Handling some of the emotions that surface during coaching sessions can be a delicate process. Some instances may lead you to even suspect trauma in the life of a client. What a some signs a caring coach should watch for to know if referral to a licensed therapist is needed? What can a coach do within their own coaching scope to further help a client?
In this episode, Jen Taylor, a licenced trauma therapist with numerous credentials and training in multiple techniques, shares her insights and tips. As Jen and I spoke, one important point stuck out to me that Jen really felt to be most important as well. That is: the relationship a client develops with you is paramount to success. This is true whether a client is dealing with trauma or not. But since trauma is usually experienced within relationship, so can healing be experienced within relationship. So the more you can positively connect with a client, the more you can help them heal and improve their life, which is the goal of all coaching.
What You’ll Learn
How Trauma is Defined and some Red-Flags of Potential Trauma
An unintegrated response to a physical or emotional stressor
The nervous system’s overwhelm that marks trauma
Belief whether or not we had agency over what happened
Survival brain hijacking
Emotional and physical symptoms to watch for, tracking body movements
How to Tell the Difference between Trauma and Normal Life Ups and Downs
How quickly does the person recover from an upset?
Does the person feel overwhelmed and powerless or do they feel they have agency?
Is it impacting their daily life?
How to Incorporate Help Within the Scope of Coaching
Help clients develop the ability to be a witness of their own cognitive, emotional and somatic experiences (often referred to as decoupling)
Increase curiosity to put distance between circumstance and response
Encourage regulation and staying connected with self during disregulation
The Top-Down Approach Versus the Bottom-Up Approach
The brain creates thoughts and feelings and sends those down to the body; but the body also creates feelings and sends them up to the brain (how it is all interconnected)
Using the body as an ally instead of an enemy
Staying with the emotions that are coming up, creating space
How to settle into, and make use of, a sensorial response
Contact Info and Recommended Resources
Meet Jen Taylor, MA, LPCC
Jen is a somatic trauma therapist, specializing in EMDR Therapy, Sensorimotor Therapy, and Assisted Psychotherapy. She is also a certified Synergetic Play Therapist (SPT), a Certified Ketamine Assisted Psychotherapist, and is trained in multiple techniques. She works with individuals of all ages, from children as young as two to adults in their 70s. She focuses on a mind-body approach that assists in relief from anxiety, depression, grief, disordered eating, chronic illness, and other impacts on the nervous system from trauma and stress. Jen is also a Life Coach and a graduate of The Life Coach School.
Somatic Psychotherapy uses Sensorimotor Therapy that combines cognitive and body based interventions. EMDR Therapy is Eye-Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing that involves an 8-step phrase process. Ketamine Assisted Psychotherapy (KAP) uses the only legal psychedelic medicine available for use by mental health providers. Learn more about these techniques and Jen’s services at jentaylorpsychotherapy.com/therapy-services.
Molly Claire: Welcome to the Masterful Coach Podcast with Molly Claire, where coaches learn skill mastery, business mastery, and Life Mastery at a whole new level. If you’re ready to create a meaningful coaching business that makes a difference, you’re in the right place. And now your host, Master coach instructor, Molly Claire.
Hey, coach, we’ve got an awesome interview for you today. I’ve got Jen Taylor that I’m speaking with who is a trauma therapist, and much, much more, you’re going to love her insights. I know that as coaches, it can be tricky when you come across a client that has some trauma issues going on, or maybe you’re curious if there may be some trauma going on. So Jen is going to share some insights about what to watch for, and also how, as a coach, you can complement the work that a client may be doing with a trauma therapist. So such an awesome interview, I love Jen, you’re going to love it. Let’s dive right in.
Okay, everyone, I am so excited about our guest today, we have Jen Taylor here, who is a trauma therapist and coach, and she is amazing. Hello, Jen.
Jen Taylor: Hi, Molly. It’s so good to be here. Thanks for having me.
Molly Claire: Oh, so nice to have you. I had Jen in our Mastermind in the Coaching Collective talking with our coaches there, and it was just so phenomenal. And so I wanted to have her here. I know that for all of you, as coaches, you come up against things with your clients where you feel a little stuck, and maybe you’re wondering, does this person need a therapist, and sometimes we don’t really know how to handle some of the emotions that come up for our clients. And so, of course, on this podcast, as I’m helping you to be able to feel more capable as a coach, I want to bring in the best experts. So of course, I’ve got Jen.
Jen Taylor: Thanks.
