In the world of therapy, the importance of slowing down the process is not necessarily understood in great depth – not just for therapists, but for people like you who are on the lookout for a supportive space. This article is about recognizing why it is totally okay to pump the brakes and put the focus on building up your inner strength before addressing the most difficult experiences of your life to date.
Especially when life throws us curveballs, like stress from tough, scary experiences, taking it slowly becomes crucial. In this read, we are diving into practical ways you can slow things down in therapy. Why? Because it’s not just about hitting the fast-forward button; it’s about helping yourself stay grounded and supporting you in the process. For lasting change to occur, it is essential that you stay grounded in yourself and remain aware and attentive of the feelings, thoughts, sensations, and emotions as you move through your process.
Consider the difference between driving at 160km/h and cruising at 60km/h. The contrast is not just in speed; it’s about what you might overlook when moving rapidly and how intensely focused you must be. High speeds demand a narrow field of attention. Imagine then slowing down to 60km/h. The scenery becomes clearer, and your ability to absorb the surroundings expands. It is a parallel to life — the faster we go, the more details we might miss, and the more we gain by taking it slow.
Whether you’re dealing with past trauma or just trying to navigate life’s challenges, the goal here is to boost your ability to handle those tricky symptoms that brought you to therapy in the first place. So, let’s chat about why taking it slow is not just a therapy thing but a real-life, everyday necessity for building resilience and working through what’s on your plate. Basic Understanding in handling traumatic stress.
In the realm of trauma healing and mental health, experts emphasize the necessity of a cautious approach when dealing with challenging and traumatic stress. Rushing into the stories or difficult physical sensations and feelings related to trauma without ensuring a foundation of safety and grounding can potentially inflict more harm than good (Selvam, 2022; Cozolino, 2015; Levine, 2015; Van Der-Kolk 2014).
While Cognitive Behavioral Therapy has long been the “go to” therapy method, recent realizations underscore the profound impact trauma has on us physiologically and psychologically (Wong, 2020). Trauma disrupts our cognitive processes, impeding clear thinking, self-awareness, positive self-perception, and emotional regulation—essentially hindering our ability to feel secure within ourselves. Conventional talk therapy, focusing primarily on thoughts and behaviours, falls short from a scientific standpoint, particularly when considering the shutdown in our complex systems that occur during overwhelming experiences. For example how our capacity to socially engage or feel safety in ourselves is severely diminished.
Delving into the intricacies of our brains in response to stress reveals fascinating dynamics. When we perceive a threat, whether real or imagined, specific brain regions shut down as a survival mechanism (Cozolino, 2015). In such instances, our brain prioritizes survival over complex cognitive functions, directing our attention solely towards immediate survival concerns (Porges, 2017). The challenge arises when our bodies and nervous systems activate survival responses even in the absence of an actual threat.
In essence, before delving into intense emotions, bodily sensations, or challenging stories, it is imperative to skilfully ground oneself, establish a sense of safety, and apply the brakes carefully. Taking those crucial pauses can significantly enhance the outcome of therapy, making it a vital component of effective trauma healing.
Let’s simplify this explanation. Levine (2015) introduces the concept of “titration” to guide us in handling challenging issues without becoming overwhelmed. Picture it as a chemistry experiment where you carefully mix solutions to avoid explosions or unexpected surprises. It is about taking things step by step to ensure a smooth process and to help keep you in your window of tolerance, your capacity to deal with stress.
With titration, we aim to determine the right amount of stimulation we can handle without feeling overwhelmed by our inner experiences. Even arriving to a therapy session can be stimulating enough, so it is advised to take a moment to settle and get comfortable before delving into the reasons you are there.
Various methods can be used for this, such as focusing on your breath, feeling the weight of your body, or creating a safe space in your mind and imagination. Learning to track and connecting with your inner sensation of calm, relaxation, and relief, or just neutrality and feeling ok is a good practice in self-regulation.
Now, let’s break it down further. Learning to regulate emotions and becoming more aware of our bodies shields us from stress, like getting better at reading signals within ourselves. Take a tough conversation, for example. Titration in this context means recognizing when things are getting too intense, taking a break, and returning to the conversation when ready, perhaps 30-minutes or 1-hour later – going a little further, or completing the conversation, allowing your system to handle it and learn that it can move through challenges and things beyond your current comfort zone. Then gradually facing more challenges and building upon the previous success.
Consistently living this way enhances resilience, confidence, and control. It is a bit like putting a puzzle back together, one piece at a time. Trying to tackle too much at once can lead to feeling overwhelmed and defeated. Instead, taking manageable steps helps you progress toward meaningful goals, avoiding the “I can’t…” mindset and fostering a sense of achievement over time.
I hope you take a moment to reflect on these ideas, aiming to move towards the life you want, one step at a time.