How to Create Lasting Change in Body Experience
Maggie Phillips, Ph.D.

Part 1

How to Open Strategic Pathways
That Maximize Self-Regulation of Body Experience

There are many factors that influence initiation of positive body experience for people who are in pain or who are suffering from health problems or posttraumatic stress. An important consideration is to identify portals into a given individual’s body experience that will serve to maximize their successful attempts at self-regulation of distressing and painful experience.

An example is Marina, a young woman who has just recently lost both of her parents. Her father died only a few days before her first meeting with me; her mother had endured a long and difficult battle with pancreatic cancer to which she succumbed six months earlier. Marina was proud of her own endurance, and commented, “I have some reactions I need help with, like I’m not sleeping and I’m having flashbacks of how my father looked after he passed away. But I was afraid that I would go off the deep end with this and I haven’t. I’ve kept myself together.”

Validate Defenses as Important Strengths

Working with a client like Marina involves first accepting her protective and defensive mechanisms as strengths. “I can see how you’d feel good about how you’re handling these losses. It’s a lot to carry even on your capable shoulders,” I told her. “Well, actually,” she said, “my shoulders are pretty sore, as is my neck. And I can’t stop now because I have to settle my parents’ estate. My siblings want this over with, and then I have my two children and my job to deal with…” “I see that you have great determination not to drop any balls, Marina, yet I’m sure you wish you could set down some of these responsibilities for just a little while, to get some rest, some of that sleep you’re missing so that you can find the energy to go the distance.”

Within minutes, Marina had begun weeping in relief. “You’re the first person who really seems to understand what I’ve been dealing with, “she said. “I can’t go on like this much longer, but I’m not sure what to do, where to start to lighten my load even a little bit.”

Marina’s story illustrates one effective portal that can open the door to positive somatic change, and that involves accepting and affirming the body’s existing defenses no matter how much pain or stress they may be causing. One of my cardinal rules is to reassure the client that I am not going to ask her to remove or dismantle whatever she’s invested in to protect herself from being any more vulnerable than she already feels.

Consider What to Add and Make a Contract

This strategy makes it possible to trust me enough to consider the possibility of making a change. So then we can take the next step, which is considering what to add. “Marina, where in your body would you say that you carry the most suffering?” “That’s easy,” she said, “my shoulders and my neck.” “Are you willing to think with me about what we could add to help relieve the strain for your shoulders and neck?” “Absolutely,” she said.

So here is the second step involved in opening a new portal: Getting a specific contract about how you agree to relieve suffering. Although this may seem to be a very obvious addition, I’m always surprised at how many practitioners remain vague, along with the client, about where the focus of intentions and techniques need to be in initiating change.

‘OK, Marina, so what have you found that has made even a little difference in your shoulder and neck strain?” “Well,” she said. “Heat helps a little bit, but I can’t apply heat enough of the time to make much of a difference.”

“Yes, I can see your point,” I answered. “But what if we could find a way to generate internal heat, heat that comes from somewhere inside you?” “Well that would be terrific,” she said, “But I can’t imagine how we’d do that.”

Generating Somatic Resources that Make a Difference

So now that we have a contract and have identified what might match what she has already found as a resource for the problem, we’re ready to go to work.

I have found that application of appropriate breathing techniques is generally the best place to explore as a foundational resource. For Marina, I suggested that she simply follow the movement of her breath through her body and let me know what she discovered. “My breathing seems OK except it feels a little shallow,” she answered. We spent a few more minutes deepening her breath by asking her to place both of her hands over her chest and pressing down gently on the inhale, letting go on the exhale. For many clients, this seems to ease constriction in the chest and allows breathing to flow more easily.

After her breathing seemed more relaxed, I asked Marina to scan her body to find the area that seemed to hold the most warmth. After a pause, she responded that she felt pleasant warmth just below her belly button. We explored the felt sense of this warm area, and Marina described it like a ball of warmth.

I asked Marina if she could imagine how she might move the warm ball up toward her neck and shoulders. Following a few moments of silence, Marina told me that she was able to move the ball up toward her shoulders each time she inhaled. Encouraging her to take her time, I suggested that she notice what that warm pathway was like for her.

After several minutes, Marina described the warm ball as moving across both of her shoulders; when she breathed in, the ball moved to the left shoulder, and when she exhaled, the ball moved across her neck and through her right shoulder. Again, I encouraged her to spend time refining this practice until it felt complete.

