What is a Session Like?
Your SE® practitioner will first conduct a pre-interview to discuss your health history, discuss your expectations, and answer your questions. He will assess your traumas and try to get a pretty good idea of who you are as a person, and how your nervous system is currently functioning. He will want to get some idea of what phase you may tend to get stuck in, and he will also want to know what resources are available to you that help you cope under stress.
Typically, SE® sessions look a lot like psychotherapy with the practitioner and client sitting across from each other on chairs or sofas, enjoying some conversation at first in order to catch up on the residual results from last week's session and assessing what state you are coming in to the session in.
He will then typically help you to get more settled into the room and get oriented to the surroundings. The orientation process helps to settle the nervous system into social engagement. We really would rather not jump right into the heart of any trauma that you are wanting to process, as this is quite over activating and stressful. The objective is to relieve trauma in small titrated doses rather than all at once. Diving in too deeply and too rapidly can further compound and reinforce trauma.
As part of the orientation/social engagement process your practitioner may engage in conversation, talking about some of the pleasurable or good things in your recent life. This helps to solidify the social engagement state before venturing into the areas that are a bit scary and a bit unsettling. The social engagement/orientation state is the home base that we want to start from and keep coming back to. Then we venture in to fight or flight a bit then back to social engagement/orientation. This pendulation process may go on for several cycles.
Pendulation is achieved by focusing the awareness on sensations in the body along with images, behaviors, affect, and the meaning of what is coming up. Usually sensations in the body are the most important starting point. Remember when we talked about the impala who was in freeze? The freeze caused dissociation so that the impala would not feel pain and writhe around signaling the lioness that it was still alive. So, in trauma we tend to lose connection to our sensations. Remember the last phrase in my definition of trauma: "reducing connection through the senses to the present environment?" So, this is why we start with the senses most of the time. We want to restore our ability to sense our environment using a quiet state of mindfulness.
This quiet mindful exploration of what is happening inside of your process will tend to lead to what is unfinished trauma stored in your bodymind. Because trauma is life threatening, even with unresolved trauma the body wants to keep coming back to it in an effort to heal it. So, almost always as we settle into mindful observation of sensations the body will begin to swing towards whatever is unresolved and life threatening. The practitioner's job is to help monitor the body and assure that the client doesn't go too far, too fast and end up getting sucked down a trauma vortex. His job is also to help provide safety in the room so that the client feels safe enough to turn inward to deal with the unresolved traumas without being endangered by new threats in the outer environment.
At some point in the pendulation process it is likely to see some micromovements in the arms or legs or core of the body that the practitioner will be able to recognize as the body beginning to run its motor plan for escape again. As we draw awareness to these movements they tend to grow and we encourage the client to let the body gently and slowly follow what the nervous system is trying to do rather than override it. In so doing the motor plan is able to complete and that stuck loop is permanently healed. Each time we heal one of these the body's stress burden is lifted a little. That energy which was going into the vigilance of keeping this protective motor plan in play can now go to healing some other aspect of the body and mind.
When the client opens his eyes and looks around the room again everything seems to be crisper and colors bolder. There may be some aftereffects of shakiness, or lightness, or fullness of breath as the experience is integrated. There is a quietness that comes into the body and a real sense that something profound just happened. Something just healed.