really tight, can’t really swallow, I can’t even feel my feet right now actually. I don’t like that, so I’m just going to let go of that.

Right, so, she disappeared, oh my god she abandoned me! There she is, ok. So short answer to a long exercise is; you have to feel for it. And it can change within five seconds with Rachelle and it can change tomorrow and I have to let go of any idea that “oh, we’ve had this history and relationship for several years in mind so I can always get this close to her”. It’s like I’m not attuning to what’s alive and real for me in the moment, which may have absolutely nothing to do with Rachelle or very little, it’s just where I’m at.

So my job is to be in healthy relationship with self, while I do all those things that I didn’t get from my parents, I re-parent myself. And so maybe it’s a good time to segue into “well ok, how do we heal and change and transform possibly insecure attachments that produce anxiety and depression. “Thank you, thank you”. And what that means is; can that part of us that does stand up in the world, that is apparent for myself, an adult, can I attend to that hurt or wounded part of me that needs some safety, some nurturing, some attention, some stimulation, some whatever it is that I need. So yeah, I’m pretty functional in a lot of ways. So, I can do these sorts of things if I make that a focus, if I pay attention, and if I make a commitment to do that. So the attunement in sort of a self-care wellness plan is not “well I’m gonna go to the gym 3 days a week, and I’m gonna go and do this, and I’m gonna go and get a great massage from Glen because he gives great massages, and all of these things”. But I don’t know that if by the time I show up at Glen’s place, if I actually want a massage anymore. Or by the time it’s 9 o’clock in the morning and I don’t even feel like going to the gym. So that attunement piece says; I have to let go of all that stuff and I need to keep checking in and ask what do I want and what do I need and I say yes and I’m gonna give it to myself. And I’m gonna involve healthy other people as part of that experience. I’m gonna have positive relations as much as I can control it. I’m gonna have good experiences that are about safety and respect and joy and peace and health and all those things and in that process of self-relationship and relating with others, the insecure attachment and all that stuff will fade away over time.

So that’s the way out. But what happens when the anxiety is so extreme or the depression is so deep? And that’s where more, and it’s very complex, I don’t want to make this sound too simplistic. Because when someone is in a deep, deep pit, of hypo-arousal, of depression, of a major depressive state. Like I said, the body is physiologically preparing to die, right? The person, in some ways, is not penetrable. It’s almost like you can’t reach them, they’re sooo far gone in there. You can put a lot of energy trying and reaching and it’s still not possible. And my experience has been that self-care practices all of those sorts of things, are not going to sustainably pull you out. You need contact and that contact has to be attuned to what that person can handle in the moment. So we do know about the poly-vagal part of our nervous system, what the relational piece, is that it lights up in relationships with human beings, it lights up in relationships with animals and it lights up in relationship to spirit. But it’s not just this thinking about it, it’s you’re actually engaged with something you feel and believe out there, that’s what lights up all those neuro pathways.

Ok, so on whatever level that you or whoever you want to support (a friend or a loved one) can engage in a relationship in a way that will not trip them up further the anxiety tree or trip them down deeper into the depressive funk, that’s the doorway. So maybe all they’re gonna do is they’re gonna hang out and pet a dog for a couple of months, that’s all the stimulation they can get, and you’re just sitting there quietly being with them. Or it may be a family member who they have a really good relationship with, that can be the doorway. So for people in deep depressions, what we wanna do is, we wanna increase the vitality slowly; titrate the experience. We don’t want to bombard them, flood them, overwhelm them because as you may remember; a lot of people go into deep depressive states because they’ve been shooting up into sympathetic nervous arousal for a long time, and then they crash down. So this is something that you might see and there is this formal diagnosis of bi-polar disorder; the big extremes. On a nervous system level, that’s what’s sort of going on. You get into these, what they describe as these manic phases of a lot of energy and a lot of “ouuahh I’m gonna conquer the world” and grandiose ideas but not very relationally connected to the people around them, not really able to have that empathic response. And then after a while they cannot withstand that and so there’s the crash. So we wanna do things in a slow way, in an attuned way and in a paced way. That resonates with what’s available to them, that they’re willing to actually receive. And for some folks, I mean I certainly don’t have all the answers here, but for some folks, I dunno if it’s their karma or they’re just too far gone, some folks are not gonna make it. I mean, that’s just the very, very sad truth in life.

(A woman in audience) “And when you say they’re not going to make it, what is it they’re not going to make?”

Well, some people might actually complete a suicide attempt.

“I see.”

I mean, that’s possible. It happens enough in our culture for sure, but that doesn’t mean that it’s pre-destined or pre-determined. So to shift into “well, how can we help or support people in our lives?” it’s to be really, really present to where they’re at. And to maybe let go of any agenda or discomfort that you may have about their emotional state. Also ask yourself “are you actually resourced and prepared enough to go in there?” or are you on sort of shaky ground right now and you don’t really have a lot to give because you might put yourself at risk. So how do you find the way to get the right amount of attuned support for that person? And again, the letting go of your agenda is often times because we have a discomfort around witnessing that person in that state. So we get frustrated because we want them to hurry up or whatever. The heartbreak is so painful to watch, like we just can’t sit with that kind of pain ourselves, so we get activated into stress-response and we start doing those sorts of things; the fight, the flight or the freeze. “I don’t know what to do, I feel helpless.” I get frustrated or I give up and walk away. And sometimes all you have to do is maybe just sit with somebody, with enough space. Any questions or comments about that so far? Yeah?

(Another woman) “You were talking about people getting too much stimulation and then crashing and people being bi-polar, that type of person. What if you’re not bi-polar, can the same thing happen?”

It will, but it won’t be so extreme or so habituated or a pattern. So when people who have bi-polar disorder, I mean even then there’s a spectrum of behaviors and I’m still not very comfortable with those diagnoses. That’s why I like to talk about things about nervous system hyper-arousal and hypo-arousal because it shows, there’s a spectrum of behaviors and affect and felt senses that go along with how far up the “Christmas tree” (referring to sympathetic nervous system hyper-/hypo-arousal) – does it light up and how far down does it sink.

(Same woman) “I guess what I’m asking is say the person is attempting to reach out of depression. So they start doing a whole bunch of things that… (…)… can you overdo that and create the opposite?

It’s possible. So we titrate and attune. Right, so we err on the side of caution and we start small. And if we’re really paying attention, we don’t throw big logs on the fire. It’s like “oh this is really working, let’s do more of that” and it’s like no, no we don’t want to shoot up back into hyper-arousal, we want to get into that nice rhythm, that nice way in that optimal zone of nervous system arousal where we have enough vitality and enough groundedness to actually be present. And if we never really experienced that, nor experienced it enough, we still may not really know what that is like. I mean, there were definitely times in my life where I was SO EXCITED about life and I thought: wow I’m in a really good space! And again, look at my body language. I’m squeezing my fists, again my eyes are about to pop out and, literally, one heel is coming off the ground. And I’m thinking this is a good thing??!!

So we have to be careful about what we may be used to feeling and doing and the labels that we would’ve put on ourselves or our peer groups or family of origin, saying this is acceptable or this is whatever and really dropping into the felt sense and that’s why a lot of my practice is focused on somatic psychotherapy, which is tracking the body’s sensations and learning to regulate our nervous system. Letting go of all the stories and judgments of all that and just really tracking what’s getting activated and what’s going down. And being curious around that and giving subtle little interventions to help regulate in therapeutic relationship. And again I’ll really say it again, it’s relationship. Counselling only works in an attuned relationship. There are some techniques and whatever and theories ok, but it really is that “hey, we’re co-regulating and I’m paying attention and I do genuinely care and I’m following and really getting you!” So your nervous system gets a dose of good relational medicine; some healthy and regulated neuro-pathways start to form or get activated, also known as mirror neurons. Whether you’re just petting the dog or the cat for an hour, not being inundated by the animal, you’re just being there. It’s like “ok, there’s some regulation going on there”. For someone who is really in a funk and it’s really hard to evoke vitality, sometimes just asking the question “when was the last time you laughed your ass off?” or “what’s your favorite song?” and even if they can pull a memory and bring it into the present moment, something’s going to happen in their nervous system. You also want to be careful that they don’t just pull out some song that they’re just like “pwahhh!” and then they shoot right back down again. So. Again, we have to be careful about how we do this. So, again, just think about the attunenment piece, to me that is sooo important in relationship. I’m having a conversation, this isn’t a conversation per say but if I was having a conversation with you and this is all I did; I just talked at you and gave you all this information and I didn’t really care what you thought, I mean, it’s not attuned. If I’m talking over you, if I’m not listening, and If I’m not paying attention, not just to the words but also the body language, the energy whether it’s forward whether it’s back, they say that the prosody/the song in the voice, the song in the voice they say is much more important than the actual lyrics and that will tell you what’s really going on. Yeah?

(Male) “Do you think that people could be genetically exposed to have… (…)… is it all relational from… (…)…?”

Yes and yes. So, we carry genetic material from both of our parents, and genes are as we know now, for any of you who have read any of Bruce Lipton’s material, so that genes can be mutated and affected by the environment. So as we change, we can also change our genetic material that we would then pass on. So yeah, we do inherit some things that will form a bit of a base line. And then what also happens in the womb during those 9 months is really REALLY important. That nervous system is being formed and being informed from the outside experience (of momma, communicating neuro-chemically whether it’s safe or not safe, if it’s volatile or if mom is depressed. All that stuff gets communicated through the umbilical cord and the nervous system is learning “ok, I better prepare myself for what is out there or at least is what is inside my primary caregiver. Again, this can be changed this can be changed, it’s not fixed, but we start off with a certain playing field and then we start experiencing the environment. The environment being; relationships and also other things and that starts to fix things and patterns and in place. Yes? And then I’ll get to you in a second.

(Woman) “I’m really questioning what you’re saying about the ways that we attune to each other in relationships and I’m also thinking about the way that we are as a culture and families that are integrated and it’s weird that it’s this one person that’s hurting within this healthy culture or the healthy family and so I guess I’m curious about how or where else that healing can come from and that regulation can come from when we’re not in a completely healthy system.”

(Jim again) Friends, groups, 5Rhythms for example and many other people places or environments. Anywhere where there’s a healthy, fairly regulated nervous system hanging out, that’s where you wanna be. With the right boundaries. So again, I’m gonna keep repeating about the attunement because if you all come out here thinking “oh like I gotta find some really good relationships and this and that” and I start seeking it, if you’re not listening to where your boundary is in that moment, you might just walk right over it and get it activated and then reinforce that old unhealthy patterns of stress response-fight, flight and freeze. One of the things a lot of the time and then inundated when maybe a parent lost their temper. So you’ve got this mixed thing going on that in the abandonment there’s like this huge longing for contact and connection as you grow up. But because we actually associate that when I get close to somebody I actually get hurt, we back off and all of the sudden I’m sabotaging this nice friendship or this nice new relationship because I’m running away or acting out and what that nervous system is really confused about is bouncing back and forth trying to be safe, trying to get their needs met and then “oh my god I’m terrified, I’m bouncing back and forth.” So finding those healthy relationships in whatever way and for some of us it just may be “I’m gonna go out and hug a tree today or play with the cat or the dog”. Yes Cedar?

(Cedar) “well, when you talked about when we go to that hypo-arousal, withdrawn and the way we become, very unresponsive, I think that’s a huge point and that’s a huge question “how do we deal with that” because I know, both from being in it and from seeing other people in it but your frozen and it’s so hard to reach out. You know that you need contact but it’s almost impossible to reach out and on the other end, which is huge, it’s scary for people to be in that state and people want to avoid it, I want to avoid it! But even though I’ve been there so often it’s like how do we do that how do we encourage that huge divide and just get there?”

(Jim) So I’m gonna go back to that word attunement, you really have to track where the other person is at, where you’re at, what you’re capable of doing, if it’s maybe getting a group of people

*Cedar interrupts*

(Jim) are you okay to do a little exercise with me or no? It’s okay no too, it’s a good chance to practice boundaries.

“Sure, I’m going to stay here”

Okay. So I’m going to come over there. And so, you’re doing this right? And so they want but they are also doing this. So would you mind just putting the hands out again? So here’s the clear boundary right? So I’m not gonna try and get in and around and sneak in and trick Cedar and cajole her and whatever, maybe I’m just gonna hang out here and if eye contact is too much and I’m tracking her and she’s stiffening up or even more than I might just turn here. Or I might just see if well I know Cedar by the way and I’m thinking she’ll be okay with me putting my hand on her knee, right? Oh okay so maybe not so maybe I just do this and maybe just make contact with her with her foot and I hang out there.

(Man) “This is what you do when you come upon somebody who’s struggled and you’re trying to help them?”

(Jim) Yeah when you’re trying to help them and I let go of my agenda which is “I have to save you and I have to stop you from killing yourself. I’m just going to be with you while you’re with it but just know you’re not alone and that’s the biggest thing that you can give somebody.

(Woman) “But you physically touch them?”

(Jim) Maybe, maybe, I would check it out. I’d say “Cedar would you mind if I out my hand on your knee?”

(Same woman) “And some people would not be comfortable with that.”

(Jim) No, so I would just hang out here. I’d say “Cedar would it be okay if I just hummed?” *hmm mmm hmm mmm* just very gentle, offering, inviting, but not pushing, and if she’s still tensing, still tightening up, then I move my chair a little bit.

(same woman) “… They don’t touch; they just reach out like that…”

(Cedar) “So we need workshops so you can offer workshops so we can all practice doing this kind of thing, that’d be great.”

(Jim) So yeah, that’s a great question, so part of it is ‘let go of your agenda’ that you actually have to ‘do something’ that you have to ‘fix it’ it’s not your job to fix. Whatever that this person has brought to them has been many years in the making. You’re not gonna fix it in that moment. If it is ‘fixable’ it’s gonna be slow, attuned, titrated with authenticity from a regulated nervous system. If I’m not regulated and I’m full of anxiety, I’m not even gonna know why you’re trying to fake it, I’m just gonna call someone else who’s got the juice and the resourcing and the presence and the groundedness.

(Cedar) and that’s ok?

(Jim) TOTALLY. That’s the best thing you can do, it’s just dealing with reality because the worst they can do is get someone else. Yes!?

(Rachelle) “Because you’re talking a little bit about touch, I’m just a little interested, if you could say a little bit more about that. Like for myself, after the event (friend’s completion of suicide), I found myself just like my body sort of vibrating at a certain frequency and for me that was not comfortable. And to have people touch me or just put their arms around me was hugely pacifying and helpful and I was okay to ask for it and it was offered freely and    “

(Jim) oh so you asked for it Rachelle?