Molly Claire: So here we go. So Jen, before we get started, tell us a little bit about you and your business and what you’re most passionate about?
Jen Taylor: Yeah, so my name is Jen Taylor, I am a somatic therapist and trauma therapist in Boulder, Colorado, and I work with clients of all ages who have experienced trauma. So from as young as two or three all the way up to 70 plus. And because of that I am trained in a bunch of different modalities, because not every tool is the perfect fit for the person, the client, the nervous system in front of me.
So I am a sensory motor psychotherapist, which is a somatically based treatment for trauma. I’m trained in EMDR, eye movement, desensitization and reprocessing. I’m a certified synergetic play therapists and I’m also a Ketamine assisted psychotherapist. I’m also a life coach and a graduate of the Life Coach School. And with that hat, I teach coaches how to implement somatic tools and practices into their work with clients. So I’m kind of passionate about kind of combining the two fields and also teaching this work and making it more accessible to more people.
Molly Claire: Yes, Oh, I love it. I think and Jen, of course, we met through the Life Coach School, which was such a fun connection to have. And so tell me you were saying that in the coaching realm, you actually work with coaches helping them to be able to incorporate the somatic work with their coaching?
Jen Taylor: Yeah, so really, somatic interventions can be an addition to any practice. So with coaches and therapists, I teach somatic tools and interventions to kind of help them dive a little bit deeper; if they’re feeling a little bit stuck. It’s a way to help implement and kind of take their coaching or even their therapy to the next level.
Molly Claire: Yeah, awesome. And I think one thing that Jen said that I want to just like point out to the coaches listening, is that you said not every tool is the right one for any one client?
Jen Taylor: Yeah, exactly. Yeah, I think it’s really important that we are working organically and intuitively, and we’re meeting the needs of the client in front of us. And so some tools work really great for some people, for some nervous systems, for some brains and other tools work better. So I kind of think of it like I have a tray of paint brushes and colors, and they get to choose the tools that they use to paint on their canvas. And so the more tools that I have, the more likely we’re going to find the right fit for that person.
Molly Claire: Yes, I love it. And I’m excited for you to tell more about your expertise here, and also just take a minute like the coaches for you coaches listening; remember that because I know as a coach, you have a lot of tools there. And I hear from coaches all the time, what’s the right way to use this? What’s the best tool in each situation? And I think just remembering to take into account like being present with the client in front of you; what are their needs and experimenting as well with what works for any one client, I think just makes you so much more masterful and powerful with your clients. So I love that you brought that up, Jen.
Jen Taylor: Yeah. And I think that that brings me to a really, or I think you highlighted a really important point that what I often tell therapists and coaches is that you are actually the most important tool in their relationship. So the science and the research has actually shown that such a large percentage, like upwards of 70 plus percent of the therapeutic or coaching relationship for change to happen, it’s actually that safe, a tuned connection with the coach with a therapist, and then all of the interventions that we use are beautiful, and they’re helpful, and they’re evidence based, but they’re actually secondary. So this relationship that we cultivate with our clients is actually primary, and first and foremost.
Molly Claire: Yes, oh, my Gosh, it’s so true. Just a couple weeks ago, I actually did a free class about this very thing, helping the coaches create good connection and relationship with their clients because when you have that, then everything can really work for the client.
Jen Taylor: Yeah. 100%. And I think we can especially as new therapists or coaches like underestimate or undervalue the importance of that relationship, and really are everything.
Molly Claire: Yes. Oh, I love it. I love it such a good thing to remember. Okay, so one thing I wanted to ask you, for the coaches listening here that, obviously are not trained in trauma, what do you advise that coaches look for as they’re recognizing trauma in their clients? Or maybe something that’s outside of their wheelhouse?
Jen Taylor: Yeah, so I’m wondering if it’d be helpful to briefly identify what trauma is, would that feel helpful?
Molly Claire: Yeah, that would be great.
Jen Taylor: Sure. So at its core trauma is really unintegrated stress. So it’s a real or perceived life threat or emotional threat that was really overwhelming to the nervous system at the time of the event. So our nervous system kicks on, we get this really big arousal response, and we employ the sub cortical below the thinking brain below the cortex, adaptive and defensive strategies to try to fight off and manage the intensity or the overwhelm. If we can’t fight or flee from the trauma or from the overwhelming event, then we will actually have arousal that plummets, and we will go into this collapse state. So you’ll see this in people, you see this in the animal kingdom, we all have these different responses to how we deal with trauma and nervous system in our body.
