Insight Mind Body Talk

Ep 14: Somatic Expressive Therapy with Victoria Ellington-Deitz

July 18, 2021 Jessica Warpula Schultz, LMFT Season 1 Episode 14
Insight Mind Body Talk
Ep 14: Somatic Expressive Therapy with Victoria Ellington-Deitz
Show Notes Transcript

Jess and her guest, Victoria Ellington-Deitz, LPC, RSMT, talk Somatic Expressive Therapy (SET).  A model of psychotherapy that brings the body ("somatic") and movement/journaling/the arts ("expressive") into the therapy process.  Victoria shares insight into the benefits of SET and how listeners can benefit, even from home.



Continue Learning  

   -Somatic Expressive Therapy
        Dan Leven, MPS, RSMT
        Leven Institute for Expressive Movement  https://www.leveninstitute.com/

  -The Polyvagal Theory  
        The Polyvagal Theory: Neurophysiological Foundations of Emotions, Attachment, Communication, and Self-regulation.  Stephen W. Porges, Ph.D.   

        Polyvagal Theory in Therapy: Engaging the Rhythm of Regulation.  Deborah A. Dana, LCSW  

        Befriending Your Nervous System: Looking Through the Lens of the Polyvagal Theory. Deborah A. Dana, LCSW  

        Stephen Porges, PhD. www.stephenporges.com  

        Deb Dana, LCSW  https://www.rhythmofregulation.com/

   -Self-Compassion
        Kristin Neff, PhD
        *As mentioned in episode, "mindful self-compassion website": https://self-compassion.org/the-research/
        Center for Healthy Minds, Madison, WI  https://centerhealthyminds.org/




Produced by Jessica Warpula Schultz
Edited by Jessica Warpula Schultz

Music by Jason A. Schultz

Somatic Expressive Therapy

 [00:00:00] Welcome to Insight Mind Body Talk, a body-based mental health podcast. We're your hosts, Jessica Warpula Schultz and Jeanne Kolker. Whether you've tried everything to feel better and something is still missing or you've already discovered the wisdom of the body.  This podcast will encourage and support you in healing old wounds, strengthening relationships, and developing your inner potential all by accessing the mind body connection.   Please know while we're excited to share and grow together. This podcast is not intended to be a substitute for mental health treatment. It doesn't replace the one-on-one relationship you have with a qualified healthcare professional and is not considered psychotherapy. 

Thanks Jess. And thank you for listening. Now, let's begin a conversation about what happens when we take an integrative approach to improving our wellbeing. welcome to Insight mind Body Talk. My name is Jess Warpula Schultz. I'm your [00:01:00] host today. Our topic is somatic expressive therapy. Our guest is Victoria Ellington-Deitz.

She's a licensed professional counselor and a registered somatic movement therapist. Victoria works with teens and adults. She helps clients experiencing anxiety, stress, trauma, depression, anger, self-harming behaviors, and problems, regulating behavior and emotion. She also works at Insight Counseling and Wellness, and I'm lucky enough to call her my colleague.

So welcome, Victoria. I'm so happy. You're here. Thank you. It is lovely to be here. Okay, good. I've been looking for to this. I'm excited to learn more about somatic expressive therapy.

I'm not as familiar with that modality. I'm wondering if you can start by explaining. Sort of the model and the intention of somatic expressive therapy. What does that [00:02:00] mean? Where does it come from? Sure.  Somatic expressive therapy is we could say body centered for going  towards the felt sense so  the feelings, the sensations we have in our body. And the expressive part is in addition that Dan Levin adds he is the creator and trainer of somatic expressive therapy. And he trains out of Life Institute in Massachusetts. The addition of expressive to the somatic is using art movement, writing, journaling any kind of expression to help understand and deepen our connection with the body centered part  of.

Of our knowing.  So we have thoughts and our thoughts  have all kinds of opinions. Our thoughts want to tell us and lead us to [00:03:00] interpret what we're experiencing. And so much of what we're experiencing is. Unconscious or implicit. Yeah.