(Rachelle) I could ask for it and I was open to receiving it and I was just wondering, if I hadn’t had the ability to ask for it, I don’t think people would’ve noticed but, I guess I’m just wanting to hear more about it and I know it was a particular person and when you went to touch her she could back away. I’m just really wanting to hear more about really how important the touch is.”

(Jim) Well, the touch is, as most people here will understand, is it doesn’t have to be the vibrations of whatever, call it my skin, I project outwards. I can touch you in different ways without having the physical contact, so to speak. So the touching is important and that’s the contacting, but again, I have to find out what are they open to. I remember, once again when I was working on the west coast, and I went into the high school and one of the youth workers said “I’d like you to meet this young girl, she wants to see a counsellor”. So I waited in the office they had for me and I mean I was sitting down and she came in, she was maybe 14-15, she came in, she looked at me, she walked out. I took it personally for a second but later I talked to a youth worker and she said “well she’s just really uncomfortable around men.” I’m a man. She got too activated. So she cannot actually do the work with me, no matter what I’m bringing to the table. So really paying attention to ‘what is the person wanting to receive’. And if they’re telling you “just stay away” I mean you can still keep making these gentle offerings or invitations but maybe sometimes the best thing you can do is leave them alone for a while and trust in something bigger. Or maybe suggest someone else go out and make some contact or… Yeah?”

(Woman) “Ok. Depression and anxiety. My son-in-law has schizophrenia so I just assume he’s depressed and he looks depressed. He says “no, no I’m not depressed!” But he’s anxious. So what’s the difference between anxiety and depression and how do I recognize it and or fear? Between fear, anxiety, depression.”

(Jim) okay so anxiety is nervous system/sympathetic nervous system hyper-arousal. So energy is getting activated, we’re coming alive, we’re getting ready to fight, to run away, or with this energy we’re actually going to paralyze ourselves. So there’s a lot of energy moving through the system. Okay and the resultant feelings are usually; fear, worry, terror. So, the monkey-mind for those of us who it’s just like “tick tick tick “ it just goes on and on worrying about things, telling you doomsday stories of what’s going to happen tomorrow and it never stops. I mean, that’s a cognitive reflection of anxiety. There’s a contraction in the body, there’s a tensing in the energy running through that.

 (Jim) Yeah, but the feeling will be, you’re gonna have fear, you’re gonna have some terror; you’re going to have worry. That’s anxiety. Anxiety is about fear. There’s a perceived threat. So you’re being activated to actually deal with it; whether it’s in the future, real, imagined or in the moment. Depression is; the energy’s going down. So that’s the dorsal-vagal part of the nervous system. So depressive energy is like something that’s going into the floor, it’s going into your guts, there’s that sinking feeling, there’s the dread, the body and the posture they want to move downwards because the energy is not running up. Everything is kind of like collecting from the extremities and into the core; the organs are shutting down, the blood is collecting close to the core of the body. And we’re gonna feel sad and we’re gonna feel shame, and we’re gonna feel guilt and we’re gonna feel regret and all of these sort of depressive, emotional states. Yeah?

(Woman) “So what I’ve been hearing is that in both states, there’s this sense that something’s wrong, but there’s like a very different response to it then when you’re a hyper state, uhm, the response is something far like I’m going to run away from it or I’m going to hide. And, in the other state, there’s still some sense of something’s wrong cuz it’s the dread, there’s the heaviness but there’s a “giving up”, there’s a foreclosure there’s fighting, flighting or freezing it isn’t going to do, well it’s like, it’s like there’s no hope for those who are going to help, so you just..?”

(Jim) Yeah, you give up and  wait it out, I mean that’s the hibernation, right, there’s no food available, I’m just gonna shut down until spring comes, if it ever comes. I’m gonna survive.

(Same woman) So one of the things I was noticing, when you sat with Cedar, but something else that has been through the theme and you know I’m just thinking about some questions that people have had about well “what do you do?” uhm is there some way that we can reach out to other people? And so this attunement, because it’s felt, it’s not something that you can put a finger on exactly. There’s a lot of different ways to attune to people like; just sitting, or sometimes touch. One of the things I noticed too was when you were talking about the somatic experience of these various states and can that sometimes be helpful when you’re, uhm, attuning to someone or reaching out to someone to just invite them to notice the sensation in their bodies..?

(Jim) The safe answer is no. Because a lot of people have left their bodies a long time ago, for the most part, and the reason they left their bodies is because it’s not safe. So when I do work with people, even if I’m doing somatic work, I wait till I get the ‘go-ahead’ that it’s okay for them to be in their body and so I’m tracking that. So usually the safe place to go, to start, is in images. So if we look at how the nervous system works, and it does work in sequence, so the first thing is that very basic, sensate experience right, vibrations, tingling, pulsing, whatever you wanna name it, the felt movements within our bodies however subtle or however profound. And then from that place, that connects directly to the emotional realm. So we can start naming; “well when I feel that tightness in my chest and that little fluttering of the vibrations, well, I’m scared.” Then usually that’ll bring up an image, so it sort of lights up in that sequence. So depending on how people are languaging (wording?) things, I can sort of know where they’re at and where it’s accessible. So I may do a gentle probe, like I’ll try and resource people first to be in their bodies, but if I just see there’s a lot of resistance or a lot of confusion, I’ll let it go and I’ll start working in the imaginal world with them, or I’ll do movements, I mean that’s the biggest piece of the movement work I do, is for folks who can’t really touch the subtle things, I’ll get them to do larger movements and they’ll go “Oh I just feel the sweat coming down my face”. And that’s what we needed to do for them to get some sense of “Oh, this is what my body is like, it’s wet right now and it’s hot” that’s about as much as I can do. And for those of you, you might think “Well yeah, I’ve left my body too at different times and I don’t want there to be some discomfort around that.” Again, that’s a survival skill, these dissociative states, we all do it, all of us, the healthy part of us, it’s a natural survival skill to protect our psyche from experiencing things that we actually don’t want to experience or that aren’t healthy for us. Where it becomes really problematic is if we use that as our main sort of coping skill, where we stay in that dissociative state for an extremely long period of time and it takes a long time to get back out. That’s where it’ll usually cause us a lot of problems in all the other realms of our lives. So we don’t wanna give that up, I mean that’s a really hardwired skill, but for people who have been inundated with their nervous systems through either; emotional abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse or other incidents of trauma, those sorts of things, the smartest thing is to leave your body. But if we didn’t have a healing or reparative process to gradually bring us back and discharge the traumatic energy and titrate it in a paced way, we’re not going to be able to have that buoyancy and resiliency to come back into the optimal zone of nervous system arousal. It’s stuck, it jams us up. Or if we get a little bit of juice running through our system, then that traumatic energy is just like a big can of gasoline *phwoo!* and then we go up. So again, that’s why we have to be really careful about what we invite people to do and again, I’ll probably say it another ten times tonight, it’s so important, this goes to the basic relational patterns of human beings is: needs fulfillment in an attuned way that regulates our ability. Good question though, thank you.

(Man) “I was just wondering about, so you were talking about images being a safer place to start there? That seems like a whole other realm to me so what kind of images would you invite in?

(Jim) Well they may bring it up on their own because that’s the only way they can talk about something. So when we’re working say for example with trauma, when we get to the image piece, like say we have been able to go into the body and then tie it into the emotional states and then spontaneously they say “oh I just had this image of whatever” now we actually have a representation of the trauma that has come up in the consciousness, it’s getting more and more clear. So the images might be like our dreams, a little bit sort of abstract or mythological, or it might be very clear. And so when we can move it all the way from right side of the brain, which is the somatics to the emotions to the imaginal and then move it over laterally to the left hemisphere of the brain into the rational thinking “monkey-mind”, the logical processing, and then start making sense and meaning out of it then we’ve completed the whole cycle or sequencing of doing trauma work; completing the Gestalt.

So if we can get it from the energetic place and then talk about it in a more abstract sense and touch all of those pieces, the integrative experience of that traumatic event has actually been processed and discharged. Ok, does that make sense? Kind of? Right, and so images, if I wanted to use images I would just ask them to talk about ok whatever they came to talk about, we can start just talking about it in terms of pictures and explore that. And then after a while, once maybe rapport has been built and we’re doing some co-regulation and I’ve resourced them enough, I’m gonna say “so as you’re talking about that big pink cloud, what do you notice in your body?” it’s like “Oh, I just sort of feel all light and fluffy and this and that.” and I’ll get them to hang out there for a while. So whatever energy that wants to move through the nervous system, can actually move. We want to keep things flowing as opposed to bottled up and then they explode or just ‘stuck and sunk’. Stuck and sunk is hypo-arousal, bottled up, ready to go is hyper-arousal. Yeah?

(Woman) “Have you worked with very many people that are into the hypo-arousal but on a symptomatic level not a cognitive or mental state level?”

(Jim) Yes, yes. So when you’re talking with these people that you’re talking about, their energy, their muscle tone, they’re just generally sort of collapsed, sort of depressed. But they’ll be trying to figure things out in their head, in their left brain. And so for those folks it’s very challenging sometimes to get them into an embodied place that has some vitality. And what that can be informative of is that well that’s been a survival skill or coping skill that that person has used to deal with probably some crazy-making throughout their life, is to try to figure it out intellectually.

(Same woman) “I guess what I’m saying that they are not depressed, that they’re not into the negative cycle, mental cycle and that they’re not out of their body either and it’s just the kind of hypo collapse.

(Jim) No I haven’t seen it disconnect like that, it’s usually been pretty consistent in my experience because all those things are connected. And if they are, or have been doing that, I’d be curious as to if maybe they’re trying to put on a front or put on a face or façade. I mean, I don’t know but, I’ve never seen that. They usually correspond all together; the physiology, the emotional realm and then the cognitions as well to the beliefs of thinking. Yes?

(Man) “Just talking about discharging the energy or whatever that was that it was comfortable to balance, I mean how do you, what is the action or process?”

(Jim) well, when we… I want to preface that by saying that before we do any sort of trauma work with people, we resource them first. Because if they’re not resourced, they’re not going to be able to actually go through those places of discomfort without maybe being activated to those extremes. So I might spend a lot of time just getting people to slowly get in their body, get grounded, focusing on their breath and having relaxation and the felt sensation of confidence. I might invite them to remember times where they really felt and embodied that in their lives and then the nervous system will light up that way. That’s the nice thing about the nervous system, it doesn’t know the difference between real or imagined; whether it happened yesterday or ten years ago. Once we bring that into our memory, the physiology changes. So spend some time resourcing somebody there and then we might go over very slowly, and very gently, to the edge of an incident or a memory or something that’s even happening right now; that they were frustrated or they felt worried or anxious that morning or they had an argument with their spouse and then we’ll just start talking about that. Because even if something happened however many years ago, it is being worked out today. So we can access traumas from decades ago when maybe we don’t even have explicit memory, just by the felt sense and how it’s actually playing out in your relationships today.

So that’s the beauty of this type of work, you don’t have to have explicit memory around it. So when we go in there gently, after from a place of resource, I might say “Oo yeah, when I remember waking up and my partner and I started arguing and even now I notice my chest is getting a little tight and I’m getting a little dizzy” I’ll say “good, so let’s just hang out there for a little bit. Let’s just notice the dizziness, let’s just notice the tightening in the chest.” And I’ll be tracking them. I’ll be tracking to see like: are they leaving the room (dissociating) or are they still mostly present, just having a little bit of discomfort, which is fine, get them to focus on the sensations as opposed to the story. That’s the other thing about the somatic work, we focus on sensations, and I mean most sensations are sort of neutral. They don’t have a lot of judgements or value implied upon them. But if when my chest gets tight and I feel scared when I’m having an argument with my partner, it means I’m gonna end up homeless and alone and no one’s ever going to love me again. I mean, that’s going to bring up some terror. But if we just stick with the tightening of the chest and the slightly rapid breathing and hang out there a little bit more and then invite them to back into that little place of resource where maybe they’re working their breath a little bit, maybe they’re grounding their feet, maybe they’re moving their body a little bit and in relationship with me, I’m making sure that we’re connected because that’s where the real co-regulation and healing happens, not by yourself in relationship with the other person. I’m holding some of that for them. And so they might discharge a bit, just that tightening of the chest or there might be a little flinch in the shoulder or that’s a bit of discharging and that’s lots. And you go back to the place of resource in their body and hang out there for a lot longer. We reinforce that, then we might go back again to that place of discomfort and we might do that several times. And it’s in the oscillation of going to the edges, not the core of the wound but the edges, that’s where transformation occurs. That’s where trauma gets processed or relational wounds or whatever it is that we’re talking about. Does that answer your question? Thanks. Judy?

(Judy) “When you were talking about attunement and when you were just talking about making that connection is almost more like entrainment where you’re connecting up with the other nervous system and that you’re influencing their nervous system … (…) so it’s more entraining. So the attunement leads to entraining?

(Jim) So what we know about the foundation of the human nervous system is that when needs are being met and there’s attunement, it regulates. So that’s the therapeutic relationship. For me to actually just attune and meet their needs which is; they want some contact, they want somebody to track them, they want someone to be able to let go of my agenda, unless there’s a really extreme risk for doing harm, then I will do an intervention but, otherwise..

(Judy) “So you have a big trust in their self-regulatory capacity?”

(Jim) Totally. My job is to be regulated when I show up to be with people; that’s my number one priority. And the second part is, if I do that, it’s easier to do number two which is just be with you. Then there’s some techniques and some exercises that we can do to help facilitate and process things, but it really is those two core pieces again and again. Glen?

(Glen) “So I guess this is a really good way for people just to be in connection with other people to realize that there are all these issues that are credibly there to some degree, maybe not in a large way, but it kind of fledges out or gives dimension to every relation or every little contact we have with other people. And to really recognize that there is this happening and that we can be good with somebody else, we can help somebody else just in a regular, every day, kind of way, and need help as well. And I think probably the part about being helped is for us to actually notice when we are getting our needs met. And I think maybe just to actually notice that our needs are getting met, also kind of goes into the cycle or breaks the cycle of the internal hypnosis of thinking that our needs are not getting met. Because they’ve been so practiced for that many years. So when we are going from (meeting to meeting?) we can go “oh yeah, actually yeah that felt good. I really felt like that person was listening to me.”