Marina seemed pleased by her discovery and eager to practice on her own. I explained to Marina that this was a form of pendulation, a Somatic Experiencing technique that used natural pendulum rhythms such as breathing to help regulate various types of discomfort in the body. We then discussed some ways she could practice her “warm ball” technique and set a date for a follow up session.

Questions for You:

1. Find out what somatic defenses you are working with for yourself or a client. Communicate how these defenses are good resources.

2. Decide what to add and make a contract or set a clear commitment for exploring a specific resource and what it can contribute to the problem.

3. Explore the use of the resource you have chosen and modify it as needed to generate positive somatic change in the direction of your contract.

How to Create Lasting Change in Body Experience
Maggie Phillips, Ph.D.

Part 2

Expanding Windows of Somatic Acceptance
and Possibility

Once you have opened strategic pathways that begin to help with successful self-regulation of body experience, you are ready to expand windows of somatic possibility for yourself and those with whom you work.

At this point in the process, I find it helpful to share information with the person I’m working with about how we can create more complete acceptance of his/her full range of body sensations, ones of comfort and aliveness, as well as those of pain and distress, so that we can open wider the windows of positive possibilities.

Although there is much information that can be shared, I have found that trust in the process of somatic change can be facilitated reliably through the application of simple knowledge about the mechanisms of our nervous system as it interacts with cortical circuits of the thinking brain, the limbic circuits of the emotional brain, and the rhythms of the primitive reptilian brain.

Understanding the Polyvagal Nervous System

A recent model proposed by Stephen Porges (1995) and others suggests that we may actually have 3 nervous systems as well as a triune brain. Previously, our understanding included the autonomic nervous system that regulates our automatic processes including respiration, heart rhythm and pressure, and the central nervous system, containing the brain and spinal cord, which control our behavior. Our knowledge of the brain until recently included mainly the cognitive, linear left thinking brain and the nonlinear right brain.

Porges and others have discovered that the vagus or the 10th cranial nerve contains pathways that contribute to the regulation of many of the internal organs including the heart and respiratory systems and interplay with our brain functions. Polyvagal theory proposes that through our evolution, mammals developed two vagal systems with very different, even contradictory, response patterns, and that these interact in important ways with the sympathetic nervous system.

The exciting aspect of the polyvagal theory is that it helps us understand how our nervous system both enhances as well as sabotages our abilities to relate to others. It also helps to understand how the two branches of the vagal system are related to how we react to situations that appear safe or unsafe.

The Ventral Vagal System

Basically the polyvagal system works in a hierarchical way, but not necessarily in a balanced way. What happens is that when we are threatened, we respond with the most recent vagal system to evolve. This is called the ventral vagal system, which is linked to cranial nerves that control facial expression and vocalization. These and other behaviors are related to the process of looking at others, communicating with them, signaling or even listening. As Porges points out, listening actually involves tensing muscles in the middle ear, which are in turn regulated by the facial nerve.

We use social engagement with others to test psychological distances before we move into physical closeness. We also draw on stored data about familiar faces, voices, and movements; when these appear “safe,” they turn off the brain stem and limbic areas that include fight, flight, and freeze responses. The ventral vagal response slows the heart and respiration, regulates many of the visceral organs above the diaphragm and is believed instrumental in self-soothing and calming.

So, our first line of defense is the ventral vagal response. If we are not able to gather sufficient “safe” social support as protection against threat, then we move to the next step.

The Fight/Flight Response and the Sympathetic/Adrenal System

The next level of defense is to turn on active avoidance through fight or flight responses. The fight response is usually turned on when threat calls for aggressive self-protection, or when flight seems ineffective. Since human beings are rarely able to complete fight responses, these defensive strategies are usually interrupted.

The body also shows multiple indicators of the urge to attack. Some of these are glaring or bulging eyes; a mouth that is gnashing, biting, spitting, chewing; arms and hands with clenched fists, pounding, stabbing or punching gestures; urges to hit, push, pull; reflexive kicking and stomping patterns in the feet and legs.

When fight responses are aborted, there may be a linking of aggression with powerlessness or helplessness. Often, these thwarted aggressive energy are held and manifest as rage, anger, homicidal or suicidal feelings, destructive reactions and hostility, or a tendency to blame, judge, or act out repetitive outbursts or more passive-aggressive outbursts.