So I think the important part here is the overwhelm of the nervous system. So the way I like to conceptualize trauma is to think about a funnel, and holding a funnel underneath a faucet. So in our normal day to day life, we turn on the faucet, we turn on the water, it’s a slow, steady stream, we can integrate the external stimuli, the internal stimuli, we can integrate what’s happening in our experience.
With trauma, the funnel goes under the sink, and all the faucets get turned on and full blast, and it’s really overwhelming. So we can’t make sense of our experience. We can’t integrate the experience both the internal so our overwhelm or panic, our cortisol response, and also the external stimulus that things we didn’t have control over. The big part about trauma is really our belief of whether or not we have agency over what happened. So if we believe we were powerless, helpless or out of control, the more we believe those things more traumatic, we’re going to perceive that event to be.
So with trauma, the prefrontal cortex or logic thinking, problem solving, have a part of our brain goes offline and the sub cortical defensive responses takeover. So how do we recognize trauma in our clients? So I kind of refer to this as the survival brain hijacking. Our clients being hijacked by their emotional response, are they having high stress responses? Or is there a lot of impulsive actions? Are they feeling out of control? Are they acting out in ways that don’t feel in alignment with how they want to act? Or their ways of anxiety or panic attacks? Are they in a state of regulation where they can think and problem solve and connect with people? Or are they in a state of dis regulation, where it’s actually really hard for them to come back down?
Trauma presents as symptoms, and I think that’s what I really want coaches and therapists to understand is that rarely, unless you work in the trauma field, rarely do you have a client come in and say, here’s my trauma history. What they say is I’m struggling with anxiety, I’m struggling with depression, I’m struggling with this physical symptom, I’m struggling with this behavior that I want to change. And that’s when I start to have some curiosity around maybe is there a trauma history?
So trauma can show up in cognitions; there could be ruminations flashbacks, nightmares, hard time concentrating, a hard time thinking straight impaired judgment. Sometimes people will minimize what happened to them like, ‘Oh, yeah, that was in the past, it wasn’t that big of a deal.’ Trauma can show up in emotional responses. So panic, fear, rage, anger, helplessness, overwhelm, it can show up physically in the body. So trauma first and foremost impacts our body. So it could show up as chronic tension, chronic digestive issues, other physical symptoms, like chronic pain, autoimmune disease, sexual dysfunction, high startle responses, mood swings, inflammation, and then it can show us behaviors.
So avoidance behaviors, withdrawal, isolation, anger behaviors, diminished activity, or what we call ADLs in the therapy world, activities of daily life, so diminished pleasure and what people used to like to do. So that’s kind of what I recommend people start to screen for, when they meet with clients, and as they’re getting started, is trauma, showing up as symptoms and how do their clients respond to stress?
Molly Claire: I think all of us can relate to times where we feel like we may not have the best handle on our emotions, right? Or we kind of lose our temper, or we’re frustrated or whatever. And of course, as coaches, we help people to understand that they can take ownership of their emotions and of course, shift that trajectory. But what is the difference between a ‘normal sense’ of like, sometimes feeling out of control of our emotions or feeling really upset or down or having some of that in the whatever would be called the normal realm, versus people really having trauma responses that are interfering in their life regularly?
Jen Taylor: Yeah, I think that’s such an important point that we operate on a continuum and on a spectrum, right? And really, what I say is that the Dalai Lama himself, any guru out there can have moments of dis regulation; it’s not that we have dis regulation, its how quickly do we come back to a state of optimal arousal? How quickly can we find our way back? So it’s totally normal to pop up into this sympathetic to this or high arousal or down into that parasympathetic but don’t overwhelm response, but how would we find our way back? And where are we operating primarily throughout our life? And especially how do we operate during stressful responses? And do we feel like we have some control and really some sense of agency? Or do we feel out of control and really powerless and overwhelmed and shut down in the face of some of those emotions?
Molly Claire: Yeah, I love that. The way that you put that, and it’s so, I think, useful to think about that and notice kind of thinking about it on a spectrum, right? It’s not oh, it’s either there or it’s not. But understanding yeah, the spectrum of regulation and how that looks. And one thing that made me think about is, I remember working with a client that did have some trauma come up for her, and it was almost like, it was this hot spotlight on all this trauma that came up that she didn’t really realize was there.
