Starla Dean MA, LMFT
“The most precious gift we can offer ourselves is our presence.
When mindfulness touches us, our hearts open like blooming flowers”
Mindfulness-Based, Somatic and
If you are new to Mindfulness, or Therapy based on it, you may have many questions? Or, even if you’re a seasoned Mindfulness practitioner, you may wonder how it can be used in therapy?
What is Mindfulness-Based Psychotherapy? And how does it work? What happens in a session? Why Mindfulness-Based Therapy?
Practicing the skill of mindfulness through mindfulness-based therapy, will help you become increasingly aware of old, limiting patterns of thought, belief, behavior and emotion, that we've been conditioned and brainwashed into acting out and believing, because of our past wounding and hurtful abuse by others. You will experience more and more clearly, that these patterns of unconscious behavior, are actually rooted in your inner world - and in your present adult reality are not being caused by external circumstances and people.
In this psychotherapy, we engage difficult feelings rather than avoid or try to extinguish them. We believe that sitting in awareness of your adverse feelings, ”staying present”, will reveal the true source of your suffering. You will learn how to be fully present with the energetic charge or contraction connected to the distressing thoughts, memories and body sensations, which will then digest, dissolve or “metabolize” the contractions into wholeness. (For more on how the digestion or “metabolization” occurs, please see my Mindfulness-based and Somatic therapies page).
This is how the deepest healing happens. The more present you are with the actual physical energy connected to your suffering, the more the difficult pattern, core belief, or reaction is lessened. Eventually, the reaction will no longer happen, or you will be able to feel it coming on, before it has a chance to unconsciously hook you into acting it out.
This is called 'mindfulness', and is what mindfulness practice and mindfulness-based therapy helps you do. It helps you to become ever more self-aware of what is arising within you, from moment to moment. In mindfulness-based therapy, I help you practice and develop mindfulness, or present moment awareness.
Mindfulness-based therapy, along with mindful self-compassion and loving kindness, is the core of the Holistic Soul-Centered and Buddhist Psychotherapy I practice. It will assist you in coming out of the trance of ego-based unconsciousness, to become conscious, and be able to actually perceive things as they are, in the here and now. You will be able to experience the world, more and more, as it actually is, rather than experiencing it from a trance of unconsciousness.
Mindfulness-Based Therapy Case Examples
Here is an example that might present itself in our therapy: You may be experiencing a deep loss accompanied by grief that is causing depression, anxiety, sleep loss, lack of motivation, profound sorrow, physical illness or other natural but painful symptoms. This loss may be due to the death of a pet or other loved one, your personal loss related to your aging or chronic illness, or perhaps a difficult life transition such as a job change, relationship break-up, retirement or an unwanted move.
Due to the deep grief you are experiencing, you recently had a debilitating and very disturbing fight with a sibling. You had been speaking with your sister about how horrible you felt emotionally and that you weren’t suicidal, but told her it’s been very hard to get out of bed on most mornings, because Your sister then told you: you just need to “get busy and get over it” as it has been many months since your loss and it’s time to “move on”. You felt shocked and shamed, and very angry, all at the same time, and told her defensively, that you never should’ve told her anything personal, that’s shes never really cared about you, and you hung up on her.
This defensive and angry outburst of yours, surprised you, and you felt tremendous shame, self-blame and guilt, that over the next week, caused your symptoms to worsen. It prompted you to realize it was time to seek the loving, therapeutic support and wisdom of a grief therapist.
How We Might Work Together - Mindfulness of the Body and Thoughts
Upon seeing you, we might begin by working with what is happening in your body. Or we may focus on you becoming aware of the thoughts or memories that are connected to the negative reactions, shame or self-blame you are experiencing.
We would also work deeply with helping you to cultivate self-compassion and loving kindness for all that you are having to go through due to your painful loss. Please see my page on Mindful Self-Compassion for more about how this will unfold in our therapy session.
If we were using body-focused mindfulness, focusing on your body sensations when tuning into the anger or shame, you might describe a tightness in your chest that feels dark and ‘achy’. You then might note that it is heavy and hot, and suddenly feel a wave of emotion connected to a memory from your childhood, when your beloved pet died, and you were very sad and depressed.
