Therapy has been around for a while; however it has sometimes received a bad reputation, due to poorly behaved or trained clinicians and most likely also due to the nature of mental health...unlike our physical health, we can't physically touch our symptoms or wounds. They are more amorphous. However, in recent years it has become very apparent how important mental health is. In fact, I believe it is as vital. Science is now evidencing that our mental health has a large influence over our physical health and disease prevention. So how come it still seems ineffective at times? Dr. Stephen Porges developed a new perspective called Polyvagal theory, which explains how our nervous system responds to different situations. According to the theory there are 3 levels of our nervous system. The first is what would be considered the safe and secure level. In this level, we are open to new ideas and have an easy time connecting to others. In this level if in therapy, we can easily take in the support or ideas of our therapist. Change can occur without much resistance.
The next two levels make it difficult to change, heal, or feel supported: Level 2 is fight or flight. Perhaps these feelings might be “large” in feeling the need to flee or argue, but our actions can also be expressed more subtly. You might find yourself being resistant to your therapist's ideas or consistently looking at the clock or feeling restless. During this level it can be hard to emotionally connect to our therapist. It will be difficult to change, as our bodies our feeling threatened on some level.
Level 3 is even more difficult. It is the feeling of being shut down or isolated. For example, have you ever been in a room full of strangers and felt totally alone? Your nervous system was most likely in this level. In this level, we feel so threatened that we dissociate or shut down. In fact, we might not even hear what our therapist is saying.
What do you do if you are at either of these 2 nervous system levels? First, your nervous system needs to be soothed. Advocating for yourself is really important, as our therapists only know us to a certain degree. If you tell them that you are feeling resistant or shut down, your therapist has the opportunity to help you soothe your nervous system. They might examine your feelings more, take you through a meditation, and take a break from processing the initial trigger. While some of you might think that you are not getting anywhere because you aren't processing your target goal, in that exact moment you are doing the work! Soothing our nervous systems when we are agitated will actually help fire new neurons to know it is safe in that situation.
This same philosophy most likely applies to your everyday life. Look for those moments where you might feel depressed, angry, resistant, isolated, or defensive. By taking a walk, biking, shaking, dancing, doing breath work, meditation, having a temperature change (ie. hot or cold shower), you can reset your nervous system. Try any of these actions, continuing them until you feel yourself in a more relaxed state. This will allow you to open up to possibility of something new. Change is possible, we just have to recognize where we might need a little extra help in order to create it.
**For more information on Stephen Porges & polyvagal theory, visit https://www.stephenporges.com/