And as we work together, I recommended that she did work with someone, a trauma therapist with EMDR. And so she was doing that. And we were simultaneously kind of holding space for her within the thought work, her thoughts about everything going on, and processing some of that. So we have this collaborative approach going and I want to talk more about that. But my question specifically with this is, do you find that to be the case, sometimes where sometimes maybe this trauma can almost be dormant or not there? And then, as they have new situations or circumstances in their life, it almost like brings it all up, and it’s more at the surface for people?
Jen Taylor: Yeah. 100%. So I think there’s a lot to unpack there, but…
Molly Claire: I know we need way more time on this, because you have so much good information. I feel like we should be teaching like a daylong seminar or something here.
Jen Taylor: I’m in a three year trauma training. So there’s so much here, and so I do want to say that too, like a lot of this is very bird’s eye view right now, and I think that this is a very important point. So again, because trauma is not really stored in the prefrontal cortex and is actually stored in some of these sub cortical regions. Trauma isn’t stored as a memory so much as it’s stored as a somatic, like visceral response and an emotional response.
So sometimes we’re not actually even aware that we are operating from this kind of trauma brain or this more adaptive sub cortical brain, especially trauma that happened really early in childhood, right? Our thinking brain or logical cortex wasn’t online, and so we actually store them and these behaviors and our dispositions and our way of seeing the world, our way of behaving in the world, and what can happen as we start to do this thought work as we start to become mindful of our thoughts, and our emotions, of our sensations, of our behavior, right, it can open up to some of these memories, and it can feel really overwhelming, or I like that you used the word hot, because that is a very sympathetic.
When we go up into the stress response, it can go hot and stinky and sticky and overwhelming. And so I think it’s really beautiful that you can collaborate with a trauma therapist and also do the coaching at the same time. But yes, that definitely happens.
The other piece I want to mention here is that you actually don’t even need the memory of trauma, to do trauma processing. So I work with kids, as young as two or three that have experienced trauma. And we don’t work through words, we don’t work through narrative, we work through play and movement and regulation. So I think the beautiful part is for clients who don’t want to tell their story or actually don’t have a verbal narrative of what happened, they actually have just a felt sense narrative. The words aren’t actually important. So there are all kinds of ways that we can help clients work with whatever’s coming up for them.
Molly Claire: Yeah. Going back to this idea, I love that you gave kind of this overview of trauma and what it is, if you were to just maybe list out, maybe five things that coaches may look out for, for example, like you said, sort of recovery time from some of these emotions, and some of those other things, what would be some of those main things too, that would be sort of red flags for coaches, that there is maybe some more trauma there?
Jen Taylor: Any kind of behavior that is feeling really stuck or unable to change. So any kind of addiction that could be to a substance that could be to a behavior, that could be to disordered eating; I love Gabriel Mateus quote, he says, ‘Don’t ask why the addiction, why the pain?’ And what we know now is that a lot of times in addiction, there’s some underlying unprocessed trauma. I’d be looking for physical manifestations of that other kinds of diagnoses like anxiety, depression, and not always is there a trauma there, but there can be. I would look for how clients respond during times of stress.
Like you can even say, tell me about the last time you felt really stressed, really overwhelmed, how long did it last? So we’re looking at like, how long does it take for them to come back to a baseline? And what do they do during those high stress periods? Do they overeat? Do they self harm in some way shape or form? Do they shut down? Do they isolate? Do they collapse? So anything that feels really extreme, that can be a red flag. I also am curious about adverse childhood experiences.
So the ACE studies anything that was really impactful in childhood? So a death of a parent, someone who was incarcerated, like sickness, illness, domestic violence, physical violence, anything like that that happened early on, because we know that that impacts the developing brain, and we know that it has cognitive emotional impacts later on, and really, in how the body presents. So is there rigidity? Do they present in a lot of arousal? So wide eyes, fast speech, fast movement? Do they have a hard time slowing down, taking a deep breath? When conversely, do they actually have a hard time mobilizing? Are they slow? Are they low? Are they heavy? Anytime we’re really looking on more broadly? Are they continuing to show up this way? And then I start to get curious.
Molly Claire: Yeah, I love that. That’s really helpful just to kind of have some parameters around some basic things to look for. Because I think there could be a lot of things that may be interpreted as that or a lot of coaches may, I think, both right, we could either minimize the trauma responses, or also take what’s maybe ‘normal’ level of worry, or anxiety or whatever, and think that it’s bigger than it is. So I think it could go either way, right?