In the memory, you had received a bad grade on a test, and your father, upon finding out, was extremely disappointed in you. You confided in him that you couldn’t focus since your dog had died, and you woke up many nights with nightmares about your dog dying.
After telling him, he shamed you, told you “your dog has been gone now for six months and it’s time to forget about it”. He also said that “she was finally out of her suffering and you need to be happy about that, instead of selfishly missing her”. You remember feeling upset with yourself for being so selfish, that your Dad was right, and you began to see yourself as a selfish person. You had to repress the anger you might have righteously felt towards your Dad for shaming you in such a way, and that anger became internalized toward yourself. You also took on a belief about being selfish, for having feelings of loss that might disturb others.
After realizing all of this in our session, you would be able to see the reason why you reacted so angrily to your sister, and why the aftermath was filled with shame and self-blame. You would be able to see how you were reacting more to something that happened in your past, than to what was happening in the here-and-now.
With this new awareness, you would be able to identify this wound from your childhood as completely separate from your current relationship with your sister. You would begin to understand that your sister has likely taken on your Dad’s shaming behavior pattern, and is also unable to acknowledge her own grief, thus unable to validate yours as well.
The mindful self-compassion work would also help you to see clearly that you couldn’t help but be triggered into anger and shame in that situation, and you would learn how to nurture yourself through this experience - with kindness, empathy and compassionate understanding.
In a later conversation with your sister, it’s likely you’d able to apologize to her for the name-calling, and be present for her with empathy and understanding for how she’d been hurt in the same way, causing her belittling, abusive behavior toward you. It would be clear that her behavior was truly not personal, just a re-enactment of her own childhood wounding.
You would likely feel very grateful for facing and clearing this unfinished business from your own past. Additionally, you would have begun the process of observing the contents of your mind and body sensations. In addition to being called “mindful” - this inner awareness is also called “being present for yourself”, “present moment awareness”, or “witnessing”.
The Healing Factor of Mindfulness and Somatic Therapy,
Or, What is Digestion and Metabolization?
As our healing contact and intention to truly meet and feel our core wounding and pain deepens, often what can happen is we will begin to discover that we are really only partially experiencing the pain. At times, through becoming lost in the mental story of it, we might just be skimming the surface of it, rather than truly experiencing it. Sometimes we might even be re-traumatizing ourselves, by our over-identification with it and how we lose ourselves in it, once we turn towards it?
Instead of digesting and metabolizing it, we may just be recycling it, reinforcing a victim story, or just interpreting it or thinking about it - or otherwise disassociating or splitting off from it. We may not yet be used to the very raw, alive, nakedness of the immediate experience of it. In the past it was likely just too intense to be that open, to be that vulnerable, to be that unguarded. However, as our intention to fully meet what’s here, through our commitment to being fully present with ourselves, we can start to see how there are certain feeling states that we just do not want to feel, we do not want to encounter so nakedly, we do not want to digest or ”metabolize”. Once seeing this, we can shift and change.
So what exactly is metabolizing? Metabolizing refers to the willingness to fully participate in our experience, in an embodied way. To cut into the habitual momentum of disassociating from it. When a difficult feeling arises, for example, to slow way down and actually be willing to feel it in the body, meet and touch and hold its texture, color, fragrance, and signature in any way you can. Just like we must metabolize the food we eat to receive its nutrients, it is the same with human experience. In order to receive the healing gift of experience, we must actually experience it all the way through, not merely think about it or interpret it.
For some of us, these previously unbearable feelings might be sadness or rage or shame, or unworthiness, jealousy, despair, hopelessness or hatred. Or the feelings that come when we have to enact a boundary, say no, or assert a need: or even in relation to pure joy. Somehow these feeling states have come to be associated in the nervous system with a subtle (or not so subtle) survival level of panic or anxiety.
How and why do we distance, shut down or disassociate from our feelings?