(Jim) So yeah, as he’s saying, that deep self-awareness and even self-attunement, the felt sense of what’s going on for you will be very informative as opposed to maybe some stories you’ve been repeating for a long time which may limit you from having a new or novel experience. So you can imagine that if you start actually giving to yourselves and allowing yourselves this relational medicine to come in small titrated doses and you actually start to feel better and then your thinking changes and et cetera, et cetera and this thing starts to cascade in an upward spiral. The beautiful thing is that you’re going to be less inclined to go back to that other place, because you’re going to know it by the felt sense of it which is much more profound and deep than a belief or a story or some rules that I have. Those are all mental constructs right? Sometimes it’s even noise, sometimes it’s even not helpful how our thoughts guide us, unless they are informed from deeper within. So for me that’s the beauty of tapping into that deeper awareness, is: once you clear out all that other stuff that got layered on top of it, now that can take some time and some dedication in the practice of clearing out, this will not let you down, that deeply felt, intuitive sense of what you want and what you need. But you need to have the experience of it, to change the thoughts, because if you have a belief that is so internalized that you are not deserving of human good or love or that you are not worthy of it, and this happened before you even had explicit memory and then you started to develop explicit memories, this felt sense if going to shape all your memories. So if you have this locked in belief that you’re not deserving or worthy, you’re going to block it out, there’s going to be people banging on the door trying to love you in, you’re just not going to let it in until you have the felt sense of it. Right, our nervous systems are all little addicts inside, so when we start feeling pleasure, we want more. So when we allow ourselves those new felt sense experiences, that’s the way to sort of cycle upwards. Yes?

(Woman) “I’m curious in that, most of us have stories to do with our traumas, and you work with people’s resistance and in the places that they were traumatized… (…) resilient super factor. How do you work with that?”

(Jim) How do I work with that? On the edges of it. I mean if someone is saying (trails off) for me resistance is a boundary

(Same woman) “No, I mean where the person resisted the trauma that was happening as a resiliency that they have within themselves that they can tap back into, instead of tapping back into the story of what happened, taping back into the pieces in that story where they resisted being; killed, being whatever.”

(Jim) so again, we wanna work from the resources first, and that’s what she’s talking about right? Find the place of resource and then start making larger and larger concentric circles around that place as you start to support somebody. Right, so in a relational trauma, in a critical incident trauma, in a very violent trauma, there’s always some part of us that resisted. There was always some… because I mean otherwise we wouldn’t have survived. And if that resistance, if all you could do was dissociate, to spare your psyche, that’s noteworthy and that needs to be acknowledged and reinforced because under those circumstances, that was the best that person could do with what they had at that time. And you know that’s not spinning it, it’s not putting rose-coloured glasses on it, that is God’s honest truth. For other people who may have been able to run away or been able to at least fight back a little bit, they have the embodiment of actually doing something. So there’s a resource there that you can tap into.

(Woman) “… are things that are more like that, that you can tap into… more subtle? Like, I dunno, stealing from your mother who beats you or you know someway where you’re… and then helping them see that that’s not actually a bad thing, it’s a strength…”

(Jim) So yeah, that’s a lot of what narrative therapy does, it’s re-storying things that maybe you would have some guilt or some shame about. So hypo-arousal is really connected to shame. If you wanna know what is really the fuel of someone’s depression, its shame. Grief passes. We do get into depressive episodes with grief, but what keeps us sunk in a place of hypo-arousal is shame. So very careful too that when we’re doing some work or we’re working with people that we don’t want to inadvertently pop that one up really big because, guess what, that is the most uncomfortable emotional experience for human beings to actually have in front of their face and witness in front of other people and if that goes up really fast they’re just gonna go down really, really fast as well, and they’re gonna be even more protected and guarded after that. So, that’s another thing to be tracking, is that, when people start to feel shameful about whether they emoted in a session or whether they admitted to something that they did or whatever else to really ground that experience, to really normalize it, to re-story it as a resource of what they had to do, to do some appropriate self-disclosure, like “yeah I remember this time when I did that and I felt like woah that was really shameful for me.” To normalize that. So thank you. So we’re at 8:30, I’m wondering if folks need a little bit of a bathroom break, open up maybe some windows and get some air in here and maybe we’ll have another 20 minutes of questions and discussion after that? And maybe for those of you who have other things to do, you wanna make a graceful exit, that would be a good time to do that as well. So maybe at 20 to, maybe 5 or 6 minutes, we’ll get back together and clear out some space.

*noise, compliments for Jim*

(Jim) Okay come back to your seats folks please. Okay! We have a question! Yes Rachelle?

(Rachelle) “From what I’ve read, and what I’ve experienced with people, apparently depression can visit more than once in a person’s lifetime. And it appears that each time it visits them, every subsequent visit is a darker one for many. And I have heard too that the earlier a person has depression the more…”

(Jim) That can be true, but it is not necessarily so. So some things that I do know are that if we experience trauma, whether it be relational or critical incident when we were young and it wasn’t processed, we will be more susceptible to trauma or traumatic events and being sort of ‘stuck’ in that later on in life. So if depression is sometimes a trauma response then that would be true, what you just said. For some people, some of the time. We are more susceptible but that doesn’t mean it’s fixed in stone or that it’s guaranteed. As I said at the beginning of the presentation tonight “we ultimately are states of mind in any moment.” And there’s some flexibility, there’s some plasticity. I can’t go from here, to all the way over there *snap* in an instant, I mean that’s not the way it works unless I already have some sort of hardwiring in, that will allow me to get there, that’s been laid down earlier in my life. So if I actually wanted to bring up new states of mind in consciousness and affects and emotions when in thinking about that, have been really foreign to me, it’s going to take some time and practice as any new skill would.

 Those neuro-pathways have to form, those little cells have to have those little ‘hit and misses’ after a time and then they’re gonna do it more and more consistently and then they’re gonna be more regular and then it’s gonna form what they call a little ‘myelin sheath’ over the connections. It’s just a fatty substance and it acts like a conductor, like electrical tape over wires. The transduction will actually happen quicker and more regularly, but that takes time. And not just time, it also takes practice. So like any new skill, right? You wanna learn to play the piano, you wanna learn Kung Fu, and you wanna whatever, you can watch all the videos and read all the books you want but you actually have to do the engagement and that will build the neuro-pathways. So with enough healthy relating or treatment or support or whatever else, it will then become more habitual, more healthy pathology, then just the fleeting state of mind we experience every once in a while. So that’s why the way out or through these sorts of states is with a focus and commitment to your relationship to self. Number one, yeah?

(Man) “So far as medical help for anxiety and depression, we have pharmaceuticals which sometimes have more side effects and are worse than them, then we have cognitive-behavioral therapy, and we have a placebo that sometimes works I’m told, and I got a book by Doctor David Burns, Feeling Good, and what are the chances of that working for a person on a self-help level as opposed to working one-on-one with a counsellor like yourself and secondly is it hereditary, is anxiety and depression generally hereditary?”

(Jim) So your first question: self-help books, exercises, those sorts of things, yes, can be helpful. They can support the process. You will not do it alone, sustainably, for someone who has a significant issue with anxiety or depression. Again, the way that that gets transformed is in relationship. So if you did that book with somebody and you’re sharing and experiencing, that would have an even better effect. So books like the feeling good book that you’re talking about or there’s a lot of self-help books that are focused on the cognitive aspect for example Byron Katie, books like “Loving What Is”, basically questioning your thinking patterns; well remember those thinking patterns are a reflection of your nervous system activation. So that’s one way to deal with them, and you can challenge your thinking and say “oh well jeez I’m not very good at this, and if I try that I’m gonna fail” and we can say “oops wait a minute, I’m in that negative thinking again. Okay what does the book say? Is this really true, what I just said? Well it seems to be, it’s happened all the time. Well has it actually happened all the time? Well no, not really ALLL the time, but it seems like it’s happened all the time” and you can go on and on like you’re basically a lawyer cross-examining yourself. In some ways I really do believe that can be helpful for folks, to just change your languaging that you have with yourself, but I ALSO think it’s very labor intensive, and I don’t think it gets to the core. Because that cognitive processing alone, is not going to change the deep pathology of nervous system hypo/hyper-arousal. It might help you deal with an activation in the moment to try and stabilize by getting control of your thoughts, not letting them race or it can bring things down, or it can be your remedy, but it’s not going to stop it from continuing to activate if we still put ourselves in unhealthy relationships and unhealthy environments or don’t take care of ourselves relationally.

And your second question was “is it hereditary?” and what I was saying before we do have… I mean well what is hereditary? So we do have genes that come from both parents. That sets a bit of a physiological baseline, but at the same time, I mean, well how do those genes get formed? I mean, generational trauma or relational patterns, I mean for anyone who’s explored their family of origin I mean you’re not gonna find that you’re the only one like this doing this. You got an uncle or a great-grandfather or someone like that that, either through trauma through wars or whatever else, even just immigrating to another country, a big change, a big trauma where we go into survival mode. So we carry these things through the generations from our elders and what we can do, maybe, is not pass on as much. Either genetically or through our own behavior by what we do in this lifetime. Yeah, Dylan?

(Dylan) “So are you saying that experiences can change us genetically?”

(Jim) Yep.

(Dylan) “Okay.”

(Jim) That’s what Bruce Lipton says anyways. Yeah?

(Woman) “How much does post-traumatic stress syndrome play a role in all this?”

(Jim) Oh okay so post dramatic stress is classified as an anxiety disorder, so it is hyper arousal, but usually at a very extreme level. Yeah?

 (Different woman) “What sort of things can you do to make yourself more able to get attuned? I tend to be in the hyper state all the time… I’m never relaxed enough, so like, what do you do?”

(Jim) So when energy’s going up and it goes past that level, we want to bring it down. So that’s sort of the simple framework, so well, how do we bring it down? What calms us? What soothes us? What kind of allows us to sort of come back into our feet instead of still floating a little bit above the scalp? So for me it’s breathing, for me it’s movement, for me it’s certain people, for me it’s nature, for me it’s getting away from busyness and stimulation, for me, sometimes, it’s a cup of tea. And then when I can get into that place, to try and maintain it. What’s that? Oh, yes! Pet the dog! Great, pet the dog! Another nervous system to help co-regulate, easiest medicine. Someone else over here? No?

(Woman with accent) “… Pet the dog, pet the dog…”


(Woman) “When you were talking before about moving people from… (…) one cognitive place, but you’re also talking about discharging and trauma as struck energy, and I’m wondering, that discharging, does it have to have a cognitive component or can you let go of that energy without knowing what’s happening, can it do it’s full circle thing or is the cognition an important part of letting it go.?”

(Jim) I think it’s important because what that then does it is moves it into the meaning-making realm. And so if I maybe just go into some trance states and I’m maybe being help by a community or somewhere else and I can maybe discharge some stuff, but I don’t bring it over into the level of awareness that “gee, I gotta stop getting myself into these relationships” or “gee, maybe I shouldn’t be in this job” or if I don’t get the actual messages to put into my cognitive mind then guide my behavior from that felt sense, then I’m likely to maybe continue to re-activate myself. So it’s sort of like: if we have the traumatic energy that’s there, blocked, and then we empty it out, but I haven’t actually learnt how to stop activating or filling it up. Does that make sense? Yeah? Yes?!

(Man) “My challenge has been more dealing with the hyper-arousal/high-arousal, states I get confronted with both in and out of relationships, people that are clients who aren’t looking for help, but they’re expressing, to me, their unhappiness either directed at me and my behavior or at other things. So my challenge it’s “how do I intervene and shift that energy?” (or “how do I intervene and NOT shirt that energy?)”

(Jim) So it sounds like maybe boundaries might be one of the first places you want to explore. And in this environment you’re in, do you actually have control over your personal space or are you basically getting paid to have people come right up here and lay it on you?”

(Same man) “I have control.”

(Jim) Okay, so I would play with that. It’s easier for me to listen to you ranting at me when I’m over here. Or even if I sort of just turn off a little bit here and maybe put my arm up a little bit. I can still sorta be with you and if you really start going off I can just come on over here a little bit. And what I’m doing is: I’m checking in here right? Like “okay, how can I stay like feet on the ground and be present and hang out to try and see if there’s any way we can relate. I’ll give you a little bit of time to see if you will calm down but, ultimately, if you keep going off, I’m outta here. So this is that act of self-love. It’s to not expose yourself needlessly to hurtful energy, hurtful behavior, hurtful relating. Because we know that this dys-regulates me. So why would I do that to myself?

(Same man) “If that person is expressing a need that you can seek through though, that you can see beyond their plaque and see something underneath it that relates to me..?”

(Jim) Well, you can hold space for it, you can understand the cognitive I mean you can say “Oh yeah this person is probably this, this and this.” I mean, as a counsellor, I can create all kinds of stories about people, where they might be in hyper-arousal, hypo-arousal. But at the same time, I’m also a human being and I need to take care of myself. So where’s the attunement there, how much can I actually hang out here and, again, when we play the edges, that’s where we have the growth, the healing or the expansion. If I just avoid and fight, flight or freeze I might get myself out of danger but I’m not actually going to grow or expand. But I can hang out right on the edge like “where exactly is that boundary where it’s like a little activating but I’m ok.” And I’m gonna still be in relationship with you for a time anyways. This is where I can actually stretch and expand; build my threshold for stressing the environment without losing myself in the process. And the other thing too is, I mean, I have some influence depending on how close I get. Am I going to soothe him or am I going to actually throw a can of gasoline on him (metaphorically) if he starts going off here and I’m coming up here, I mean, I don’t know what I’m going to get! It’s going to be one of three things(fight, flight or freeze), I know that. But I can’t predict what it’s going to be. So do you ever notice, whether in your own experience or witnessing people, that the disruption of a primary relationship will provoke some behaviors in people that you never thought you would have seen from them?

(Numerous people) “Can you say that again?”