Jen Taylor: Yeah, and I think that the important thing is we’re not the experts here, our clients are the experts on themselves and on their emotions and their responses. So really, it’s this co-collaboration of like, whoa, I’m noticing this, how does this show up in your life? What do you think about this? How is this acting? And that’s really the impact and is it impacting their day to day life in a way that feels overwhelming to them? And so I think, really relying on them being the experts and having this own internal knowing can also be really helpful and take some of the pressure off of us as clinicians.
Molly Claire: Okay, I love this. So, my next question that I would love to talk through is; when, or how do you recommend that coaches would collaborate with trauma specialist? Because I know you and I have talked about how both are useful and that collaboration can be there. What’s your recommendation about that?
Jen Taylor: Yeah, so I think collaboration is beautiful. And if something comes up, if you’re starting to suspect trauma, if the client is having memories that related to a trauma, if it’s starting to feel like it’s outside of your scope of practice, I always recommend referring out, right, so we’re not all trained in desensitizing, and integrating and reprocessing these trauma memories. And I think having a coach online is really beautiful, because they’re helping clients to witness their thoughts, to understand their emotions, to understand the sensations. So I say find a therapist that collaborates and plays well with others. So often, in trauma treatment, I’m working as part of a greater care team.
So I might be communicating with a psychiatrist, maybe a primary care doctor, maybe a couples therapist, and I think having a coach in the mix is just one more person on that care team that is offering support to this individual. My recommendation would be to know what to look for in a trauma therapist. So someone who has some somatic training, this is obviously my bias, but some nurse medic experiencing EMDR brain spotting, the research really has a lot of evidence for these being effective trauma treatments, and to know that a therapist has to practice within their state. So know the state your client is in and refer that way.
Molly Claire: Yeah, we were just talking about that. As a therapist, you have to be local, even if I know some people can still do it at a distance in the same state, like working online, but you have to be in the same location.
Jen Taylor: Right and I think that’s kind of one of the beautiful things of COVID is it’s actually opened us up to more clients. So I work with clients across the state of Colorado, and via telehealth, and also, I think it can be really beautiful and helpful to have a client in person too. But it definitely can be done via telehealth as well.
Molly Claire: Yeah, and I think also, as most of the coaches listening here, do work with clients from all over the place, but I think it’s fairly easy to connect with a trauma therapist and for them to be able to find someone in different areas. I know, for me, I feel like, it’s easy to find someone that specializes in this in any state for sure.
Jen Taylor: Yeah and there’s resources, you can go to any one of these, like somatic medic experiencing, or sensory motor or EMDR, and you can search by clinicians within your state, you can search on Psychology Today, there’s a lot of resources out there to connect with somebody.
Molly Claire: Yeah, yeah, definitely. Okay, so Jen, one of the things I would love to hear from you is, and to have a little bit of conversation about what coaches can do with trauma that’s within their scope of practice. As I mentioned, I had worked with a client who did have a lot of trauma come up, and I found it so useful to help her to have just a little bit of space from her trauma responses, and to kind of almost acknowledge that as happening, without having it throw her completely over board, because she could have some space about it right? The way she could view it allowed her to not be totally engrossed in it. Does that make sense?
Jen Taylor: Yeah, 100%. And I think you’re diving right into what coaches can do, and that is to help their clients develop this ability to be the witness of their cognitive, emotional and somatic experience. And when we can have that witness online, and in the trauma world, we would call it decoupling. So oftentimes memories, emotions, thoughts, sensations all kind of get jammed up into like one tangled ball, and so it can really help to kind of pull out the separate pieces, and to let the client with radical compassion, with acceptance of the discomfort of the dis regulation of the hard to see the thoughts, see the emotions, to recognize their behavior, to make friends with their adaptive strategy of understanding that all behavior is communicating, and that they’ve done the best they could with what they had.
So I think somatic approaches, as I said earlier, can be incorporated to and then new modalities. So I really want people to know that this is an addition to not in replace of all of the amazing skills that coaches already possess. So one of these things is helping safety and regulation; so the first goal in trauma therapy is really to help client reduce hyper arousal symptoms. So that kind of speaks to what you were talking about; you were helping her learn to put the brake on this dis regulation, and that’s actually a prerequisite any type of trauma processing. The client needs to know I can put one foot on the gas if I want to go into it.