If the fight response is evaluated as inadequate or is dangerous to enact, the flight response is turned on. We can recognize this reaction in the language of escape, avoidance, or running away. Felt sense of the body includes a sense that feet want to move, legs want to run, and the body wants to hide. Usually, there is panic, terror, or avoidance behavior and a longing to break free and escape. If the flight response is interrupted, or the fight response is ineffective, the organism is more likely to enact the freeze response.

The Freeze Response and the Dorsal Vagal System

The freeze, shock, or immobility responses (these are roughly equivalent), are instinctively and automatically turned on by the dorsal vagal system and the reptilian brain. The freeze mimics death and triggers the release of endorphins and other analgesic chemicals, programmed to ensure a relatively painless death. Continued freeze over time will lead to a more permanent passive immobility.

There are really two types of freeze reactions. Type one involves a heightened awareness of the environment and its possible threats. When type one freeze is activated, the organism is motionless and panic stricken but ready and able to act and move if further information warrants activation. Type two, on the other hand, involves the inability to move, difficulty breathing, and full or partial paralysis. The type 2 immobility response is a total submission to helplessness, hopelessness, and vegetative state. It is the hardest, of course, to resolve.

Freeze characteristics involve profound numbness, analgesia, very low blood pressure, collapsed muscles, mental numbness and dissociation, and disruption of memory. When a person exhibits the freeze response, there may be difficulty in speaking, shallow breathing, overall significant body tension and stillness, words and posture that express a lack of desire or the inability to move.

What I Say to People About the Polyvagal Theory

To summarize, I usually explain that there are 3 nervous systems or circuits that govern our reactions to stress, threat or trauma. The ventral vagal system is in charge during nonthreatening situations and assists us in relating to others and to our environment. It also helps us to use our relationships to regulate our fear and aggressive reactions and keeps us in a safe window of tolerance.

When stress overwhelms the resources of the ventral vagal system, our brains automatically activate the sympathetic/adrenal system to help us fight off the stress or threat or to successfully flee or avoid it. If this fails, then we collapse into the freeze or immobility response.

While we are in the freeze state, we are not necessarily uncomfortable because we dissociate from the threat or trauma. The problem comes when we cannot surrender fully to the freeze response. A full surrender, which animals accomplish when they are threatened, allows the body to help us complete and come out of the freeze naturally. Completing the freeze response, as well as related fight or flight processes that led to the freeze, helps to reconnect us with our full energies and keep an inner balance or equilibrium.

Window of Tolerance and Acceptance

When we are in a zone of balance, stability, and security, we are within the limits of what we can tolerate and ultimately accept in our body experience. How do we get here?

One important strategy is to find the boundaries of this window based on our personal histories, the resources we have for support, the level of stress that exists, and the skills we have learned for coping. Some people have wide windows in that they can handle emotional highs and lows with much success. Others have very narrow windows and end up with unpredictable highs and lows that can trigger huge and frequent feelings of fear.

When stress levels increase, windows of tolerance and acceptance of body experience become smaller and less flexible. Our abilities to move within it by regulating our stress reactions through self-regulation also shrink. Therefore, we need to learn and apply reliable methods of lowering our stress. Otherwise, each time we are triggered takes us closer to the higher limit of our “windows” with no way to widen them. Anticipating and preparing for times of higher stress helps us to strengthen our self-regulation skills.

Ultimately, we must be able to draw on our ventral vagal social engagement system to “down regulate” or subdue any significant activation of our fight or flight responses in reaction to what appears to be an internal or external threat. We must also develop the ability to use our social support system to “up regulate” from the dorsal vagal freeze response so we can activate our energies to help us survive and even thrive.

What this means is that we must focus on the repair of early relational experiences, particularly those with our parents or significant caregivers in early life. Wounds of absence such as neglect as well as wounds of presence, such as abuse, must be addressed so that we can draw on our relational strength to cope with stresses that activate our fight-flight responses as well as our freeze and immobility reactions.

Using the Polyvagal Response System as a Guide to Change

The next step is to decide how to use this information to create permanent change in somatic symptoms. Here’s an example to illustrate how to apply the polyvagal theory when working with health, anxiety, pain, and other symptoms.

Amy is a 35-year old highly successful entrepreneur. She is bright, articulate, and a very savvy businesswoman, building her own company in just 5 years with total assets of just over a million dollars.