(Jim) Touch a little nerve on that one eh? Yes, absolutely, so, have you noticed that, whether in your own life or with people around you, that when there has been a significant breech or disruption in a primary significant relationship, that that provokes behaviors that you never would have expected to see from that person? Someone who’s usually calm and relaxed and logical is all of the sudden raving mad. Quote-un-quote, that’s a technical term (humour). And we see these horrific experiences in the media right; the end of a relationship, someone kills their spouse, someone dies, they go into a deep, deep pit of despair whereas before they were very positive, very joyful or whatever. Or someone just becomes so anxiety laden that they become like clingy and, I mean, I think I can kind of change the details a little bit but to give an example, so there’s this one couple I’m working with and they’ve been married for about 30 years and they would both admit that they sort of let things go to sleep and in that going to sleep, the husband decided that he wanted to experience and experiment in these sort of sexual, edgy places and he invited her to be with him. But she was, in her own admission, so asleep that she didn’t think it was going to be possible. She just kept saying “no.” And so he said “well I’m going to find somebody else.” And she said “it’s not gonna happen, who would want you?” and she was just not really wanting to engage with what was going on, and then he finally did and boy did she wake up; she became a tiger. She’s like checking his emails, she’s having sex with him multiple times a day to keep him close, she’s like “I don’t know who I am!” and it’s like; you are in so hyper-aroused state. And as I’ve been working with them for a few weeks, that’s not sustainable, she’s gonna have a crash if we can’t bring her down to that regulated state. But she’s never acted like this before. Never. So those primary relationship breeches, or traumas, will really shoot us up or shoot us down, that’s how big relationship is for us. Yeah?

(Man) “So what I’m hearing tonight is that if you’re in a relationship that causes anxiety and you try to work it out and couple with it, or is it sort of better to feel it then walk away from it?”

(Jim) Well number one is attunement so I need to know “is that anxiety, is it something that that individual has been dealing with and that comes up for them in any relationship they get into because their relationships have just been so traumatic and so provoking that their anxiety is actually what’s actually sabotaging it? Or is it a dance that the two are doing OR is that person so attracted to the really needy people to want to fix them and save them, that they put themselves at harm. So again, we really have to explore what’s going on and have the attuned intervention. So maybe one more question? Yes?

(Woman) “Have you worked with people who are very suicidal?”

(Jim) Ooo well it depends on the context. If I’m working for an organization where they specific mandates, I will have to include those, and then do what I would want to do. So that is you know assessing for risk, having a safety plan, contacting other people if I’m legally required to. I would do most of that if I was working in private practice but I’d do a lot of other things and I’d put a lot of those other things, in terms of priority, of just being with the person. Being with them in relationship as they are sitting with their suffering with their whatever else. I would be trying to gently invite vitality into their nervous system in little titrated doses, without being invasive or pushy or having my agenda or timelines imposed upon them. I would see if there is anything, anything that sparks up just a little bit. Any light in the eyes, any little “oh!” a memory of something that is actually really important. And I would just find where the openings are and I would just try, like a little fire in a rainstorm, to keep throwing a little stick on and build it up to that place where it might be sustainable on their own. I hope those metaphors help in terms of practical things you could do.

(Same woman) “Yeah, thank you.”

(Jim) Yeah, thank you, thank you.

(Rachelle) “How many of you have experienced some kind of infusion of vitality you’re your nervous systems as a result of a this evening with Jim . . . has a real sense of hope, of possibility..?

*Lots of yeses*

(Rachelle) “Because that is what I have experienced sitting with Jim for a couple of hours and I just find that such an enormous gift and you know this piece around “being on the edge”, that that’s where the learning happens, so I just really admire Jim’s ability to speak a language that at least I can understand because it’s so ‘body-based’, it’s a real thing, I like things that I can touch, that I can feel and see and then it really makes sense to me. So I just really want to thank you Jim for offering your wisdom and being able to articulate it so clearly, it’s really a tremendous gift.

(Jim) Thank you, thank you very much.

(Rachelle) And I also want to tell you something. I studied with Jim for nine months and you noticed that I talked about the Kung Fu right? This guy is center line. And I learnt a lot from that and I realized, as I was listening to you tonight, how much I had learnt from you in that, you know, so there’s a lot of things that happen with the body and you know I just find it very, very useful and I know there are some Kung Fu students in the class. And something just about finding your center line, if that’s the only thing you took away I think that’s really an admirable thing.  So anyway, thank you to everybody for coming out, I know it’s a lot on a dark evening but hopefully you’ve gotten some useful information.”

(Jim) Oh oh oh oh I have one more comment!

(Rachelle) And we have to give him a nice round of applause!

*clapping, lots of clapping*

(Jim) thank you, thank you very much. So, just as I do in my Kung Fu teachings, I honor my lineage. And so, a lot of the information tonight is not mine. It has been passed on to me, so I want acknowledge Dr. Sharon Stanley who teaches a two-year Somatic-Transformation program, mostly for therapists but she does allow other health-care practitioners and wellness practitioners to do her training. And she’s actually starting a training this month at Sleeping Dog Farm, there is a yellow sheet on the training out on the purple board if that intrusts you. If you want to learn more about what I talked about, she has a two-year program, she’s amazing! And the information that she pulls together is a synthesis of traditional ways that humans used to be, in conjunction with modern neuro-science research, in addition to attachment theory, she weaves them together beautifully. So I just want to acknowledge her, because a lot of what I’m saying tonight comes from her, comes from a lot of other people; John Bowlby, Mary Ainsworth on attachment theory, Allan Shore, Steven Porges, Daniel Segal on neuro-science, and all the traditional wisdoms that are out there that we all intuitively know and carry in our genes. We just gotta find the right relationships and the right environment to let them come up. So thank you very much.

Category : Counselling &Relationships

COURTING THE BELOVED – An article on love and relationships.

COURTING THE BELOVED – An article on Love and Relationships

HUMANS – we are mammals and as social animals we are hardwired for relationships and love.  Attuned caring, love, touch, nurturing and needing to belong are our birthright – not luxuries.  If we are significantly denied these human needs as babies we will die or fail to thrive. If we do survive, we will have significant and  often debilitating physical, social, emotional, behavioral and/or psychological issues throughout our lives. Love is as necessary as food, safety and warmth for a thriving human nervous system.

In the womb, as our nervous system develops, we are being formed and prepared for what awaits us outside.  Our mother’s nervous system communicates chemically to the developing nervous system what to expect.  Will the environment into which we will be born be safe, stressful, scarce in resources, gentle, harsh, caring, threatening, abundant, inconsistent etc.?  Not only does it communicate what the external environment will be like but it also communicates what the emotional and relational environment is like within the likely primary caregiver – the mother.  If mothers are stressed, depressed, anxious, dealing with trauma or other volatile and pathologized mood issues (nervous system hyper or hypo-arousal), the developing nervous system of the fetus is being prepared and shaped in that fashion as well.  The internal and external landscapes equally affect the fetus as it prepares to enter the world.

So when we are born we have a certain predisposition of how to perceive and feel our sense of what is within and without of ourselves.  We get some of that from the genetic inheritance of our biological parents. That is further shaped by our time in the womb and then we are launched into the big world hopefully prepared for what awaits us.  By prepared, I mean prepared to survive.  Even then we are wholly dependent on others for several years to survive and our further growth and development is shaped by the caring we get from our primary caregivers, most significantly that is usually the mother in our culture of the compartmentalized nuclear family, and possibly others in our extended family and community if we have such a luxury of extended support.

Those first few years of post-partum caring are crucial and have the most profound effect and prediction value of how we will turn out as relating beings later on in life.  The type of emotional attachment we develop with our primary care-giver is by far the most important developmental milestone we have as it profoundly affects all realms of our lives in the future.  Physical health and immune system functioning, emotional and psychological well-being and of course  . . . the ability to relate to others . . . is directly related to the attachment we forged (or not) in those first few years of life.  We learn relationships not from explicit teaching but by how we were cared for in those formative years – this is the baseline ability of how we will move into the world of relationships as adults in the years to come.  If we didn’t get it right back then it is predictably likely that we will have pervasively problematic, unsatisfying, unhealthy and even dangerous relationships as adults . . . or even worse . . . no relationships at all.  There is much information out there on attachment theory and poly-vagal theory on how all of this works in much more detail that I can relate here.

Until about the age of 2 years we have limited to no ability for explicit memory – we don’t know things as facts or verbal symbols but still experience most of the world as a felt sense – the deep instinctual and intuitive knowing – the magical part of human consciousness before our little super computers in the neo-cortex come on line and start to have us “make sense” of the world in more abstract, symbolic, logical and less-felt ways.  The beginning of our separation to ourselves and others starts at this point and if we didn’t learn and feel caring, empathy, compassion and attunement from our caregivers by this time we will delve ever more deeply into the mind to try and make sense of things that just don’t feel right within us or within our environment. In these early years we are also learning to regulate our nervous system in an ideally optimal range of arousal and we do that by attuning to and regulating from the nervous systems of other people close to us.  So if little Johnny spends most of his formative time with a primary caregiver that is anxious or traumatized(hyper-aroused), depressed (hypo-aroused) or otherwise dys-regulated, he also learns to feel and see the world in an similar manner and his nervous system starts to pattern and shape more consistently in that way.

A consequence of this unhealthy learned co-regulation, is it affects his perceptions, thoughts and beliefs in how he will understand the world and the people within when he becomes older, especially as the cognitive part of his brain becomes more dominant and takes up more of his consciousness. If little Johnny has been trained to feel and perceive the world as scary, threatening and hopeless through countless signals, cues and responses from his primary care-giver he will continue to orient to those types of things in the environment, even if they are minimally present or even non-existent.  Thinking and perceptions can become so habituated to threat, stress and volatility that it can create a crisis when none exists.  In this state of hyper and hypo-arousal, healthy relationships are next to impossible.  The added tragedy of this is that because this was formed before explicit memory came on-line, he has no cognitive understanding of what happened and just accepts this as normal – even if the felt sense of it, in the past or even presently, doesn’t quite feel right.  The crazy-making messaging from a dys-regulated caregiver and/or family will, over time, wash away any strong sense or emerging belief that something is wrong.

Our modern “culture”, institutionalized educational, political and economic systems further perpetuate the problem. By devaluing emotions, the sensual world, intuition, cooperation and caring of each other, they alternatively promote self-deception and harm through advertising, public relations/communications, organized dogmatic religious doctrine, and social/economic “values” that objectify the human experience into being a “productive cog in the economic machine” as an end in itself and not a means to something better.  Competition is valued as something good even though that means somebody has to lose.

As we moved from infancy into childhood and then into adolescence and adulthood, what really influenced our “choices” about our first intimate relationships? Who we are attracted to, who is attracted to us, what does intimate relationship mean and what is its purpose and why do these relationships seems to have an old and familiar emotional flavor to them?  The answers to these questions are directly connected to our first and early relationships in the womb and shortly after – regardless of their quality.

Ok, so now we have a rudimentary framework to possibly understand where we came from.  Now what?  Does our past determine our future?  If I had a horrible childhood does that mean I’ll never have healthy, alive, passionate and caring relationship(s)?  Of course not, but what does need to happen is that we need to take back control and responsibility for our relational health and to transform all the false, unhealthy and dys-regulated ways we were implicitly and explicitly taught in how to relate.  In other words, as adults, we need to re-parent ourselves in a securely attached and attuned way – to give ourselves now, what we needed as infants and children so we can enjoy healthier relationships going forward.  We have to build the neuro-pathways of healthy loving and this takes time and practice, just as if you wanted to learn to play the piano. Daily practice is the way; it won’t just fall at your feet like in the fairy tales or in Hollywood movies: “They fell in love and lived happily ever after”.

The good news is our nervous systems have the ability of neuro-plasticity; we can change and transform old unhealthy ways of relating into new ones.  To do this sustainably we do need to do things in sequence and to accept the reality that it will take time, commitment, persistence and support from others to transform ourselves.

In order for our nervous system to change and not be activated into old patterns of reactivity but into new possibilities of responsivity, if has to feel safe.  That “reptile brain” part of our nervous system (brain stem) which is responsible for survival functions such  breathing, heart rate, metabolic process, protection (fight, flight or freeze) needs to be in an optimal zone of arousal and not into hyper or hypo arousal which is what occurs when a threat appears (real or imagined).  This means that any current life circumstances (job, school, family, career, environmental) or perceptions and beliefs that are threatening to our physical or emotional safety must be changed or outright eliminated from our lives.  If we are in an intensely stressful, volatile or even dangerous career or relationship we need to decrease these stressors/threats while simultaneously building our internal capacity and resources if we want to make meaningful and sustained changes in our lives.  While it may create more stressful consequences to make sudden and impulsive changes such as quitting a job or ending a relationship it is often times very possible to improve healthy boundaries within these contexts to allow our nervous system to feel safe enough to make immediate and incremental changes for a longer term transformation which might include leaving a job or ending an unhealthy relationship later on. If I tried to teach you how to juggle when you have never done it before and all the while I was throwing rocks at you it would be difficult, if not impossible, to learn a new skill under these threatening conditions – so it is the same in learning a new way of relating.

When I was in counselling for relational issues, several times I would hear “relationship issues can only be healed in a relationship”.  I interpreted that as “Gee, I guess I better get into another intimate relationship and work all this stuff out”.  That wasn’t quite what those counsellors meant, but it took me some years, and more suffering, to figure that out.  As I mentioned earlier, as humans, we co-regulate with other nervous systems and life forces so any new patterns of relating do need to be learned with and trained with “others” but this doesn’t necessarily mean in an intimate partner relationship.  We can co-regulate with a counselor, friends, family members, groups/activities, animals, nature and even in the spiritual realm – with something bigger than ourselves. Ask anyone who has a pet and they’ll tell you how healing that bond and connection is. It is in these healthy relationships that we can transform our old wounds and learn how to be in mutually loving, caring, nurturing, attuning and supportive connections with self and others.

Relationships can occur with self and others, and for many of us the best place to begin is with our relationship with self.  If we were not cared and loved for consistently and in an attuned way in are early years we likely do not love ourselves because it was through those relationships that we either learned we were lovable or not by how others treated us. If they didn’t love us we would have internalized that felt sense even before we could put words to that corresponding feeling.  Issues of poor self-esteem, self-abusive behavior and disrespect towards self all have their roots in the early years.  If we want to attract a beloved who will love us in a healthy and sustainable way we have to develop and internalize a strong core of self-love that is felt, not just repeating affirmative mantras.  Many people who do not love themselves develop very strong and defended egos to protect themselves from this painful truth and in its quest to protect or temporarily avoid the pain they will push themselves to achieve $$, looks, fame and success to somehow externally validate their worth as a human being.  These accomplishments, when/if achieved, result in a short term relief of the pain but the pain is internal so it returns and this spawns the next pathologized need to be even more successful or recognized from others.  And on and on it goes. Salvation will not be found here but in creating a relationship of love, respect, care and nurturing of the self.