But I also have the ability to put a foot on the brake and witness what’s happening. If we don’t have that online, then we actually can’t process because it’ll feel overwhelming, too intense and can honestly be re traumatizing to the client. So the biggest thing that coaches can do is help clients develop that witness. So we know that the cortex goes offline during trauma. So we need to make sure it’s staying online during that trauma reprocessing and helping my clients to track their thoughts and their feelings and their emotions is a way to keep that cortex online.
Molly Claire: Yeah, and I want to just bring this too into like the LCS thought model, for example, in the way I think about it, in terms of working with clients. It’s like if we take this trauma response they’re having, and we plug it in as a circumstance, all that emotional response. I think, as coaches, we can help our clients and how they think about that, how they’re viewing it.
Jen Taylor: Yeah, and what I like about that is, in this way, we are getting curious, right? So we might not jump right away to like befriending this response or loving it or saying thank you to it. But as long as there can be some increased curiosity, some increasing awareness, then that actually puts, like you said, a little bit of space between that stimulus and that response between the intensity, and the client can, ‘Okay, I am having this experience, but I am not just this experience.’
Molly Claire: Yes, exactly. It’s almost like if we put in the circumstance being the trauma response, all those emotions they’re experiencing, and if they are then thinking about that, I’m falling apart; I can’t handle my life, right? That’s when it takes the trauma response, and they just all spiral down, it compounds it.
Jen Taylor: Right, because it kind of retriggers that belief of overwhelm, and loss of agency, which is what we know is kind of the core component of trauma; is feeling more or less feeling helpless, having a lack of agency. So anything we can do to help our clients, have some agency have some self advocacy online is going to make a difference.
Molly Claire: Yes, yes. Almost like if we were able to plug in and offer our clients ways of thinking about that trauma response, with the trauma response, being that circumstance, even things to just put a little bit of space, like, I know I can figure this out, I can get help with this or questions, right? How can I put a pause on this? What do I need to create a feeling of safety for myself so that they are more taking ownership over that; giving some space, and then of course getting the extra support they need for it?
Jen Taylor: Yeah, so that ownership piece, I think, is really big. And also, I think especially with trauma healing is that it’s really a felt sense. It’s really a sensations, a serial experience of being in the body. So sometimes the thought is just I’m willing to feel this right now. I’m willing to be uncomfortable. This is overwhelming, and that’s okay. So regulation, I think we talk a lot about regulation in both coaching and therapy, as imagining that we’re taking or diminishing the stress response. And really, regulation is about how do we help clients stay connected to self in the midst of their dis regulation? How do they stay connected and present with intensity, with overwhelm, with depression, with shut down, with the sensors that are happening in their body, with the increased heart rate, with the flesh of their skin? How do they notice and be present so that they are bigger than the experience instead of the experience being bigger than them?
Molly Claire: Yeah, I love that. Because I think those feelings when they come up, can I mean, you used the word overwhelming. They feel overwhelming, and I think also they can feel kind of unbearable.
Jen Taylor: Yeah right, and that can kind of be the hallmark of trauma too. That this is unbearable and unwilling to feel this, and then that’s when some of those maladaptive coping strategies come in, and rightfully so; because all behavior is really just a way to try to regulate or dis regulate the nervous system.
Molly Claire: Yeah. Yes. Oh, my Gosh, this is so good. Okay. I want to hear you also talk a little bit about articulate the difference between the top down versus the bottom up model? So a lot of coaching, especially the cognitive coaching in the Life Coach School is that top down model; let’s focus on the thought, creating the feeling and so on.
Jen Taylor: Yeah, there is both a top down and bottom up way of approaching our work with clients. So Soma means body and psyche. Psyche means mind, and so somatic therapy is kind of the study of this body mind interface. So it says, okay, yes, we have this beautiful brain that speaks to our body. But we also have this amazing body that speaks to our brain. So the brain is actually part of our nervous system. So yes, we can talk to the thoughts, yes, we can address the cortex.
But we also need to address the limbic system, our emotional brain, our brainstem, our nervous system and our body. So it’s kind of this continuous loop of communication that’s happening between the brain, the spinal cord, and the body, and then back up again. So you really can’t tell where one starts and one ends, it’s separate, it’s one. So we have this thing called the vagus nerve, it’s a cranial nerve that travels from our brain all the way down into our gut.
And it kind of branches off and nerve rates are connects to all of these different organs in our body. And you can think of it like a superhighway, where there are five lanes, and there’s one lane going from brain to body, and there’s actually four lanes traveling from body up to the brain. So knowing that we have these four lanes, traveling, taking all of these internal and external stimuli and taking it to the brain, it’s just another avenue for intervention in our work with clients. So it’s kind of like the walkie talkie between our gut and our brain.