Although life is going well for her, Amy has one huge problem. She becomes so activated that she cannot sleep by herself at night without huge anxiety. She must have someone with her in her condo every night, whether a boyfriend, her assistant, or one of her supportive friends.

As we explored together, Amy told me that the problem started when she was about two years old. Her mother began working the night shift as a nurse and her father spent the evenings gambling with his friends, sometimes at home but often at a neighbor’s house. Amy has many memories of waking up alone in terror. As she grew older, she called her mother at work, and those calls would provoke quarrels between her parents.

Even when both parents were at home, because Amy had learned that disturbing her parents led to even more anxiety, she buried herself in the covers of her bed until she became very warm. She would throw off her covers again until the anxiety became too strong, and then she would bury herself again. This process went on as many as 6-7 times a night, resulting in chronically disrupted sleep.

Aside from ongoing insomnia, it was impossible for her to sustain a love relationship for long since most of her partners complained of how clingy and dependent she became. From time to time, she became very despondent because her sleep problem was so chronic that nothing seemed to help.

I explained the workings of the polyvagal system to Amy, who commented that the model made sense to her, but she felt it would be impossible to make any lasting changes in her sleep patterns. When I asked her whether there was ever a time when she had been able to sleep by herself, Amy responded that there was only one time during the “dot com bust” when she was afraid her business was going under. “I channeled all my worry toward the business, and during that time, I was able to sleep a night or two without anyone there.”

Pointing out that I thought she was able to sleep because her sleep anxiety had been overwhelmed by a stronger anxiety about her business, I suggested that we needed to find a focus that was stronger than her nighttime anxiety, and asked her about some of the times of enjoyment and strength in her current life.

Amy easily identified her hobby of flamenco dancing, which she enjoyed several nights a week because it helped her reduce stress. We explored the felt sense of dancing as it moved in her body to widen her window of enjoyment. At first, she reported that she was very relaxed. After awhile, however, she began to frown. “This isn’t going to work,” she said. “I’m thinking right now of the last boyfriend I had and when we used to dance. It was fantastic until we broke up. I haven’t been able to dance since then.” We then explored the body sensations that appeared related to the freeze response of avoiding the dancing, but it became more and more challenging for her to stay focused.

I agreed with her that we needed to find another source of enjoyment or strength that was more reliable over time. Amy thought for a few minutes and then said, “When I talk about my dreams for my company and my career, I always feel good.” As I directed her to find and stay with those feelings in her body, her posture shifted spontaneously. She became more expanded and open in her chest and core. Her spine straightened and she smiled, “I always feel terrific when I think of this and I do now too through the whole trunk of my body, really all over my body, my legs and arms also.”

After a time of staying with those emotions and sensations, I asked her to bring up thoughts about sleeping alone and find out what changed in her body. “I’m feeling a little twinge of anxiety in my chest, but I’m thinking that that’s just a little part of me. Not all of me feels that way now.” When I asked her how she might imagine that “little part” of her, Amy told me that she saw a terrified little girl who was alone and scared and did not know how to calm herself down so she could go to sleep.

I suggested that she imagine holding that little girl on her lap so that her head rested against her chest. After some time had passed, Amy told me that “little Amy” had begun to relax and that her grownup heart had begun to open and expand as she felt that connection. As we moved toward completing the session, Amy decided to imagine a baby “snuggly” that allowed her to hold little Amy on her chest as she was lying down and starting to drift off to sleep. We agreed that she would practice this preparation every night to see whether this would lead to success in sleeping by herself. After several more minutes of practice, Amy reported that all of her was feeling very relaxed and that she could imagine falling asleep easily and quickly.

How did Amy move toward this big change in one session? Stephen Porges has suggested that what is needed to regulate an unstable nervous system is to allow social engagement behaviors to occur while dismantling the defensive and protective reactions. He further comments that it is only when our nervous system evaluates the environment as truly safe that our body responses can change.

With the safe atmosphere that Amy and I created through our therapy relationship, as well as the safe connection created between her adult and child selves, her stress responses connected with fight and flight began to dissipate. The relational resources became primary—that is, activating the ventral vagal system through these new relational experiences allowed the “down regulation” of sympathetic nervous system activation related to night terror, and the “up regulation” from the dorsal vagal freeze response to a wider window of acceptance and tolerance.