Those of us who do not have this strong self-love core, because of our insecure attachments from childhood, developed very strong and instinctual ways to survive despite our near complete dependency on others.  Some babies cry to get attention and needs met, others are cute and compliant, others get sick to draw in care, others act out and misbehave to get some sort of attention and others learn that if they can meet some unmet needs of the caregiver then maybe some of their needs will be met.  Again this process is not a cognitive problem solving action, but an innate and instinctual survival skill that is reinforced when it works.  In the latter example, when children become caregivers to their parents they forego their normal developmental process as children and become more mature, responsible and adult-like in order to survive . . . again not to thrive.  These are usually the folks who turn out to be professional helpers or are the ones in our family that makes sure everyone else’s needs are met first before and often to the exclusion of their own.  They carry this childhood pattern forward into adulthood and enter adult relationships with the deeply buried belief that if “I take care of you – then you will give me barely enough love and support to survive.”  And . . . that is exactly what they get . . . and nothing more. If we do not value our own needs and take care of others to our own detriment, this will not endear us to healthy beloveds.  Healthy beloveds are attracted to people who emanate self love and worth – like attracts like.  Unhealthy givers will attract the needy, users, takers, predators and abusers.  Sound familiar?

In our unconscious and highly patterned way of relating we keep attracting and being attracted to the exact people who will perpetuate these old patterns – even if in our mind we “know” better.  This is something that needs to be transformed in the mammal and reptile parts of our nervous system, not so much in our cognitive functioning although it can support the process by helping us remember what is required..  When not safe nor integrated, our nervous system is truly ruled by survival instincts for safety and love and our mind will create many stories, beliefs and rationalizations to justify our behaviours; mental gymnastics.  These reptile and mammal parts of our nervous system, in the unconscious, are running the show – despite the stories we tell ourselves or what we think.

Imagine for a moment that you walked into a room of 100 aesthetically pleasing people of the sex/genders you are attracted to.  If you walked through the room and looked at them all without talking to any of them there would be a certain few that would catch your interest or that you would have a very strong reaction to.  How is this possible – if not for these non-verbal parts of our nervous system feeling out the threats and attractions in the room, scanning for the familiar, however unhealthy, looking and feeling for those who we can work out some old relational wounds with but not letting our mind in on the plan.  And of course our thinking mind has its own ideas of what the purpose of the attraction is and then we create a story, fantasy or projection of what the other person is meant to be for us.  In short, if we have not attended to our emotional wounds, learned how to take responsibility for our own happiness and fulfillment we then hope, believe or expect the “other” will do this for us.

Of course, after the honeymoon/infatuation period ends, when the oxytocin and dopamine subside, we begin to resent the other person for not fulfilling our responsibility to ourselves and then the power struggle ensues.  If in that initial period of swooning impairment we have made promises and commitments based on nothing more than addiction to love chemicals, fantasies or blind hope of our salvation/rescue by the other, then we can really become bitter and resentful when we sober up and find ourselves in relational prison.  If marriage and children become part of the mix, the added stress of these life changes will surely put the last few nails in the coffin of any hope for a healthy, alive and nurturing relationship with our partner – the war of attrition begins or the suffering endurance challenge ensues or some détente of acceptance that if you make yourself smaller and less alive, so will I . . . for a time.  At some point someone will want out of this mutually imposed relational prison and will either make a daring daylight escape (end the relationship) or do it in clandestine ways (infidelity, addictions or outright numbed dissociation) bringing us to these familiarly-felt patterns of relating just like our childhood, whether we remember it or not as such.

Not wanting to be accused of being cynical and against love and relationships, I want to boldly state that I am whole-heartedly in favour of healthy, loving, alive and mutually empowering and supportive relationships with self and others.  I am not in favour of how people get into and out of relationships that are unhealthy, unaware and needlessly harmful to self and others that will require much work and marriage and relationship counselling to repair.

If we look at modern day marriages in North America, over 50% of them end in divorce.  The other 50% is equally suspect and my experience in marriage and family counselling is that many couples stay together for economic reasons, for the thin excuse of “doing it for the children” or out of fear of being alone or of the feelings they will experience. (This is with the assumption that committed monogamous relationships are the healthy norm – and this is far from a decided fact based on research and the high rates of separation, divorce and infidelity).  If we enter into relationships with another without having developed a core relationship with self, the outcome will not be positive nor what we truly desire in our most authentic self.   We will neither attract nor be attracted to the healthy, loving beloved and we will repeat the same relationship, with several others, who are teaching us that we have personal work and healing to attend to and this pattern will not change until we attend to it.  If 2 people come together with this understanding and awareness and are ready and willing to journey together for this purpose, wonderful healing, growth and relating can come from it.  This often includes the necessary support of counselling, friends, family and community.  This is the ideal I hold up for worthy praise.

A prominent author on healthy relationships suggests that we need a 5-1 ratio of pleasurable to stressful events in our relationships in order for them to be healthy and sustainable instead of harmful and destructive.  I would also suggest that we use this ratio as we look at our relationship with the self.  What is your current ratio?

The foundation required to call in the Beloved begins with the self. If there is no beloved within there will be none without. Would you write a list of all the qualities that your ideal partner(s) would have (a common exercise many relationship coaches or marriage counsellors suggest to help people get very clear on what and who they want)?  Give yourself full permission to list as many as you want and to be as specific as you can. When done, review your list and then rate yourself on each of these qualities, maybe on a scale of 1-10. Obviously qualities such as height, hair color etc. can be removed for this exercise while keeping others such as caring, generous, honest etc..  If you scored yourself highly on most or all of these qualities in how you offer them to yourself, your beloved(S) are just around the corner.  If your scores were in the middle or low range, this is what you can expect to call in as your next partner.


In our upcoming workshop, Courting the Beloved: Love and Relationships, Rachelle Lamb and I will support the group in laying the foundations for calling in the beloved within ourselves and with the others.  Integrating psycho-education on love, relationships, secure attachment and attunement, along with experiential exercises in somatic psychotherapy, movement, music, journaling and Non-Violent Communication (NVC) and much more, we will help participants:

-Take responsibility and control for their happiness

-Understand their relationship history as formed through their family of origin

-Learn how to self resource, soothe and regulate their emotional arousal

-Identify and set healthy boundaries and to communicate their needs and feelings to others

-Learn how to resolve conflict in a healthy and healing manner that that builds trust and intimacy

-Learn how to love, respect and nurture the self

-Transform old patterns of unhealthy relating into ones that are nourishing and fulfilling.

-To court the Beloved!

Jim Kragtwyk M. Ed, RCC, ICADC

Registered Clinical Counsellor

Relationship and Marriage Counsellor

Certified Addictions Counsellor

5Rhythms Movement Psychotherapist

Victoria BC



COURTING THE BELOVED – A playshop on love and relating!             Friday to Sunday – Mar 2-4, 2012 at the Church of Truth: 111 Surperior Street, Victoria, BC, Canada

This weekend experiential workshop will pathwork the foundations for embodied relating with love, respect, passion, reverence and healthy communication with self and the beloved.

Facilitated by Jim Kragtwyk and Rachelle Lamb. Jim is a Registered Clinical Counsellor, Marriage and Relationship Counsellor, 5RHYTHMS® Movement Psychotherapist and Wing Chun Kung Fu Instructor. Rachelle is a speaker, writer and Certified Trainer of Nonviolent CommunicationSM. Together they have over 60 years of experience guiding, teaching and exploring the world of the interpersonal through assorted modalities. They bring a shared love for the various expressions of the beauty of the human experience as well as a deep compassion for the inevitable pains and losses of life.

Open to individuals and couples, this workshop is for those wanting to open the door to deeper experiences of relating and intimacy while dissolving the patterns and beliefs that block us. Conducted within an intentional space through means of information dissemination and experiential inquiry supported by communication exercises, Somatic Transformation (ST), music and 5Rhythms therapeutic movement, participants will be guided into their own inner sanctuary where the beloved awaits and where they will create the altar to establish and nourish the fertile ground from which all healthy, passionate and sustainable relationships can take root and blossom.

Rachelle and I welcome you with loving kindness!



Category : Counselling &Relationships &Workshops

Fusion of Chinese Martial Arts Philosophy and Western Counselling and Psychotherapy

Fusion of Chinese Martial Arts Philosophy and Western Counselling and Psychotherapy

Victoria BC

A Postmodern Worldview Towards Therapy

In an increasingly multicultural and pluralistic Canadian society, it makes sense that current and forth coming counsellors adhere to a postmodern paradigm of personal experience and worldview. The postmodern paradigm disregards an objective truth or reality and allows for the individual to create her own truth and reality. We are able to pick and choose our own experiences from a variety of unlimited sources. We can see this in examples of fusion cooking or in spiritual practices that incorporate more than one tradition. The post-modern era has allowed schools of psychotherapies and counselling to manifest and support the notion that people create their own experience and meaning in life. Narrative and Constructivist counseling therapies would fall into this category. People from a wide variety of cultural traditions, beliefs and worldviews can benefit from this approach in psychotherapy as the boundaries of an objective reality will not be able to restrict or contain one’s experience or means to deal with problems. They will be free to choose and co-create their solutions.

A Postmodern Bicultural Counselling Modality

In this article, I have put forth a new theory of counselling that integrates a specific Chinese martial art philosophy (Wing Chun Kung Fu) and a Western talk therapy context. My intent is to offer a postmodern therapy for counsellors that will meet the needs of an increasingly multicultural population; a fusion of Eastern ideas with Western process. Even in ancient Eastern philosophy, similarities to postmodern thinking can be found, or even traced, in Taoist poetry. As Bruce Lee quoted:

One and the same breeze passes
Over the pines on the mountain
And the oak trees in the valley;
And why do they give different notes

My interest in Wing Chun Kung Fu comes from my involvement in the training and teaching of this Chinese martial art for over 20 years. My passion for it comes from the unique philosophy within this system that I believe is transferable into a counselling and life philosophy context. I shall provide a brief description and history of Wing Chun Kung Fu before elaborating on some of the key philosophical beliefs within this art form.

Wing Chun Kung Fu

The Story of Wing Chun

There is no documented genesis of Wing Chun, but the various versions of its/her history all include the following information. The Wing Chun system evolved from Shaolin teachings. Wing Chun is the name of the female martial artist who made this style of kung fu famous. Approximately four hundred years ago, Wing Chun was sent to the temple by her family to learn Shaolin kung fu. Ng Mui, a nun, taught Wing Chun in the temple. Wing Chun was a beautiful young woman who attracted attention from the men in her village. Among the many admirers was a warlord, whose advances Wing Chun resisted. In a rage, the warlord provoked a fight with Wing Chun¡¯s father. Wing Chun intervened and both she and her father were seriously injured. Shocked that she had been defeated even though she was a highly trained Shaolin Kung Fu fighter, she realized that it had been her opponent¡¯s strength as well as his skill that had been the cause of her defeat. Determined to solve this problem, she entered a state of meditation for an extended period of time. One day, while walking in the fields, she came across a crane and snake fighting. While observing, she realized that focusing power with maximum speed could defeat an opponent regardless of his size and power. This was the seed of her new paradigm in kung fu. She developed, refined and trained this new type of kung fu and then sought out the warlord and challenged him to a fight. She soundly defeated the warlord (Tang, 1988).

Basic Theory of Wing Chun

Wing Chun kung fu is a result-oriented style of martial art that was designed with fundamental principles that take into account the limitation and capability of human movement. It has a depth and breadth of theory and philosophy, but it is renowned for its simplicity. I have synthesized Wing Chun theory into five philosophical/theoretical concepts that can be used as analogy or metaphor in a talk therapy context.

1. Economy of Movement/Efficiency

Wing Chun is a parsimonious style of kung fu. Using the least amount of exertion and movement necessary in order attain the desired result in a fighting situation is a basic rule. Traditional Chinese medicine dictates that energy or qi is something that should be preserved in order to maintain balance in the body and spirit (Cohen, 1996). In a fighting situation, it is disadvantageous to expend more energy than is necessary. In such a situation one doesn’t know how long a fight may endure or how much energy will be required to defeat your opponent. Further, large sweeping movements are not efficient and they open up breaches in your defense for your opponent to injure you. The analogy of a boa constrictor is appropriate to explain this concept. The snake stays compact and constricted, until its prey moves, and then further constricts.

2. Centerline Theory

The centerline theory of Wing Chun dictates that the centerline of the body is always protected. The centerline is defined in reference to self. It is the vertical midline of the body projected in front.  All blocking and attacking techniques are fought along the centerline relative to your opponent. To ensure that the centerline attack is effective, the centerline has to face the opponent in combat; a Wing Chun artist follows and faces his opponent as if he was the shadow of the person. Controlling the centerline is the ultimate theoretical goal in Wing Chun. If, through hand and leg techniques, you occupy and control the centerline, your opponent must move off or try to change the centerline in order to injure you. By doing this he must use circular or indirect moves away from the initial centerline, which then opens him to further attack as he has left a breach in his defense. As a result, all Wing Chun techniques are linear. This segues into the next principle.

3. Straight-line Theory

Since a Wing Chun artist fights on his centerline, emanating from the middle of his body in relation to his opponent, all his techniques, by necessity, are linear. The straight-line principle states that the shortest, and most economical and efficient distance between two points is along a straight-line. If all other things are equal, the fighter who occupies the centerline using linear techniques will hit his opponent first. This is what gives Wing Chun the illusion of being a brutally fast martial art. In fact, quickness has little to do with the results, when in fact it is superior position and technique that determine success. The moment that techniques become non-linear, they contradict the two previous principles of efficiency and centerline.

4. Sensitivity to Energy/Qi

In Wing Chun, great emphasis is placed on training to be sensitive to one’s own internal energy, but especially to that of one’s opponent. A training exercise, chi sau (sticky hands), is used to engage a training partner’s energy and begin to increase awareness of his energy and intent through the semi-structured hand/arm movements. In some ways it is a meditative exercise designed to focus intent on the sensing of energy. In a practical manner, becoming more energetically sensitive allows one to anticipate an opponent’s intent and actions from a much safer distance. Ideally, once sensitivity is trained to a heightened level, one can determine, with confidence, an opponent’s intention without any physical contact.