So the reason why we work with the body in somatic therapy or in trauma therapy is because traumatic memory is stored in those sub cortical regions, like we talked about, it’s in that nervous system. So oftentimes, at the time of the trauma, our survival defenses, we’re familiar with that fight, flight, freeze collapse, were thwarted. So just because we couldn’t fight off or run away from the intensity, whether that was physical or emotional, that traumatic event at the time doesn’t mean that there’s not an impulse still in the body.
So we start to help clients have a lexicon for not just their thoughts, not just their emotions, but also their sensations. So maybe when they think about what happened, or maybe even what they’re struggling with, in their day to day life, that they’re not consciously aware is connected with the trauma, right, so I might just say, stay with that tightness in the stomach. And when we can just be with the sensation, when we can just start to slow things down and help clients connect with their body, then we can start to use the body as an ally, instead of viewing it as the enemy.
Oftentimes in trauma, we’ve been so overwhelmed that we live disconnected or dissociated, or we do all these things to try to get away from the intensity inside of our own system. And really, the goal here is how do we befriend our body? How do we come back into the body? And how do we use movement impulses to create the survival or move through the survival defenses that didn’t get to happen at the time of the traumatic event?
So like, one small example might be maybe a client, I noticed that tension in their legs. Maybe they’re pushing into the floor just slightly as they talk about what happened. So we might just stay right there. What are those legs want to do? Or maybe there’s just the slightest tension in the fingers, maybe the fingers just come up just a little bit off their lap. As they’re talking about either the trauma itself or what they’re experiencing at work or at home, we might just say, “Hey, what are those hands want to do right now?”
And slowly, mindfully in a titrated way, we’re going to let the body determine the next impulse. So maybe the hands needed to push, maybe the voice needed to be heard, maybe the client needed to scream, maybe the legs needed to run or kick, maybe we actually needed to reach a hand out for connection and support that we didn’t get during the time of the trauma. So we’re kind of letting meaning and these adaptive responses, these healing responses come from the body.
When that happens, then that changes the emotional response which changes our cognition. So a top down approach says our thoughts create our feelings create our behaviors. A bottom up approach says yes, but our sensations also create our feelings and also create our thoughts.
Molly Claire: The thing I love about this is even taking a case where, I’m coaching a client who isn’t necessarily having trauma come up per se, but they’re having all those emotions coming up and it’s almost like I’m coaching them. I can see that it doesn’t take much for these emote, it’s almost like they’re brewing at the surface. They just spill out all over. And when I’m working with our coaches, this is when we want to remember, like talking to this client about their thoughts is never going to get anywhere.
We can talk about their thoughts in circles. But nothing is going to happen unless you stop and you stay with what feeling is coming up. And so I think even for coaches listening, when you see your clients having those big emotions there, and you can see that they’re just right at the surface, just stop and take a minute and just ask them, what’s coming up for you? What are you feeling? And I am always amazed at how just creating a little bit of space for them to be with their body feel those feelings. It’s like it calms everything down. And that’s when you can access the brain.
Jen Taylor: Yes, so beautiful. I love that you brought this up. This is such an important point. Somatic therapists, we are not just tracking client’s cognitions. And as a coach, we’re really tracking body language, emotion, did the pupils dilate? Did the soldier shoulder slump? We’re tracking prosody of speech. We’re tracking all these micro movements. And if you’re really attuned, you can see when there’s that emotion right below the surface, you can feel it. As soon as you contact it, it’s almost like it gives permission for it to be there.
Molly Claire: Yes. Oh my Gosh, I love that because a lot of times, they’re trying to dismiss it or push it…
Jen Taylor: Right, they’re trying to move past it. And it’s like, actually, how do we make space and settle into it? Like, ooh, some sadness there, huh? Right, or what’s that feeling right there something right below the surface? And exactly what you said, as soon as we contact it, it’s almost like the floodgates open. They can have this response. And then to your point, is when we’re really in this emotional, sensorial response, like that cortex isn’t as fully online. So once you get processed through the emotion and the sensation, bring the cortex online, then the teaching, then the thought work, then those cognitive approaches are going to land much more effectively.
