Group Psychotherapy

Group Psychotherapy and Accumulative Stress

We are designed by life to be communal. The regulators of stress reside within the social architecture of the mind and body. In response to extreme stress human physiology invokes social orientation, turning towards relations. If that natural instinct to resolve the stress is interrupted, survival energy becomes locked in the body. A source of chronic tension (anxiety) and hyper-vigilance remains. When we experience stress now, it triggers the earlier unresolved accumulated stress, quickly overwhelming the nervous system. We become both flooded by and sensitized to the ordinary level of stress today. Through the process of re-triggering earlier events of post-traumatic stress, it becomes difficult to differentiate, and in perspective, deal with life appropriately. We lose our capacity to respond.

Group Psychotherapy helps us slow down physiological activation enough to differentiate a past from a present stressor, to check out our trauma-induced perceptions, and settle into the accurate reflection of the group’s caring compassion and encouragement.

At the core of post-traumatic experience is the state of nervous system overwhelm. Awareness ‘checks-out’ and sensorial experience becomes fragmented into disparate associated elements; instinct, emotion, and rational thought. Since the experience is dissociated it may be inaccessible even to our best intellectual puzzling out, making traditional talk psychotherapy modalities less effective, perhaps ineffective, in healing from trauma. These ‘split-off’ fragments of traumatic memories, lost to cognitive awareness, are not lost to the body, and trigger flashback experiences from current associative elements. Group Psychotherapy invites the fragments of experience back into awareness at a pace that protects us from overwhelm, allowing for integration and healing.

For groups to be effective we have to include not only the language of the body but awareness of the resonant field of relations, a kind of cultural regulation. This is especially important in later stages of group process, when societal or ancestral trauma fields feel the group capacity to welcome and metabolize the ancient and broader imprints of oppression.

Group Psychotherapy and the Repetition Compulsion

Until this return to safety, our implicit survival biology keeps trying to complete the procedural instinctual actions mobilized to kept us safe. This powerful instinctual drive to complete may place us in similar situations over and over, attempting to master the experience. How many of your last intimate relationships have had a similar pattern; that slowly wears you down over time? Without enough resources, we only further embed the disempowering sense of ‘stuckness’ deeper into the nervous system.

Group work brings our attention carefully to the somatic re-experiencing of trauma related relational dynamics, which begins the process of slowing down, opening our field of awareness, and integrating dispirit dissociated states of attachment insecurity. With the careful guidance through this process we are free to dissolve patterns that keep us striving to repeat, and instead rest in a sense of completion, agency, and empowerment.

As we increase our capacity for tracking and experiencing these shifts in physiology, we increase our capacity to be in the here-and-now without replaying internal stories created by past traumatic experiences. This increase in the interoception of safety, helps distinguish and resolve emotional triggers, reactive behaviors, and negative self-talk. ‘Interoception’ is a term coined by Dr. Stephen Porges, as the capacity to sense into the stimuli and conditions arising within the landscape of the body.

When we feel tension, stress, or a difficult feeling we often try to avoid it, to get rid of it through self-medicating, isolating, or some other invention of our own. We stretch out neck tension, take a hot bath, have a glass of wine, get a massage, a pain killer, antacid, or try to control those around us. But the pain or tension keeps coming back, so we have to keep managing it.

Until we learn to explore the nuances inside of the ache, tension, pressure, burning, or churning sensations, we are unable to allow the instinctual energies at the root of our pain the space and time to resolve.

With somatic therapy we enter into these remnants from incomplete past traumas, into the sensation of incomplete muscle memory actions, and follow them through subsequent unfolding sensations – moving energy from the core of the body to the periphery, and out! We do this through introducing gradual exposure of awareness to the highly charged sensations, commonly referred to as titration, and balance the activation with the reality of your resources, the external environment, and the here-and-now safety of the group’s genuine caring presence.

As we inhabit more deliberately the felt-sensations of the body, we digest bit by bit the layers of stress physiology, helping to curve the whole organism towards a state of calm and away from stress, anxiety, and the quickly escalating sympathetic triggers that lead to panic.

As we increase our capacity to balance internal trauma-based stress signatures with social orientation to the here-and-now, we feel our sense of aliveness increase. As we learn to differentiate these seemingly benign yet chronic tensions from the energetic signatures of present time we feel a sense of control, excitement, and hope for changing into deeper states of ease, flow, and wellbeing.

With a greater nuanced attention we learn to make gentle and titrated contact with the stories our body’s carry, discovering that going into difficult experiences does not have to end in the familiar, stuck, overwhelmed, or depressed habitual patterns, but instead liberates us further into our spontaneous aliveness.

FOR AN APPOINTMENT OR MORE INFORMATION
Contact Joel Decker, MFT, Somatic Psychotherapy:
510-229-9765 Berkeley/Oakland Office

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