5. Coordination/Structure

As human beings, our bodies have physical limitations that are universal to us as a species and unique to us as individuals. Wing Chun stances, movements and techniques all occur within a construct of structure that maximizes the biomechanics of the human body. We can absorb and expend energy to and from our body in a martial arts application. Certain positions, stances and movements within this ideal structure maximize our ability to accomplish these tasks. One distinction of Wing Chun kung fu is that it was created not from copying animal movements as other Chinese Martial Arts do, but in capitalizing on the strengths and advantages of the human body. Training the body to move in new ways to find and maintain this structure is a key concept in Wing Chun. Once the structure is found, felt and maintained, body coordination is the next step. Learning to move the body as one connected and integrated entity, as opposed to a disconnected, disjointed series of independent body parts, is a key principle that makes Wing Chun work effectively. As this occurs, the practitioner is able to focus all her intent in a coordinated manner towards her opponent’s centerline. Even though the body may seem to be doing many things simultaneously or sequentially, in effect, it really is accomplishing one focused task. This seems similar to Buddhist philosophy in learning how to meditate and be completely aware of what one is doing in the moment with a singular intent; learning how to journey into the now.

Integration into a Counselling Context

Applying these theoretical concepts into a counselling context does present challenges. At face value, it may seem inappropriate and even unethical to blend theory from a potentially violent form of artistic expression into a helping context for counsellors with people who are in distress. The answer, like Wing Chun theory, is simple. Keeping in line with postmodern counselling, one strategy to solve this dilemma is to externalize and personify the client’s presenting problem. In explaining this concept in Narrative Therapy, Michael White states: “Externalizing is an approach to counselling that encourages persons to objectify and, at times, personify the problems that they experience as oppressive.”  He goes on to explain the benefits of this approach in that it assists to minimize unproductive conflict between persons; undermines a sense of failure that develops with people who have been unable to resolve their problems in the past despite repeated attempts; opens up ways for persons to cooperate with each other against the problem and minimizes the negative emotional affects that used to accompany the problem. It provides a means to view a problem that does not have a negative value judgment attached to the client. In “Wing Chun-oriented” counseling we can externalize and personify the problem into the “opponent”. Now that we have an opponent, we can use the Wing Chun principles within a counselling context, with a goal towards defeating him.

Role of the Counsellor/Therapist

In this context, the role of the counsellors would be that of a teacher, coach, and co-creator. The counsellors can introduce the theories of Wing Chun as a strategy of how the client can defeat the problem. Through teaching, practicing in therapy and assigning homework outside of therapy, the client can learn how to achieve her goal of defeating her “opponent”. I will elaborate on this process by reverting back to the five principles of Wing Chun Theory in a counselling context.

1. Centerline Theory

Centerline theory can be integrated into this context by thinking of the centerline as the main or underlying issue/pattern that the client brings into the counselling process. The counselors will want to explore with the client in order to ensure that the core/real issue(s) are being identified. The intent of both parties while combating the opponent is always on the centerline. Similar to existential philosophy, the client¡¯s presenting issues or problems are rarely the ultimate concerns that underlie human existence. This type of counselling approach wants to fight the opponent on the centerline to ensure maximum effectiveness and safety. While it may take varying amounts of time or different techniques to find and control the centerline, it is the primary goal before combat can begin. Once the opponent’s centerline has been tracked and controlled, one can expect the opponent to put up a defense. This could be understood as resistance. I will speak of techniques to defeat the opponent later, but I want to emphasize the necessity to track and maintain control of the real issue at all times during therapy; to be the shadow of the opponent; to maintain mindfulness as a habit.


2. Structure/Coordination

This principle translates into many concepts and practices within a counselling situation. The counsellors can help train the client in the area of structure; being able to maximize the client’s abilities and strengths within the realities and limitations of his situation. This could include using techniques such as a positive asset searching and internal somatic resourcing to assist the client in becoming confident about defeating the opponent before engaging in “battle”.

A positive asset search will help identify the weapons or techniques that the client already has available to battle the opponent with and that they are more likely to be successful if they are doing battle from a place of strength. Specifically, a client and counsellor could identify the realistic support structures that are available to the client such as family, friends, medical, social, educational, financial, spiritual and emotional resources. Another technique that would be analogous to structure would be identifying boundaries with the client. By determining how much stress and energy the client can withstand can help her understand her limits in dealing with the opponent. Then she can shift and deflect the opponent in a non-threatening way, instead of absorbing the energy or attack directly and becoming injured or defeated. Teaching the client coordination might involve some meditative techniques that will help her focus her intention to the immediate moment; to not get overly activated by the past or be full of anxiety about the future. Once the intention is brought into the present the counsellor and client could then come up with strategies that involve the client’s full commitment in defeating the opponent; acting as an integrated and whole energy that is not dissociated and disintegrated. The concepts of structure and coordination can be simply understood by the Wing Chun idiom: “When you should hit, hit. When you cannot, don’t”

3. Straight Line Theory

In a counselling context, straight-line theory refers to dealing with the opponent in a direct and linear manner. Linear techniques ensure that the centerline is maintained and controlled while attacking the opponent while simultaneously protecting the self from attack. Linear counselling techniques would include a direct and honest variety of challenging and confrontational skill use. Usually, these skills must be used appropriately and within a safe and sensitive counselling milieu if they are to be effective. Strong rapport and good timing enhance the success of these techniques, otherwise there are increased risks, such as resistance and deterioration in client trust. Since the client has externalized the problem and has been able to separate his life and relationship from it, he will be more amenable to use challenging and confrontation against the opponent instead of against himself.

In the example of dealing with addiction, the client would be able to honestly and directly examine how his addiction has negatively impacted his life and his relationships with little or no blame and shame attached to it. If a client were to use non-linear techniques in fighting the opponent, he would leave himself open to attack and actually lose control of the centerline once he had it. For example, if the client decided to focus his sole attention on his stress-creating relationship with his spouse, instead of the addiction, he would be distracting himself away from the real issue (centerline) and possibly put himself at risk for a relapse. While the spousal relationship may be a contributing factor associated with his drinking/using, it is not the most direct, effective and safe means to defeat his opponent.

4. Economy of Movement/Efficiency

In speaking of his strategy about war, Sun Tzu stated, “Thus, though we have heard of excessive haste in war, we have not yet seen a clever operation that was prolonged.” The same principle would apply in a counselling context using the Wing Chun principle of efficiency. In some respects then, this approach could be considered a brief-therapy in that the length of therapy would be relatively short and all the techniques would be directed towards the client’s main issue(s). This would be in contrast to a lengthy and in-depth process as typical of the psychoanalytic approach to therapy. It would attempt to deal with the issue in the shortest time and using the most direct techniques with the end goal of resolving the problem permanently or learning to cope with the process of reintegration over time. This type of counselling would not involve a beleaguered exploration and analysis of the issues, while possibly re-traumatizing the client. This is not to be confused that this approach to therapy would be a temporary “band-aid” response to the problem, but it would be the most effective and efficient response to the problem in its presenting context. It should also be mentioned that if all other Wing Chun principles were being utilized in therapy, efficiency and economy of movement would be a natural response. If the client is focusing on the main problem (centerline theory), using direct and immediate interventions towards the issue(s) (straight-line theory), is being aware of herself and the nature of her problem (sensitivity) and is dealing with the issue in a committed manner from a place of strength (structure and coordination), the emerging process will be efficient and economical.

5. Sensitivity to Energy/Qi

Of all the Wing Chun principles, sensitivity is the one that governs them all and permeates the entire expression of this martial art form. In the counselling context, learning sensitivity involves becoming more generally self-aware and insightful about the self, relations with others and the problem. On its deepest level it is about developing somatic intelligence; the sensate “felt-sense” experience as we explore the thoughts, feelings and behaviors of our lives. The counsellors can facilitate and teach the client to become more aware of herself; to shine light into the darkness; to bring the unconscious into the conscious; to live in the moment.  Counselling techniques that can further enhance this somatic intelligence include reflection of feelings, meaning making, cognitive restructuring, reframing, role-playing and writing in a journal. With this increased sensitivity, the client can then battle the opponent not only with the ability to be more discerning about her own state, but that of the externalized “opponent”.

With this knowledge the client can feel or even anticipate the opponent’s intent, with the goal of being able to redirect or neutralize and even transform the opponent’s strength and seek an opening for attack through the opponent’s weakness.  For example, the client with the “addiction” opponent could use this principle to notice that she feels more strong, confident and able when she rests, eats a healthy diet and uses her support systems. Further, she may also notice how she becomes irritable, fearful and full of anxiety when she is in an environment where other people are drinking/using and use this awareness to avoid those situations and a possible relapse. Through improved awareness, the client’s sensitivity may become so discerning that she may be able to identify and be aware of her triggers long before they become a serious threat to her health. An added benefit of becoming more sensitive to energy is that this increased focus and attention brings the client more into the present moment. Being in the present moment can free her from the regrets and pain from her past and the anxiety about the future. According to Buddhism, being anywhere other than the here and now is to not be fully alive. The Wing Chun principle of sensitivity can free the client from having to numb her pain and experiences with drugs/alcohol or other unhealthy coping mechanisms.


Because Wing Chun-oriented counselling is more of a philosophy of how to facilitate therapy, and not a prescribed set of techniques; it can be applied in most, if not all, of its theoretical constructs. Just like Existentialist Psychotherapy, Wing Chun Counselling is more of a philosophical lens in how to see problems and solutions and not a set of tools to fix the problem. Techniques from a wide variety of psychotherapies can be utilized in this approach. There is, however, one necessary process that has to occur for this type of therapy to be effective; the externalization of the problem. If this process is not accomplished, the client then becomes both the protagonist and the opponent. This can be a confusing, if not damaging context. If the problem remains internalized, the client, in effect, battles and defeats herself. As a result, the client may be resistant to therapy or worse, do more damage than good to his psyche and self-efficacy/esteem. The client does not need to beat himself up any further. Using the combat metaphor can have some limitations if interpreted incorrectly or too literally. For example, winning one battle does not necessarily translate into winning the war. In Wing Chun, the battle is fought to defeat the opponent, but what happens if the opponent returns? Ideally, in the counselling context, the application of all the Wing Chun principles will generalize into a way of life. Living life in the Wing Chun way can prevent and deter problems from returning. From my experience in training and living the principles of Wing Chun, as a fallible human being, I have noticed that I walk my path with a confidence that deters problems, and also with humility that does not provoke others into conflict. It is this fine balance that the client could access in a therapeutic context and generalize into her life outside of therapy.

A client also needs to be able to conceptualize and understand the basic theoretical constructs and principles within Wing Chun. As a result, this type of approach may not be suitable for cognitively disabled clients either due to organic or external causes. Further, this approach would likely not be successful with clients who experience severe psychiatric symptoms such as personality disorders or psychotic disorders. Due to their cognitive development, children would not be appropriate for use with this therapy approach. Having said this, however, the principles are relatively simple and as long as the therapist has a good understanding and the client is motivated and compliant, this approach could be facilitated through behaviorist techniques
exclusively. These latter techniques could even involve practice of some of the Wing Chun martial art forms/movements in order to enhance teaching and understanding of the principles; to help them embody the healing energies of the practice. These forms could also be used as a supportive technique to internalize and support the progress made in therapy.


Wing Chun-oriented counselling can help counsellors provide an inclusive theoretical framework to work with clients from a diverse and multicultural population. The principles are logical and do not conflict with most of the pan-cultural differences of collectivism/individualism, body language and communication styles and world-view. It is a post-modern approach that fuses Chinese philosophy with Western psychotherapy context and technique. It provides for a cognitive, emotional, behavioral, philosophical, somatic and spiritual learning context. A client can access the therapy on one or more of these levels. While the principles are simple and logical, it is in the combination and application of these principles that it becomes a unique artistic expression. Wing Chun does not provide the objective and universal truth, but gives the freedom to create our own truth and to live by it. The inclusive nature of this philosophy welcomes multiculturalism, diversity and change. As the immortal Bruce Lee stated, “Set patterns, incapable of adaptability, of pliability, only offer a better cage. Truth is outside of all patterns.

For more info. on Wing Chun Kung Fu and Self Defence

Jim Kragtwyk M. Ed.

Registered Clinical Counsellor -RCC

Internationally Certified Addictions Counsellor – ICADC

Medicine moves Counselling, Consultation and Movement Psychotherapy Services

Victoria BC Counsellors

Category : Addictions &Counselling &Movement Psychotherapy

5RHYTHMS® Movement Psychotherapy: the nuts and bolts of how it works.

While many people are familiar with the profound gifts of Gabrielle Roth’s 5RHYTHMS® movement practice and many more are familiar with the process of counselling and psychotherapy, it is not commonly understood how the two weave together fluidly for a deeper and more specific therapeutic outcome than either can offer separately.

As a 5RHYTHMS® mover for over ten years, I have always been aware of the therapeutic benefits of moving/dancing through a 5R Wave class. These classes are physically engaging, emotionally evocative, energetically stimulating and they build strong social bonds and community; truly a holistic, interconnected and healing activity.

My teacher, Andrea Juhan, founder of the 5RHYTHMS® Movement Therapy Training (5RMT) recognized the medicine of the 5R and its potential to enter the established healing practices of counselling/psychotherapy, social work and nursing.  Andrea, being one f a few  5RHYTHMS® teachers and counsellors, put together a specific training program to do just that for the benefit of  individuals, couples and small groups in the counselling or therapeutic setting. In addition to my regular counselling private practice in Victoria, BC I am one of a very few counsellors who have been specializing in this modality – for over 2 years.  I would like to share my understanding, development and experience of this sustainable and highly-effective counselling modality.

5RMT weaves Gestalt Awareness Practice (GAP), Integrative Body Psychotherapy (IBP) and 5RHYTHMS® movement with the traditional counsellor’s skills of empathic listening, skilled use of questions, reflection, psycho-education and an array of other specialized skills within the counselling field.

Gestalt Awareness Practice aims to increase personal awareness by exploring sensation, emotions, life situations and behavioral patterns and/or by practicing self-expression and communication through movement and voice. Investigating dreams is a very engaging part of this approach. Throughout, the motivation is developing the quality of awareness, moment to moment, and an ability to be present. A key element of this practice is the awareness and recognition of patterns within (body) and outside (behavior) of oursleves.  For example, the way I peel an orange is similar/identical in some qualitative way to how I do the rest of my life (i.e. work, relationships etc.) There is a universe inside a grain of sand or a cell body.  From a therapeutic perspective the skills of increased awareness, pattern recognition, somatic intelligence and an ability to remain present (integrated vs. dissociated/fragmented/scattered) are highly prized in the quest for healing and a healthier and happier life.  When we have increased somatic awareness of our patterns, we can recognize at a much earlier time when our old wounds are building energy or being triggered.  We can then intervene earlier when we have more probability of success for inviting change.  This is the first step of the therapeutic process.