As young children in our families of origin, this was likely a very accurate perception, where we learned (usually the hard way) that if we stayed embodied to and expressed certain feeling states, this would lead to a rupture in the tie with the early attachment figures, ie. if we were angry, Dad would fly off the handle and yell or hit us; if we were sad it would trigger anxiety and depression in Mom, etc.
Very intelligently at the age of 4-6 we developed a capacity for sustained repression of these feeling states as a way to maintain the tie, fit in, and to receive even a modicum of attention, affection and mirroring. But these partly digested feeling and somatic states only get pushed out of awareness and deeper into the body/unconscious, where they are sure to surge in later relationships, to be held, integrated and fully digested/metabolized, to complete the cycle from an earlier time.
Retraining your nervous system
So in this sense, “metabolization” is the antidote to splitting off/disassociation, the willingness and ability to fully encounter feeling states, to stay with them, to allow them to unfold, without falling into the extremes of denial/repression on the one hand, and needing to act them out on the other (corresponding to fight/flight and avoidant anxious attachment), both ways of interrupting the process of metabolization, which is really just another word for staying with our immediate experience.
The process of metabolization, in my experience, usually occurs in stages: first we stay for a very short period of time, until we train our nervous system to know that we are not actually in danger, that our survival is in actuality not at risk by staying, as it once was, or feels. Then over time, we train ourselves to tolerate, contain, and hold the experience, where it becomes more of a heart practice of actually opening the heart to our pain, cradling and holding it, and actually beginning to be kind to it. But we cannot skip stages, we have to work through the survival level feelings which can approach feeling annihilated actually.. Retraining the nervous system is what we are doing, even though it feels like we might die if we stay with these feelings and sensations, we have to discover for ourselves if that is true now, as an adult.
My role in your journey of embodiment
So, metabolization describes the journey of embodiment, of first training ourselves to tolerate very difficult states of emotional and somatic arousal (we all have certain feelings we will do almost anything to avoid: look carefully). And then to begin to open to them, so that we may replace the habitual momentum of disassociation, with that of kindness, acceptance and LOVE.
I am here to gently and lovingly guide you through this re-training of your nervous system - and help you to learn to dissolve the negative embodied fear-based beliefs you had to develop as a young one to survive in a dysfunctional family system. In time, with great patience and compassion, you will be able to ride the waves of your heart’s and bodie’s most painful emotional contractions.
When the pain that arises in our hearts, minds and bodies, is held in loving awareness, the energetic contracted charge of the painful suffering metabolizes, and you will begin to experience the truth of this healing and awakening quote, that is one of my very favorites:
“Healing and awakening are the sacred acts
of self-love we gave birth for”
What is Somatic Psychotherapy?
The word Somatic is derived from the Greek word “Soma”, which means “living body”. Soma refers to the unified ‘mind-body’ whole, that cannot be separated into parts. Somatic Therapy works with the human ‘mind-body’ connection to improve quality of life and promote healing. Techniques vary greatly and may focus on promoting body-awareness, mindfulness practices, assessing and improving posture, working with the breath, movement, sound, or having integrative conversations
Somatic also more simply means 'having to do with the body.' A somatic therapy of any kind is one that deals with the body. As a form of psychotherapy, somatic therapy is a way of affecting emotional changes via the body. If we were to focus somatically, I would use heart-centered talk therapy, combined with mind-body exercises in a holistic approach to healing whatever issue you are focusing on. I’ve been trained in four particular somatic therapies called Focusing, Authentic Movement, Radiance Breath Work, and Mindfulness-Based Body Psychotherapy..
Somatic therapy takes many forms. Beneficial somatic therapies can be found in nearly every culture, from ancient Eastern practices such as yoga, to more recently developed Western psychotherapy modalities such as Focusing or Somatic Experiencing.. The following list is just a sampling of the many somatic psychotherapies available:
Mindfulness-based Body Psychotherapy
For more detailed information on how we might work together somatically, customized to your particular needs, I’d be delighted to speak with you directly for a free half hour consultation.
Transpersonal Therapy = Focusing on the Big Picture:
Embodied Mental, Emotional and Spiritual Wellness
More here to come soon.
The Transpersonal Therapies I use are:
The Shamanic Journey
The Spiritual Enneagram