And so having a way of allowing our thoughts to  take the back seat, and then have a deeper listening of what really is going on.   A deeper understanding of what's happening so we can get to deeper beliefs, deeper emotions, understand patterns that we get stuck in and we're not sure what has happened. 

What does it look like the process? If you could describe somatic expressive therapy, maybe even share an example of what does it look like to be doing that type of work. Yeah.  This is important and I'll give an overview and then a specific, 

because there are many different ways to use. Somatic expressive therapy depending on the person. And so we sit down together and it's always an invitation of [00:04:00] what the person that I'm working with, the human would like to do. And It's a move towards the body.

And we get to start wherever the person is comfortable. So it might be starting with talking. Is there a situation that the person struggling with, and then we can, just check in and see how's your body reacting to that? Do you notice any sensation? So could start there.

I could start with a body scan. So body scan is, noticing your body and then turning inward and scanning the body for any sensations or emotions. Yeah, we have a body scan meditation on  the podcast website. So listeners, you can  practice a body scan after this, if you want.

So body scan, great. What else happened? So we're gleaning information. We'll find a sensation in the body. Let's say often what comes up is tension in the shoulders. And so we [00:05:00] go to the shoulders and we can Ask what it's connected to.

Is it connected to the situation or we can then go to drawing. at any point we can go to the art piece. Maybe there is a movement to accentuate the the feeling in the shoulders. The intention is to glean information, glean more information. Then our thoughts want to interpret for us. So we're trying to work directly with the sensation.

So the art, let's say we're using art . And I tell you no art skills

that was already slightly judging myself. Like how would I even. Create or draw attention in my shoulders zone. No, some good. That's a good point. That's good. Yeah. Yeah. And I am I love stick figures. And coloring and blobs,  so we work with the picture.  It's a way of [00:06:00] helping us to a lot of times, especially if we're going towards something that has overwhelmed our nervous system or overwhelmed our system. It can take it out and we can look at it objectively. It gives us one degree of separation from what's going on internally, which we often, and our biology causes us to move away from.

We organize away from, and we are using somatic expressive therapy using the. Using attention to move towards in a supported way. So we can attend to what is going on with us. We can attend to patterns, emotional feelings or overwhelmed that seem scary to us, or seem like we don't want to move towards because we're busy.

Yeah. And the worst in this world. And it's hard to move towards that, which is [00:07:00] uncomfortable, that. It's a survival strategy often is to avoid or, shut down or disengage your flee . So it sounds like this process you're describing while first we're honoring the emotions in our body and what's happening there and using our body's wisdom to get more information.

I love how the art helps. Engage your prefrontal cortex allows us in a way to step, like you said, that one degree,  of separation where it's safer to maybe explore, because it's not so alive in the system, it's on the page. Yes, that's so cool. Yeah. 

Victoria, can you share me B. An example of what that looks like, so that we can imagine it and understand it more. Yes. So often and I don't know anyone who doesn't, but so often  we carry tension in our shoulders. We can feel if we turn [00:08:00] towards our body, we automatically feel this tension.

 So how this would look in session is we would move towards the, so moving our attention towards the body, having a short body scan, just noticing.

And so often, people say, I feel tightness in the shoulders so we could use then go to drawing. Can you distress a simple picture, a symbol of what that feels like, what that tension is. Yeah, symbol, Lee's color simple, very, some people get elaborate and that's fine too, but it really doesn't have to be.

And then we go towards the picture and  we're going to have the picture as an  external way of looking at the tension in our shoulder. And our thoughts can come in and give a lot of reasons. But when we look right at the tension like, oh, and we'd look at the concept of that tension.

 What could that be? And [00:09:00] here we are, when I say concept or like talking directly to the sensation we're dipping into the slower part of our processing some people call it wisdom brain. It's just the slower thinking. You have the quick thinking that we need every day and keeps us safe,  day to day interactions.