Intergrative Body Psychotherapy (IBP)  is a unique non-invasive body-mind psychotherapy that shifts a client’s body-mind consciousness into highly integrated states of well-being, constancy and a core sense of self. The IBP therapeutic process enables the counsellor and client to identify and release the emotional/psychological/muscular holding patterns, born of emotional injury and conditioning, that prevent a client from attaining and sustaining these higher states of integration, authenticity and well-being. IBP also teaches clients the somatic and mental health tools they need to sustain these profound states, despite inevitable interruptions. As a result of IBP therapy, clients can experience themselves, others and the world around them differently, living in highly integrated states of well-being and out of their core sense of self.

A key element of IBP includes understanding the client’s “primary scenario”, that first childhood emotional wound  that formed the core pattern of how we felt and perceived the world from then on.  Ever wonder why we seem to be reliving similar/repeated experiences throughout our lives (some call it karma).  Those manifestations (abusive relationships, attracting conflict, being taken advantage of etc.) are external reflections of deep internal wounds that have not been healed.  Energetically, physically and emotionally these emotional/physical traumas attract a similar experience, person, job, injury/illness or challenge in our life, bringing it to our experience for resolution, completion and healing.  This is the opportunity for healing, yet all too often because of lack of awareness or a negative perception we see it as the universe treating us badly all over again, deepening and reinforcing the wound, instead of healing and transcending it.  Every time we miss an opportunity to heal that wound, rest assured it will return with more force, intensity and unpleasant consequences.  For some people those emotional wounds occurred before cognitive memory developed (pre-conscious) or even sooner in the womb.  The body, however, remembers!  So even though someone may not remember what happened to them as a child, by exploring sensate experience and developing somatic intelligence, the felt-sense of the wound can be accessed and healed in the present moment.  The “story” is not important other than helping the client to restory her/his life from a perspective of integration and healing. For people who are healing from deep traumas such as severe childhood abuse (physical or sexual) surgeries or illnesses requiring hospitalization and have blocked out the memories via dissociation, this type of counselling offers an access point into healing.  Cognitive memories are not required.

5RHYTHMS® movement offers the counsellor/counsellors and client a perspective in how to frame their experience/issue; a wave.  The 5 rhythms in sequence (flow, staccato, chaos, lyrical and stillness) comprise a wave; a full cycle that applies to almost anything – a breath, a relationship, a conversation . . . a lifetime.  Using this framework we can help people identify where in the sequence of the wave they are currently experiencing their issue and then identify the required medicine of the appropriate rhythm.  Each of the  5 rhythms, and its facilitated movements, has a resource available for shifting/releasing the old wounded pattern and creating  new vibrant, grounded and integrated patterns of internal (thoughts, feelings and sensations) and external (behavior, attractions and manifestations) change. By creating internal “felt-sense”changes of being/consciousness by developing somatic intelligence and resourcing and by using facilitated healing movements to evoke these changes, we allow the counsellor to facilitate real change in sessions so the client can leave with a real felt-sense of change in their body that can be integrated and generalized in out of session realms (relationships, jobs, etc.)  While the cognitive part of the mind knows the difference between practice and real life situations, the physiological somatic experience of the nervous system does not.  The counsellor has facilited real “body-memory” change (neuro-pathways)  in a controlled (successful) environment that will now also be accessible to the client the next time their old wound/pattern is triggered, now making it easier for the change to occur in a real life scenario.

Each of the  5 rhythms has its own internal and external resources or “medicine”.  While the subjective experience for each person will be complex and unique, each rhythm does share some similar and reliable possibilities.

In the rhythm of FLOW we are feeling the very first stirrings of movement within the wave – that first swell of energy within the wave. The building of energy, resourcing ourselves internally with breath and energy, grounding and rooting ourselves with balanced feet that can go with the flow: preparing and provisioning for the journey ahead.  Easefulness, fluidity, relaxation, continuous motion, spirals, circles and curves are all qualities of this rhythm (internally and externally); the energy of the feminine within us all.  In the rhythm of flow we learn to resource and care for ourselves first before embarking on our journey in life.  We learn how to self- soothe and nurture in times of challenge and stress so as not to be dependent on the external for our own happiness and healing – to not focus exclusively on changing things outside of our control. The rhythm of flow teaches us how to adapt and change in life while keeping rooted, balanced and resourced along the way; allowing us to keep moving even in those moments when externally,  life seems stuck.  For someone who feels paralyzed, stuck or powerless in life and with its circumstances or has trouble building or sustaining energy/effort in life, embodying flow can be good medicine.  Just as each rhythm has medicine it also has a “shadow“.  Drifting is not flowing and people who are too fluid, wishy-washy or accommodating will equally suffer.  Just like a river flows to a destination, a healthy flow has a direction and purpose even if consciously unknown in the moment.

The rhythm of staccato naturally rises from the energized, resourced and rooted momentum of flow. Staccato is about moving from the internal resourcing to the external directional goal – , movement towards something; from the flowing undercurrent of the wave into its rising form and shape.  This rhythm/movement is about clarity, lines, angles and edges, starts and stops, pulses.  In the external realm it is about  assertiveness, truth telling, integrity, setting and enforcing boundaries, authentic emotional expression, clear communication, following through from the place of internal authenticity evoked from flow. Someone who is indecisive, allows themselves to be taken advantage of or is dishonest, the rhythm of staccato might be prescribed.The shadow side of staccato can be aggressiveness (including passive-aggressiveness), violence, rigidity and excessive guardedness or impermeable boundaries – the inability to adapt and relate with others.

As we start to take a clear direction in course from the momentum of staccato, we start to feel the rumblings of the rhythm of chaos.  From this new place of clear and focused movement we come to realize that in order to fully actualize change and healing, we need to let go of old patterns, things, people and circumstances that no longer serve us in this new place. The wave finally reaches its peak in staccato and then falls and crashes into chaos.  The rhythm of chaos is all about letting go: letting go of held physical tensions and holding patterns in the body, letting go of old thoughts and limiting beliefs, letting go of our addiction to certain emotional states, letting go of relationships, jobs, homes, responsibilities etc.  Chaos is required for something new to arise or to be created in life.  If we want our lives to change, if we want real and sustained healing, we need to engage with and embrace chaos. Often times we  try to avoid chaos at all costs but what we are actually doing is just delaying it and increasing its intensity (and the severity of the unpleasant consequences) and limiting or stopping our ability to move through it in a supportive and positive manner.  We can learn to surf the wave or we can be overtaken by it – we have choice!  When chaos comes to us we need to embrace and engage it with all the resources of the previous rhythms, especially keeping our feet and rooted balance as we shake things off, discharge, release and surrender to what is required next in life.  Paradoxically, someone whose life seems fraught with perpetual crisis and problems would benefit from working in the rhythm of chaos to learn how to move with it instead of being devastated by it – to discern earlier on in the wave when change is required and gracefully accept it and surf the wave instead of the wave crashing down on them.  The shadow side of chaos is dissociation, fragmentation, extreme, risky, unsafe and/or impulsive behavior; being a danger to self and others due to their lack of stability and presence/awareness.

As we feel the freedom and spaciousness of letting go through a healthy chaos, we can then receive the light and playful possibilities that the rhythm of lyrical has to offer us.  Once the wave has crashed we get to play in the laughing and rolling foam as it heads to shore.  Through use of metaphor or direct movement we can invite the creative and new energy of lyrical to help us redefine, rediscover or create what is now needed.  Once we have made space by letting go of what no longer serves us, we can fill it with the spontaneous, playful and joyful possibilities of our new creation. Light and carefree, we effortlessly allow the next part of our lives to manifest in the moment; letting it happen instead of making it happen.  Riding the momentum of our impulses we bring in exactly what is needed for healing, creativity, joy and abundance in our lives.  When lyrical is taken to the extreme, the shadow side is about flightiness, pretension, unrealistic and magical thinking and not taking responsibility for our lives.

When we are full of lyrical creativity, we can then start to feel and listen for the new forms and shapes manifesting in our lives.  Just as molded clay starts to harden and take solid shape, in the rhythm of stillness we begin to feel, deepen and integrate this new shape (job, relationship with self or other, emotional state, belief etc.) As the rolling surf softens and settles it slowly and gently rolls up to the shore for that one moment of ending – stillness.  The shadow of stillness is numbness, paralysis, withdrawal and isolation.  In a full and healthy stillness, we feel for the pauses, the silences and the quiet truth of what we have just manifested and created at the end of this wave.  Accepting it deeply, fully for however long it lasts, before the first stirrings of the next wave begin to rise . . . again and again and again.

In part 2 of this article I will use an amalgamated case study of several clients’ experiences to describe the counselling process in specific detail and personal context.  Stay tuned!

Jim Kragtwyk M. Ed.

Registered Clinical Counselor (RCC)

Certified Addictions Counsellor (ICADC)

Victoria  BC Counsellors

Category : 5Rhythms &Counselling &Movement Psychotherapy

Compassion Fatigue and Vicarious/Secondary Trauma in the Helping Profession

Medicine Moves Movement Psychotherapy and Counselling Services

Victoria, BC

The helping professions, including counsellors, social workers, nurses, police officers, paramedics, correctional workers, mental health workers, teachers and many others, are not without significant risks to the helper.  The nature of the work can be quite challenging as well as rewarding and can often result in profound psychological, social, emotional and spiritual change for the helper.  It is in how this change is processed that puts a counsellor or helper at risk for impairment.

Helper/counsellor impairment has yet to be precisely defined but the terms burnout, compassion fatigue and vicarious or secondary trauma are commonly used.  Burnout and compassion fatigue:

My candle burns at both ends;

It will not last the night;

But ahh my foes, and oh my friends, it gives a lovely light!

(Edna St. Vincent Millay)

Burnout and Compassion Fatigue:

That which once shone so brightly no more illuminates the world around it, and the shadows cast by the dimming are long and deep and dark.  Where once there was enthusiasm, conviction and compassion for helping others, only frustration, apathy and terrible loneliness remain. Paradoxically, the need to reach out and help is still there, but it is mired in a personal sense of reduced motivation, low energy and an overwhelming sense of futility and fraud (Kesler).

Burnout and compassion fatigue describe a phenomenon that shows symptoms of emotional depletion and a loss of motivation and commitment to one’s work.   It is a multidimensional concept that includes exhaustion, depersonalization of people we help and a felt sense of a lack of personal accomplishment.  Emotional exhaustion includes feelings of being overextended and depleted of one’s emotional resources.  Depersonalization describes a negative, callous or excessively detached response to other people.  Personal accomplishment refers to a decline in one’s feeling of competence and successful achievement in one’s work.  Simply put – burnout and compassion fatigue is a physical, mental and emotional exhaustion caused by long-term involvement with people in situations that are emotionally draining.

Specific symptoms of burnout and compassion fatigue can include depression, cynicism, detachment, loss of vitality, insomnia, loss of intimacy (social and sexual), impatience, anger at people we help, many somatic symptoms including tension and headaches, susceptibility to illness, apathy, substance abuse, self-harm, lower productivity, absenteeism and a decrease in client care.

Burnout and compassion fatigue progresses through four distinct stages, starting with a period of excessive enthusiasm wherein the counsellor/helper over identifies with, and is too available for, the client. Next, the helper starts to stagnate where their expectations decrease to more normal levels and personal dissatisfaction starts to surface from the undercurrents.  Helpers can become frustrated, their difficulties seem to multiply and they begin to withdraw from their clients emotionally and empathically.  Finally, counsellors can become apathetic, wherein depression and listlessness begins.

Burnout is mostly caused by external situational factors outside of the counsellor’s environmental control and that these are outside the range of normal human experiences.

There are certain situational factors that put a counsellor at increased risk for compassion fatigue.  Counsellors who have little social support, which acts as a buffer against stress, are more likely to be affected by this condition.  Helpers whose workload is excessive, not under their control and exposed to high levels of stress and emotional volatility from others are also at higher risk for impairment.

Specifically for counsellors, people who worked in a community agency or clinic were more likely to experience burnout than those in private practice.  Ultimately, it seems that the more control one has in the work place in setting the conditions of their work, the less likely they are to be affected by compassion fatigue and its resulting impairment.

The severity of the client’s problems, working with chronic clients, time limitations, job instability and long-term employment in the helping field were risk factors.  Specific to counsellors, working with resistant, coerced, traumatized and long-term clients in a time limited mental health clinic/agency, would be a recipe for severe burnout.

Some personal/internal factors can also influence the onset and severity of this condition with helpers.  Some helpers with high self esteem, or those who actively work to improve theirs, can minimize the external risk factors for impairment without necessarily having to leave their work environment.

It may also be that something about the helper’s “helper persona” can affect how/if compassion fatigue manifests itself.  If helpers infuse most or all of their identity in being a ‘helper” they put themselves at risk for not asking for help and support themselves when they most need it.  An individual’s beliefs, attitudes and behavior also affect the likelihood of burnout.  If they need to make the client feel better, do not like the clients they work with, isolate themselves from other professionals, over identify with clients, expect to receive gestures of gratitude from clients, setting exceptionally high goals for clients or possess perfectionist tendencies, they are more likely to experience compassion fatigue.

The process of compassion fatigue is from sustained and intense stressors couple with internal personal factors.  From a body and movement counselling perspective, looking at how the body reacts to stress would be helpful.  When the body senses emotional threat, the alarm reaction is automatically triggered as a survival response.  The pupils of the eyes dilate, the blood rushes to the extremities/limbs to fight or flee and the heart beats faster as adrenalin is released.  If the stress does not disappear, the body enters the resistance stage to recover from the initial bout of stress and to endure the stress to come.  This chronic stage continues to deplete physical and psychological resources.  If there is no relief and the individual cannot manage the stress, she or he enters exhaustion.  Exhaustion signals a depletion of all internal resources, despite old and new sources of stress confronting the system.  Adrenal burnout can be a co-occurring disorder.

Vicarious or Secondary Trauma:

Vicarious or secondary trauma is related to yet different than compassion fatigue.  It has the same symptoms as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression and anxiety.  It disrupts the counsellor/helper’s self-protective beliefs about safety, control and predictability in the world.  It also includes the helper being a helpless witness to a client’s repetitive and harmful behavior and the onset of cynicism, despair and the loss of hope by the helper.