Practice for You:

1. Map out your “window of tolerance and acceptance” related to a specific problem or symptom that you want to change. Identify what, if anything widens or shrinks the window related to this problem.

2. How can you create a safe enough environment so that you can activate positive relational experiences? Remember that one way is to create a “conflict free image,” which is essentially what Amy and I did when I helped her to find a wholly positive resource that expanded her existing “window of tolerance” about her sleep anxiety, which turned off the reactions of the sympathetic fright response and the immobility that had kept her stuck for so long.

3. Practice using the resource you have found whenever you are aware that your window of tolerance shrinks. What happens?

For an easy to read article on the polyvagal theory, go to

How to Create Lasting Change in Body Experience
Maggie Phillips, Ph.D.

Part 3

Strengthening Ongoing Mastery of Body Experience

Once you’ve opened new strategic mindbody pathways that promote self-regulation of body experience, and you’ve developed reliable ways of expanding windows of tolerance and acceptance for various kinds of body experience, the next step is to insure that strengthening and mastery will continue.

Examining Beliefs About Integration and Change

If you are a professional in the business of helping people change, it’s important to examine your beliefs about how and to what extent it’s possible for permanent change to take place. Usually, we believe our clients must be motivated to change, that they must believe change is possible, and even that they expect that change will continue to take place over time after they’ve worked with us. Most professionals also expect the client to participate actively in the change process, rather than passively waiting for help.

There are further considerations, however, when considering how to create lasting somatic change. From my experience it seems that many professionals either err on the side of believing that it’s the client’s job to do the work of motivating themselves, or that it’s the job of the therapist to do so. Either way, the professional is likely to be frustrated. If clients fail to motivate themselves, then the client’s resistance appears to block the possibility of change, and if the professional is unable to motivate the client, then the professional has failed.

From my viewpoint, the issue is one of collaboration. How can we build effective partnerships for change, whether on a 1:1 level, a systems level, or even a global level?

One recent learning experience for me about collaboration and partnership occurred in a five day workshop I was leading. When I invited feedback at the end of the fourth day, a tall, thin man stood and said through a translator, “I have learned absolutely nothing in this workshop; It’s been a complete waste of my time and money.” Intrigued by his comments, I questioned him further and he told me he had been unable to get even one technique I had taught to work for him.

Unwilling to allow the workshop day to end on such a sour note, I invited James to join me on the stage. Within a few minutes, we established that he had had a longstanding blockage in his belly and that no end of medical or psychological treatment methods had produced any results whatsoever. When I asked whether he could feel any other sensations in his body, he admitted that he could not. I tried my usual initial suggestion that he focus on his breathing; he told me he knew his breath was moving but that he could not feel it. I did not want to extend the ending time of the workshop so I suggested that we spend ten minutes discovering whether we could make any progress.

James agreed and so we struggled in vain to find a focus with which he could be successful. In desperation, I asked whether he could feel his feet in his shoes. He nodded. “OK,” I said, “that’s a start.” I asked him to press his feet into the floor until he could feel more sensation. “The bottom of my feet feel OK,” he said.

I then suggested that he practice feeling the flow of breath move from his feet to his knees and back down to his feet. I suggested that he not practice anything else from the workshop but devote all of his practice time to this goal. He agreed and we adjourned.

The next morning I had decided not to call on him but rather to see if he offered any feedback. He raised his hand and said he wanted to share that he had been successful in feeling his breath flow from his feet to knees and back again but that there was no change in his stomach blockage. I invited him on stage for a 10 minute follow-up, and instructed him to show me what he had practiced. I observed that James indeed seemed to feel his breath flow from his feet to his knees and back. I asked him then to breathe from the bottom of his feet up to his hands, which were on top of his thighs and back down to his feet. Again, James appeared to have a felt sense of this experience. His comment, however, was, “How is this going to help with the blockage? That’s what I really care about!”

Now it was time for me to share some of my beliefs about change. “James, I think the problem for you has been that you have ONLY been able to feel the discomfort in your stomach. You are disconnected from the resources that your body has. None of the techniques I am teaching in this workshop will work if you are not able to feel your breath flow through your body and the differences that can make. But if you really believe this approach will not help you, let’s stop here. What do you want to do?”

James decided to continue and so we opened more pathways with his breath moving from the “home base” of the soles of his feet to the area above the blockage into his chest and heart area and then to his shoulders. When he completed this successfully, we ended his session. I promised him one more 10 minute ‘mini session” before the end of the day and sent him off to practice during lunch.