And then we have the slower thinking of a broader thinking, more perspective, being able to bring in different factors to explain. Fully the situation. So we look at the picture And then we asked  any concepts of the world. So I am responsible for all of this to happen, whatever the situation.

Yeah. Oh, interesting. So that sounds like a belief. How, does that resonate with you? So that's a question I ask a lot. Does that resonate? So checking in with the body, checking in with that sensation, does that resonate that, you have a lot of responsibility, [00:10:00] in fact,  there could be a belief in there that you are responsible.

And then going towards emotions as well, and the intention is to notice , as I said, attend to, but also find out what that area needs.  What did your shoulders need?  And then we work with it.

They're like we can  add an image. We can have a visualization there. We can just work through is that belief really working for us. . So you're looking at, as you explore continually checking in with the person first somatically, and then using the art to express that tension.

Checking in with any beliefs that start arising as you're creating that art, does that resonate with you and suddenly a drawing about shoulder tension or a symbol drawing, a symbol that represents can lead us to a place of, wow. I feel like. I'm really expected to carry the outcome [00:11:00] of not only myself, but everyone around me to make sure everyone's okay to make sure everyone's emotions are okay to make sure good things happen.

and so it takes,  that wisdom, that slower, knowing that slower processing system, cause you're right. We don't do that as often. We are just trying to get through that day and resolve what happens next. Often, when I lead meditations, you're right. A lot of people say .

I didn't even notice my jaw had tension until slowing down and going inward. I didn't notice my shoulders. One of them was curling up and in because of tension and stress until I slowed down and explore that. And then what beliefs are being held in my body?

Yes. Yes. And so often I think so first of all, we are not taught. to slow down and how to navigate, our body sensations  it's not taught in our culture. We are just, yeah, we are here to, you know, interact  our [00:12:00] biology that quick thinking is just set up, goes on automatically.

So we have to take a few steps and we aren't taught this. To sit back and listen to that slower wisdom or listen to our body, through our bodies or any way that we can sitting quietly. So once the information about what's happening is discovered or some deeper beliefs, what happens next in the process?

So then we become curious about it and  how to help. Sometimes when we move towards a lot of times  the need for safety comes up. Yes. We get to explore our body, holds a lot of. Experiences where we felt unsafe, where we felt unsupported that our system was overwhelmed.

And what happens biologically it's [00:13:00] unconscious. It happens automatically is that it closes up and we organize ourselves away from it. So when we turn towards it, it can open up fear because . We get the signal from our our alarm system that  we shouldn't go there. There's danger.

It's a misunderstanding. It's, a biological misunderstanding and Dan Levin, who whom I trained with was saying, it's like swimming upstream. We have to swim against our natural instincts to become curious about it.

This pattern. And as we do that and move towards it, as I said, safety often comes up. And so then we get to talk about that. We get to figure out how we can create a sense of safety and we move from there. 

Everything comes back to creating this safe container for the exploration to happen    yes. Yes, exactly. 

I can imagine that part of the work of somatic [00:14:00] expressive therapy would also involve  helping settle the nervous system and helping the whole brain and body feels safe. How does that show up in this work?  Often when  we are dysregulated or when we feel overwhelmed or, however, it comes up for us when we feel scared, our thoughts are going to explain it.

And often we can't rely on our thoughts because they're, they are going to just be really quick. And go on past information.  So we work with the immediacy of our body and that taps into connection with our nervous system.

 First of all just going towards the body. There's this unconscious message that it's scary. 

 when we can feel our body, even if we're not in our body, we can feel where we are in relation to our body. That is a step toward. Soothing our nervous system, [00:15:00] because there's more of a connection.

Asking what it needs that even starts to activation of the part of our nervous system that is more regulating or helps us feel more ground.

A lot of times our thoughts  create the center. Groundlessness  yeah. We have the sense of spinning. We have the sense of confusion.  Especially with the art  can really educate our nervous system. That, yes,  we're going to heal here.

We are here to reverse a lot of patterns. Have not served us in are not serving us now.  