Molly Claire: Yes, the example I always think of is, it’s like, for anyone who’s ever had kids, and you have a toddler that just has all these big emotions, and they’re so upset, and they’re throwing this fit, and they have this tantrum, and we want to reason with them. We want to say to them, just calm down, let’s be reasonable about this. But those emotions that they’re emitting, they need to be heard, they need to come out. And so then it’s like, we can try to reason with the toddler, but maybe allowing the toddler a little bit of space to get these feelings out and have those feelings be heard. That’s when the child can calm down and be reasonable. So I think of it the same thing with our brain, when our brain is telling is like bringing those big emotions up. It’s like this child inside.
Jen Taylor: 100%. And this is how I actually talk to parents. And even to adults that can help us understand our own brain and our own nervous system. So is the upstairs brain online? Or is it offline? Are we operating from that downstairs emotional brain? And the beautiful part is that making space and allowing toddlers to have these really big emotions, and then the literature we would say, connect first, redirect second. So by connecting with the emotion like, “Oh, you’re so angry, huh?” Stomping, “Oh, so sad.” We actually teach emotional intelligence, which leads to better ability for that toddler to self-regulate. So we make space for the emotions we help them regulate later on, if we move right into teaching, or correcting and actually isn’t gonna land at all.
Molly Claire: Yeah, I think that’s so important to remember that, it’s like you sometimes have to slow down to go fast. You have to slow down and be there and allow that in order for them to be more reasonable and learn what you would hope that they would learn.
Jen Taylor: Yeah, and we’re kind of like building the staircases to the brain. And this is creating integration between those lower brain regions and the upper brain regions, which is exactly what we’re doing in this top down, bottom up somatic approach, is how do we integrate these staircases? How do we integrate these experiences? And we do it for adults, just like we do it for kids.
Molly Claire: Yeah. I love that. I long ago taught preschool and I worked with kids on all of their cognitive development, and I loved it. And I’m so passionate about helping people with their brain development. And that was something I really loved. I was always interested in what activities would help their brains and I feel like I kind of do the same thing now for adults.
Jen Taylor: 100% I do the same I do the same, I bring a therapy and a lot of these concepts into my work with adults, because we’re really not that different.
Molly Claire: Yeah, it’s true. So, this has been so great. Before I have you share how people can connect with you, is there anything else that you would want to share kind of parting words or big takeaways for the coaches listening?
Jen Taylor: I think just coming back to that, trusting that you are the most important tool, and that for this work to happen to be authentic to show up as you, because so much of our communication happens actually, on this nonverbal, somatic level. Clients can really feel us. And I think once we start to put faith in ourselves as being the most important tool, then we don’t have to be so prescriptive, we don’t have to show up with a perfectly thought out session, we’re actually letting the interventions that we use happen organically, happen intuitively, we’re co-creating what’s going to work best for our client in the moment based on where they are in their nervous system based on what they need. And then it becomes a lot more organic. So I think that is what I would like to leave people with today.
Molly Claire: Yeah, I really love that because I think that coaches are natural helpers.We care about people, we really want to help people. And it is so easy to let noise in our head get in the way of that, where coaches are worried about the best way to do it, and the right thing to do. And I think that honestly, the more we can tap into, oh, I remember now I just want to help this person, I just want to love this person. And I can really connect with them and care about them. That’s where that relationship builds. And it gives that confidence that you can help the client.
Jen Taylor: Yeah. 100%. And there’s a common saying that trauma happens usually in relationship. And so healing also needs to happen in relationship with this tentative, attuned, caring other. A lot of the time we show up in our own dis regulation because we think we have to have the right answer. And what if we let that go? What if there is no right, perfect fix? That we’re there’s nothing to fix. We’re actually just showing up experiencing and willing to be with the client exactly where they are. We’re not tied to a result, we’re not tied to fixing,we’re not tied to changing. We’re just bringing more awareness and mindfulness and radical compassion to where they are, which paradoxically, is what creates change.
Molly Claire: Yes. I love it. This has been so great, Jen. Okay, tell the people listening here, how can they connect with you?
Jen Taylor: Yeah, well, thank you so much for having me. I’ve really enjoyed it. So for my therapy website, if you’re in the state of Colorado, you want to work together, you want to learn more, you can find me at Jentaylorpsychotherapy.com, for coaches out there who want to learn more about somatic interventions and how to somatic tools with their work with clients, you can find me at inbodiedwellness.com.
Molly Claire: Awesome. So great. So nice to have you here and hopefully we’ll connect again in the future on some amazing endeavor together.
Jen Claire: Yeah, so appreciate you Molly and your coaching and your wisdom and just your mentorship for me too.