PTSD is said to occur when an individual experiences a traumatic event(s); reacts with intense fear, helplessness or horror and develops symptoms that last for at least a month.  The symptoms of PTSD include: recurrent and intrusive distressing recollections of the event such as dreams or feelings that the event was recurring and intense psychological distress at exposure to symbolic or similar stimuli of the traumatic event (i.e. if one was viciously attacked by a dog, the sound of a dog barking in the distance may trigger an intense response).  Other symptoms include persistent avoidance of any stimuli that reminds the person of the traumatic event; increased arousal such as insomnia; poor concentration/memory, hyper-vigilance or an exaggerated startle response.  Other problems that often co-occur with PTSD are substance abuse, depression, psychosomatic disorders, adjustment disorders and anti-social behavior.

While counsellors/helpers may not directly witness or experience the traumatic event(s) of their clients, vicarious traumatic experience is a normal response to empathic engagement with these clients and that the cause of this condition is in the nature of working with others who are directly traumatized.

McCann and Pearlman, who have done extensive research in this area, believe that all helpers who work with traumatized individuals will experience lasting changes in how they see and feel the world around them and that this will have a significant impact on their emotions, relationships and life in general.  The harm that these changes affect is dependent on what support and treatment the helper receives (just as the people they help) in  integrating and transforming these traumatic experience (direct or vicarious).

That transformation and integration includes the titrated, gentle and contained discharge of traumatic energy from the body while simultaneously helping the person work through the apparent incongruence between the traumatic event(s) and some core beliefs that most people hold as true:  a belief in personal invulnerability, the perception of the world and life as being meaningful and understandable and the view of the “self” in a positive way. Traumatic events directly confront some or all of these beliefs and until resolution and integration occurs, that same traumatic energy is perpetuated over and over in the body as is the traumatic event held in active memory – ruminating and obsessing – waiting and wanting release and resolution.

Recovery and healing takes time, patience and perseverance.  If impairment is severe, the best course of action a helper can take is to eliminate or drastically reduce the external stressors in the work place.  This may require a leave of absence, a modified return to work or in some cases leaving the work place permanently.  Psychotherapeutic treatment along with a comprehensive wellness plan are key components to manifest the long term and sustainable return to health, vitality and happiness.  Body/movement psychotherapies are especially effective in treating traumatic stress. They access the traumatic energy directly, allow for a healing release and/or transform the energetic holding patterns in the body into more healthy patterns of movement  while providing the psychological and emotional tools required to prevent the recurrence of habitual traumatic patterns of thinking, feeling and behaving to return to the self.

On a personal note I spent a significant amount of time and energy researching this topic during my graduate degree in counselling.  I have also experienced this debilitating and unfortunate condition as a result of working with highly impaired and wounded clients over many years in an unsupportive and unhealthy work environment(s).  Through a sustained treatment and healing process I have moved with, through and past that professional “dark night of the soul”  and have come to a place of health, vitality and joyfulness even in the face of an unjust and at times cruel world.

For those of us in the helping professions (emergency response workers, paramedics, mental health workers, counsellors, nurses, teachers, social workers, child protection workers, police officers, correctional/parole/probation officers etc.) where we are constant witness to the pain, suffering and cruelty of the human condition in the modern world we are at risk for compassion fatigue and/or vicarious/secondary trauma.  We are also, in some ways, the least likely to ask for help until things are very severe – we are supposed to be the helpers right!  Ultimately, despite our best efforts, we are of no real, meaningful or sustainable service to others when we do not honor our own health first.  Reach out for help if you need it.

Jim Kragtwyk M. Ed

Registered Clinical Counsellor (RCC)

Internationally Certified Addictions Counsellor (ICADC)

Victoria, BC


Category : Counselling

The Process of Change … Continuously Letting Go

How many ways do we describe the process of change in our lives? From the perspective of counselling and psychotherapy we could name it as grief over the death of a loved one, the end of an intimate relationship or marriage, the shifting of careers or the end of one, having children, getting older, becoming ill, the betrayal of an affair, moving to another community, a spiritual crisis and many other life experiences. Even though all these experiences have their own powerfully unique emotions, meanings and felt-senses within, they also have something in common. These life moments are asking us to “let go” of something and to move toward something new. The letting go may be of a relationship, a behavior, a belief, a value or a connection to a place and people. It is asking us to “move” in a different way and direction in life. So why is it that we often struggle so fiercely with this natural process of constant change – the way of the universe?

Through our lives we are often taught, infused or outright misled about the human experience – our experience. Especially in modern Western “culture”, the focus on the strong independent individual who strives for total control of her life is the reality model that is dominant and supported by most institutions and the mass media of our society. We are taught to value self-reliance, individual freedoms and rights, to produce and consume and to see the world through a compartmentalized, reductionist and disconnected lens. Through this lens, our world becomes smaller and smaller, we become more isolated and separate from the elements, plants, animals, other humans and the larger mystery of living and being. So any time we experience life events that challenge this view, it produces discomfort and suffering. The degree of this suffering is directly connected to our level of resistance to change – our attachment to the “old”. We are taught to fear death, the ultimate change and to avoid feeling our emotions fully and completely which is part of the natural process of letting go. This denial and repression of the real energies moving within us cause our attachment to things that are already changing or gone, yet we cling to something imagined, reminisced or unreal because of this fear.

Yet, there is also a deep knowing within us that wants to let go, to free ourselves, to move in harmony with the forces of that great mystery. Our deep intuitive wisdom is still alive within us all, buried beneath the layers of misguided beliefs, emotional armor and old behaviors of how we are supposed to think, feel and act. There is a part of us that craves for that deeper connection to our internal integrity, authenticity and spirit. So how can we align ourselves with this bigger “knowing” while we go through a life change or even through a traumatic experience?

Each person’s path will be unique. Can we allow ourselves to reach out and connect with others for help and support? Can we can accept that we are not in control of most things in our life and certainly not other people? Can we see and feel ourselves as part of something bigger and that this bigger force is moving us in a way that is unfathomable to our human minds? If we have faith that we can move with this bigger force – well then maybe during our “letting go” we will be able to feel our feelings with the support of the ground beneath our feet, the birds singing to us in the trees, the people connected to us and the energy of the mystery of life moving beside and aligned with us.

How do we align ourselves with this bigger energy? First we need to listen. To listen, we need to find that speed limit and pace in our lives so that we can listen deeply to what is moving within and around us. To slow down, or in some cases speed up, so we can dim the mind chatter of fearful thoughts and listen to what our deeper self is trying to tell us; to hear the signal from the noise. Listening for the felt sense of your life which is present, in the moment and constantly changing instead of the static, limiting and often-times oppressive beliefs that keep us small. When we listen to and feel the constant change and movement within us we can then move in unison and alignment – like a highly attuned dance partner being lead and following blissfully. All we can do in “being danced” is to keep our feet and balance and move with grace and surrender along the way. We can go willingly or we can go kicking and screaming, but either way we are going!

A few years ago I was in a life circumstance where I was not moving gracefully with that bigger energy. I was burnt out and dealing with compassion fatigue professionally and was living in an isolated community away from my usual supports and wellness/healthy lifestyle pursuits. I was struggling physically and emotionally. Old rigid beliefs that dictated “life is hard work” and “you have to keep helping people even if you don’t have the energy” and “you can’t leave this community/profession” until you secure something else back in Victoria” kept me in suffering despite intense messages from my body, heart and spirit. It was only until my “grip” could no longer clench onto those old ways, due to exhaustion, was I forced to let go. From that moment on I learned in a deeply felt way to listen to the gentler and more subtle messages from within and have faith in them. Since that acceptance occurred my life has flowed with more ease, gentleness and compassion to myself and others in a sustainable way. By letting go and accepting the energy that is moving all of us, things have flowed to me with more and more ease. The more I let go, the easier it came.

We cannot stop or control this big dance, it will take us regardless. Letting go of the illusion that we are in control of our lives can be a very freeing first step of our dance. All we can do is learn how to move in step with it.

Jim Kragtwyk
Medicine Moves Movement Psychotherapy and Counselling Services
Victoria, BC

Category : Counselling

Does Counselling and Psychology Pathologize the Individual?

Medicine Moves: 5Rhythms Movement Psychotherapy and Counselling Services

Victoria, BC

Does Counselling and Psychology Pathologize the Individual?

Having been a counselor for 25 years, I have noticed a shift in how I see the field of counseling and the study of psychology.  That shift has involved moving away from seeing the client as someone who has something “wrong” with them to seeing them as being more sensitive to a disconnected, competitive, polluted, materialistic and fearful environment and “culture”.  The way the modern world has changed so dramatically since the industrial revolution has put an exponentially increasing pressure on individuals to adapt to their environment.  The theory of evolution with its “survival of the fittest” mantra emphasizes survival.   I am not convinced that individuals who are most successful in a toxic, uncaring, short-sighted and self-absorbed environment are the ones we should be cheering for to propagate our species.

At times in our lives we have all been told to “toughen-up”, “suck-it-up”, “don’t cry”, “don’t complain”, “get over yourself” as a response to our deeper wisdom that something is wrong or unhealthy in our external world/environment.  After a while when we keep mentioning the “elephant in the room” and no one else wants to talk about it, we stop mentioning it and eventually we stop seeing it. Historically, the main institutions for control of the populace have supported that notion.  Religion, government and schools all advocate or threaten compliance to their doctrine, dogma, policy and ideas of “truth” while often times flagrantly disregarding their own codes of conduct (dishonest politicians, clergy who sexually abuse, wars for economic gain etc.)  The human individuals are left to try and survive and idealistically thrive in this environment of oppression, brainwashing and moral gymnastics.  When ultimately we cannot succeed to thrive in this environment we face a crisis in belief.  During times when these institutions cannot answer the questions and disappointments that they create, we seek guidance and help.  If our relationship ends, if we lose our job, if our mood and feelings cause us on-going distress, if we develop sickness and disease, if we act out violently, and if we develop unhealthy coping mechanisms that become habitual and problematic . . . we get stuck and in our stuckness we turn to a counselor for help and guidance.  The dominant cultures and institutions support this approach as it pathologizes the individual for not being able to cope with these life dilemmas instead of acknowledging the many other factors that contribute to human suffering other than what the individual brings to the table.

What do counselling and psychology have to offer?  The answer to that is not straight-forward or consistent as there are many theoretical frameworks that guide individual counsellors and even more modalities/techniques of counselling that we use to help people.  I do believe that all too often counselling, in general, only scratches the surface of the nature of reality for the client.  Counsellors who use “Brief Psychotherapy” or “Solution-Focused Psychotherapy” are mainly interested in not talking about the elephant in the room but in how the individual can learn to tolerate and cope with the elephant and hopefully not get squished or step in a big pile of elephant  $%&*#$!  Counsellors who are employed by an “employer- funded” Employee/Family Assistance Program (EFAP) or insurance companies are subtly and not-so-subtly pressured to use as few sessions as needed to get an employee back to work.  So the goal of counselling then becomes about returning to work and not the deeper issues and multi-faceted factors that contribute to most people’s problems.  What if the job, work environment, colleagues, supervisors, corporate behavior, wages/benefits are part of the main problem for the individual?  Here is a radical thought . . . “What if spending 40 plus hours in an office, with unnatural light, poor air quality, doing less-than-meaningful tasks for a company/organization or government that is doing harm to individuals, communities or the environment is the major cause of a person’s “dis-ease”?  What if behaving in ways that are in conflict with one’s values, morals and ethics are generating so much stress that someone can’t cope well anymore at work?  (Anyone just about ready to yell out those old familiar refrains of “suck-it-up” or quit complaining” yet?)  Anyone who chooses to opt out of this “matrix” of materialistic, consumer-culture competition gets to be marginalized  and stigmatized, in society, as sick and weak and are deemed to be lazy or even immoral for not pulling their weight.  On the issue of morality, from an environmental perspective at least, the modern-day hunter-gatherers are the most moral people on the planet (well at least in the modern industrialized world).  They consume the least amount of resources due to their poverty. They reuse, recycle and are very resourceful with what they have in surviving in an environment of scarcity.  Repeat this to a CEO of a big corporation and they might laugh at you.  Maybe your own family might as well.

The canary in the coal mine analogy is appropriate to this topic.  Before the advent of modern day technology to detect noxious gases in mines, miners used to lower canaries into the mines first to see if they would die or not from the existence of any noxious gas.  No one ever suggested to the canary that it should not have died from the gas or that it should suck-it-up or toughen- up.  I might suggest that the most vulnerable people in our society (homeless, mentally ill, sick) are the most sensitive people in our culture and that their sensitivity should be respected and used as a stark warning about the health of our natural environment as well as our social and political structures.  The word sensitive is defined as delicate, conscious, knowing, precise psychic, tuned-in and understanding.  The opposite for sensitive is heartless, indifferent, insensitive, numb and unfeeling.  Are these the “qualities” we truly want to value and promote in our society?

As counsellors I believe it is our responsibility to name the “elephants in the room” each and every time we are supporting and guiding our clients through their life’s journey.  To not name it, to not acknowledge it and to not validate that reality for ourselves, our clients and our fellow humans makes us complicit to the suffering that touches everyone.  To not name the elephant in the room is the real sign of insanity.  To perpetuate the delusions/illusions that our collective way of living on this planet is healthy and sustainable is unethical and unprofessional.

To model, advocate, lobby and affect real change that shifts our current way of being on this biosphere is a responsibility that I believe we all have, especially as professional helpers.

We can aspire to heal people and prevent illness, not just treat symptoms of a never ending dis-ease.  Ultimately, if we do our profession well, we will make ourselves obsolete.   I look forward to that day.


Be well,

Jim Kragtwyk M. Ed, CCC, ICADC

Medicine Moves Movement Psychotherapy and Counselling Services

Victoria, BC

Category : Counselling

Substance Misuse: Self-Medicating for Underlying Issues

How the medicine of movement can connect us to our pain.

In my 20 plus years as a counsellor, (many of which involved working in the field of addictions counsellors and mental health) it continues to pain me to see so many people medicating themselves with substances, unhealthy sexual activity, gambling (sorry the euphemism of gaming just isn’t appropriate), shopping or any other number of compulsive behaviors that provide temporary relief from inner wounds. Continue reading “Substance Misuse: Self-Medicating for Underlying Issues” »

Category : Counselling &Movement Psychotherapy