We are really big fans here on Insight Mind Body Talk . Of the nervous system and helping the nervous system regulate shift from activation and survival responses into what's called ventral vagal, which is a sense of safety and connection and feeling calm and grounded. What are some strategies that sematic expressive [00:16:00] therapy brings to helping the nervous system regulate?

Cause we know it's so important. Yes, it is important. And I think too, I would add for the nervous system a lot of times we can't. Shift to ventral vagal, or we can't shift to that sense, but we can move towards equilibrium and when we're in any part of our nervous system.

So that includes  the immobilization of our nervous system. So that is often experiences, collapse, and also the th the more activating part of our nervous system. Usually we feel the fight or flight, but we can have an equilibrium there.

We can have playfulness. So the goal is it's always to get to ventral vagal, but it's like, can you tap into the.  Positive qualities of sympathetic arousal, like play.  And as I say, a [00:17:00] lot in my sessions is it's personal it's but we get to experiment. So having some kinds of ways of being that activate or open up different parts of our brain that can help us lead us there.

Okay. And in general,  curiosity, I use the word curiosity a lot, and opening up activation in a different part of the brain instead of the parts that want to close us in and, keep us safe.

So then we get to become curious about it.  

 Another concept is we've heard a lot about gratitude 

 The intention of gratitude is  to help our brain start the activation  in a different part our brain that will help us shift out of that narrow perspective of  what our fear response does. So gratitude.  Okay. Here I am.

 I wake up, full of fear and anxiety. I'm going to then notice that and and if I can call it out, oh, there's the [00:18:00] fight or flight response or there's, my fire alarm, whatever you want to call it and then start, wherever you can. Okay, I'm going to start thinking,  I'm grateful.

Here and not in that nightmare that woke me up, and as some people can't start there and that is absolutely fine. It's just, it's, this is an idea of where, what we try to explore in session  .  I have learned so much from the people I work with and.

This is so cool for me. I just love to learn from people , there's a lot of information out there and when people bring it in and then we can try it on and see if it works.   

 Another kind of concept or way of being is opening up to savoring.   Savoring is a way to help our senses open up and shift away from.

Our alarm response. Will you explain savoring? What do you mean by that? I think I know, but I just want to, yeah, I know. [00:19:00] I know. I learned  the concept of it in it took a mindfulness self-compassion training with Kristin Neff and Christopher Germer. Jeanne Just talked about Kristin Neff and Chris correct?

Yes. Yeah. That was a very helpful training because they Chris actually talked about these concepts and he talked about together and it was savoring, which is just noticing and really taking in So seeing the blue of the sky, just really seeing it feeling the air, the coolness of the air or a breeze feeling a soft blanket, really on purpose, noticing that.

Yeah. And it's very accessible  does that? No, that makes complete sense. I was just daydreaming about things. I like to save her like the last bite of a really good meal where you just chew it so [00:20:00] slowly.

Like you make yourself the perfect bite and then you, Hmm. or this morning I was sitting on the couch having my morning coffee time and my cat,  she was purring and she was all snugly under a blanket.

And I just sat there and savored it for two or three minutes,  slowed myself down to feel the purse sensation, to hear it, to just be with the taste of the coffee, to feel relaxed on the couch and snugly. And it's those moments that help ground you and in a way, get you through all the difficulties.

Life and being human brings us. Yes. I love those examples and it is personal and we can save or yes, what we enjoy so often we yeah, we [00:21:00] just move through life quickly. . 

 And then the next is self appreciation. And I like to open it up to just appreciation. Cause sometimes it's hard negative self-talk.

Can really take over. And because it is connected to our fight or flight response, it's connected to survival, just, we had some of us just have a really good  self monitoring system. And our thoughts, like to comment, I had really good self monitoring system,  but there's sometimes there's a lot to self.

Even around her negative self-talk  yes. And so if that self-monitoring system is keeping the self appreciation. Out of reach, then we could go to appreciation and it's not to negate the things that  are difficult for us or negate the things that [00:22:00] we're feeling.

It's to help open up different parts of our brain to create a network in which we can receive.