In the late afternoon, I once again invited James to join me on stage for a last “mini-session.” He reported that he had been able to feel his breath moving through his body in all the ways I had suggested. I asked him how this felt and he said, ‘my body feels lighter and more comfortable.” ‘Good,’ I replied, “and now we might be able to add one more piece to this today. Put both hands over your heart. Let’s see if you can move your breath from the bottom of your feet to your heart and back down to your feet.” After a pause, James said that he could.

“Ok, James, and now as your breathe from your feet up to your heart, see if you can find one tiny spot where the flow of your breath can move through the blockage in your stomach in order to reach your heart.” After a long pause, James said, ‘Yes, there is one tiny area on the right side.” I congratulated him and suggested that he continue to practice moving his breath between his feet and his heart, gradually opening up more space through the blockage. James left the stage agreeing that he had learned some valuable lessons about trusting his body, and about taking change slowly, one breath and one step at a time.

Could I have worked differently with James? Of course! I could have used Energy Psychology or EMDR or any number of methods. Yet I believe that what made the difference was not the approach I used but the partnership we formed and the successful opportunity to unite our beliefs about change and to discover a way to make these work for him.

The Practice Effect

Another aspect of what helped James to make changes is the focus on practice. Some months ago, Dr. Marty Rossman and I did a teleseminar together on using guided interactive imagery to create new healing pathways in the mindbody system. We talked about the fact that many people have an initial positive experience with a healing method that feels almost miraculous to them, but then they begin trying to practice and find that the practice effect is not nearly as strong as the initial effect. So they often give up practicing and so the change does not become permanent.

It’s very important to educate people to expect this difference, and to understand that this happens because when working with a professional, the “client” is required only to receive the benefits of the healing. When working with oneself, however, there is a dual requirement to be the director of the change process as well as the receiver. This dual requirement often creates a sense of more effort.

Because we are often trying to change habitual patterns that have been in place for many years, frequent practice is required to create shifts that are permanent. Without regular practice, this type of mastery over time is not possible.

Top Down and Bottom Up

Working with bottom-up somatic approaches as well as with top-down cognitive approaches also helps to contribute to lasting change. I have developed a 5 step model that provides a flexible protocol by integrating approaches that address the polyvagal system as well as including both bottom-up and top-down methods. The 5 steps are:

1. Repair attachment or relational trauma through a secure healing relationship (ventral vagal system)

2. Resolve inner relational conflicts among different parts of the self using ego-state therapy (ventral vagal system)

3. Rebalance sympathetic over activation of the fight and flight responses by teaching awareness of the felt sense and work with pendulum rhythms (sympathetic/adrenal system).

4. Use the breath to regulate reptilian brain response and develop the skills for self-regulation (dorsal vagal system).

5. Teach methods for self-treatment that help to “thaw” freeze and immobility responses, balance the fight and flight responses, assist with self-regulation and enhance current relational experiences. These methods address all 3 branches of the polyvagal system and include hypnosis, imagery, EMDR, Somatic Experiencing, and Energy Psychology.

Bridging Then and Now

An important concept is that healing for both the mind and body are necessary to achieve change that lasts over time. I find that one important entry point into the 5 step model above are to take an early attachment history focusing on abandonment/neglect/absence as well as abuse and other trauma occurring in the first year of life. I also ask what the person I’ve been working with has been told about birth experiences, mother’s labor, and family circumstances since pre, peri and post natal trauma can have an important impact on current every-day functioning. Collecting this data can be used to evaluate the two most common types of trauma in children, developmental trauma (or cumulative relational stresses that result in dysfunctional defenses) and shock trauma, when there is a more sudden, massive impact on a child such as that created by loss, physical or sexual abuse, or natural disaster.

Eugene Gendlin’s focusing method, which emphasizes the felt sense, involves whole brain knowing rather than right or left-brain processing. And Peter Levine’s Somatic Experiencing model, partially built on Gendlin’s work, helps to repair fight/flight sympathetic system imbalance as well as to interrupt the freeze response and teach reliable self-regulation by working with pendulum and breathing rhythms.