Yeah. Yeah. And when the survival strategy has been. Self-monitoring and critical illness to keep us safe, neurons that fire together wire together. And so it is an important to activate other areas of our brain that then fire together wire together. And that's what I hear you saying is it's activating.

And creating other neural networks so that it comes, becomes easier and easier with time to offer gratitude, to savor, to maybe then offer  self appreciation. Yes.   

And what we've known through experience is being proven the mindful self-compassion website has all of the studies.  Yeah. This stuff is so cool. 

  As we close Victoria, I want to bring up something that [00:23:00] came up while we were preparing for this episode, you brought up a really important point. Something that's not often really discussed when we think about therapy, but it's really understandable and it's almost expected.

To be a part of the therapy process, some thing  you think it's important? Our listeners hear more about,  when we offer ourselves compassion, for example, or we savor, or we practice gratitude, sometimes it can, what you call poke the beehive. Can you explain that a little bit more? Sure. 

As I kind of referenced before, when we moved towards compassion, we moved towards ourselves in a supported way to attend to places that maybe didn't have support  overwhelmed our systems. So often what can come up  as I mentioned before,  fear negative self-talk [00:24:00] because compassion is foreign, not necessarily to us, but to our system, to our biological system.

I think a really good metaphor. Is that our body holds all the times that we'd felt overwhelmed. And when we moved towards and experienced them as a sensation and we moved towards them. They don't even sometimes know how to take and they don't have, as we mentioned before the network in which to receive, so what can come up are really difficult emotions, including shame fear.

Those are the two that I see most often. So someone is maybe doing this really. Good work, this gentle kind productive work. And yet. The result or the immediate response, isn't what they  expect. It's shame instead of relief or something like that. [00:25:00] And that can be confusing. 

Why am I doing this then?  Because underneath it, I didn't expect to feel worse  yes. . Idea of compassion or support comes in, there's no receptors. So it bounces. And then we automatically think what's wrong with us, or it can be a danger cue in and of itself. It can be very confusing and I see everyone else around me taking this in.  What's wrong with me. Yeah.

Yeah. Yeah. What do you recommend then in those moments for people. I think here education about our biology is so important that it's not the person's fault, that it's just how their nervous system, how their brain is organized. And we then get to go towards that and work to create that.

Networks. So we could to reframe that reaction and go, oh, that's just where, your system is saying, I don't know how to take that in. So let's become [00:26:00] curious and how to do that. 

. And doing this with a guide, that can help validate that this is common. This happens to all of us.  And   how can we be curious and take care of ourselves so that we can continue forward instead of protecting ourself and turning away, but staying with it.

 I appreciate that you brought it up in our production meeting because. The therapy process. Isn't perfectly linear, right there, there are these experiences that sometimes it feels a little harder before it feels a little bit better,  but that doesn't mean we shouldn't.

Exactly. And I do think that so often we aren't given the room to be. In the moment with ourselves and show up and welcome what comes up. having that space and time it takes practice.  I'm going to say your quote I wrote it down because it was so powerful   looking at the stuff isn't [00:27:00] bad, it's just hard, but we can do hard things. And when we do hard things, we transform. Yes. I'm so glad you're here. Yes, you're welcome. It's lovely to be here and talk about this. And it's very exciting to me because I've seen it help and I've felt it helped myself. I think it's a  really important addition to mental. It is,  and the more we can let people know about the different types of therapy that exists out there, maybe traditional talk therapy isn't for someone. So they haven't pursued therapy, but maybe this resonates with someone and there is a new path, a different path they can take towards health and healing.

And that's why we're here, .  Thank you so much, Victoria. I really appreciate it. My absolute pleasure. Yeah. Yeah.

 Thank you again for joining us on [00:28:00] Insight Mind Body Talk, a body-centered mental health podcast. We hope today's episode was empowering and supported you in strengthening your mind-body connection.

We're your hosts, Jeanne and Jess. Please join us again   as we continue to explore integrative approaches to wellbeing. Until then, take care.