To bridge from the past to current spontaneous experience, we must also use the breath to teach self regulation through the language of mindfulness: “And as you take that next breath in, hold all of your awareness of your body, hold that awareness as you hold your breath, and now when you’re ready, let it all go…and with the next breath in, step into a new moment as if for the very first time, with beginner’s mind.” Spiritual practice, like various types of mindfulness and meditation, provide a special bridge from the universal wisdom of past, present, and future ages into the current moment.

Energy Psychology also offers medicine for mind, body, heart and spirit by applying unique ways of affirming our positive intentions toward ourselves and others, and of dismantling negative core beliefs while at the same time strengthening and balancing the energy system in relation to various types of emotional distress including grief, anger, guilt, shame, fear, and panic.

I’m reminded of an energy session I had with David, who had suffered from depression and physical pain in his body for many years. He struggled with doubts that I could help him but he scheduled an extended session to see what we could accomplish.

First, after a discussion of possible methods, we decided on the use of Energy Psychology because he was curious about and drawn to this approach. We completed the usual steps of preparation for EP, which involve hydrating with sufficient water, rebalancing the polarities of the energy system, and creating a positive energy field by correcting energy reversals that can block healing. When we energy tested for reversals, we found a reversal for readiness to let go of pain that was related to a severe illness at the age of 20 that prevented him from going to college. David at 20 believed he had lost everything and did not feel ready to let go of depression. Much like other effects of the freeze response, this part of him was frozen in time. Just in identifying this conflict and resolving the reversal, he released long held grief and despair.

We then began to use the midline technique, developed by Fred Gallo. While touching the first point, the third eye, David reported that he felt more relaxed. On the next point under the nose, he began to sob again about the opportunities he had lost in not going to the university and pursuing his dreams. The third point under his bottom lip brought some gentle trembling in his hands, which he described as “energizing.” Finally, stimulating the point on his sternum, the thymus, brought a sense of completion and balance.

We retested his emotional pain and tension that had started at a 9 on a 10 point scale. Although David guessed that his ending pain level was 3, our energy testing results showed zero. David commented that he was nervous that the depression would come back and so was feeling a low-grade anxiety. We used Gallo’s future outcome technique and his confidence about staying free of depression increased. I reassured him that he could use this protocol if any of the depression or tension returned and he promised he would practice the protocol every day. The last report I received from David, he was free from depression and body tension and was pursuing a new career and a happy life.

Accelerated Healing

My final comment is that I believe it is important to hold the hope that accelerated healing is possible for anyone. There have been many cases where because of difficult history or circumstances, my initial reaction is that change will be very hard to achieve. As we deepen our trust in the body’s resilience and its ability to heal itself in an atmosphere of support and safety, this possibility is more likely to become reality. The practice of keeping an open mind is essential for deep, lasting, accelerated healing.

For Your Reflection

1. What are your beliefs about how change becomes integrated? If you are a professional, what beliefs do you look for in your clients?

2. What is the most effective combination of “bottom-up” and “top-down” methods that you have found? What are the results that draw you to use this particular combination?

3. What additional ways have you used to bridge then and now? Is there something from this ecourse you might consider adding to make these strategies even more effective?

Author's Bio: 

Maggie Phillips, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in full-time private practice in Oakland, California. She is director of the California Institute of Clinical Hypnosis and past-president of the Northern California Society of Clinical Hypnosis.

She has served on the faculties of the American Society of Clinical Hypnosis (ASCH), American and European Congresses of Ericksonian Hypnosis and Psychotherapy, the Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing International Association (EMDRIA), the Esalen Institute, the European Society of Hypnosis in Psychotherapy and Psychosomatic Medicine, the International Society of Hypnosis (ISH), The Professional School of Psychology, the Society for Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis (SCEH), the International Society for the Study of Dissociation (ISSD), the International Transactional Analysis Association (ITAA), and the University of California at Santa Cruz, Extension.
Dr. Phillips has led workshops on hypnosis, psychotherapy, the effects of childhood trauma, and reversing chronic pain in the U.K., Germany, Scandinavia, France, Japan, China, and Malaysia, and uses of energy therapies in mindbody healing.

She has authored numerous papers and articles in the areas of ego-state therapy, redecision therapy, and the treatment of post-traumatic conditions, and is the co-recipient of the 1994 ASCH Crasilneck award for excellence in writing and of the Cornelia B. Wilbur award from the ISSD. Dr. Phillips is co-author of Healing the Divided Self and author of Finding the Energy to Heal and Reversing Chronic Pain.