Counsellor in Whitton

Body Map - Sensory-motor Therapy

As a counsellor in Whitton, I am often called upon to help people reconcile problems of the mind.

My clients bring difficulties related to anxiety, when they experience 'intrusive thoughts', 'excessive worrying', or 'over-thinking'. They may have insight into their emotions, but find it hard to connect to them.

What I often find is most people are unaware of is how anxiety begins in the body. You may be surprised to learn,  anxiety is created by an interaction between nervous system and our emotions, or thoughts. Anxious feelings are triggered by sensory stimuli detected in the body first and processed by the brain.

This is what cause the conscious mind to work over-time. You may seek valid reasons for the cause of anxiety - such as a triggering event, or hostile encounter with a friend. But there isn't always a rational explanation. Long before our conscious thoughts kick-in, the 'emotional-brain' has already triggered a cascade of unconscious responses. That puts the brain into high alert. Rather than irrational thoughts, faulty survival strategies are what is causing the problem.

Not in the mind or body, but both:

It may be difficult to believe, but we are human animals first. Most of our instincts and behaviour is directed by the primitive brain.

You might like to think you're in control, but the unconscious mind is always running the show.

It has to be: that's the only way you can operate all the biological mechanisms that keep you alive. If we stopped to think about every aspect of survival, the conscious mind would be overloaded.  The survival brain is always on alert behind the scenes. It is always scanning the environment for signs of threat.

This is why you instantly pull back from a burning flame, or suddenly swerve your car away from danger. Your unconscious mind intervenes instantly, even when you're on auto-pilot.

The unconscious mind

When you're anxious, you may believe your thoughts are the source of your distress, but they aren't. Equally, you may believe there is a rational explanation to solve your anxiety, but that's just wishful thinking. If you could think new thoughts that would stop you worrying, you would just think them and get on with it. But it's not that simple.

Long before you experience conscious thoughts, you're wired to respond to your instincts. Your brain-body is primed for survival and anxiety is its way of letting us know something is wrong. Anxiety is not 'all in the mind', but in the body as well. The body is responding to stress hormones like adrenalin and cortisol. So why don't we respond more effectively to them?

If not 'thoughts', then what?

Usually, most anxious patterns of feeling and behaving are conditioned in childhood. This is when we learn how to regulate our emotions. Our instincts are ignored and discounted in favour of a conscious thought process. Our pattern of thought is trapped in a vicious cycle of searching for solutions that never seem to relieve the stress. if you don't feel physiological symptoms, you may have become desensitised. The brain uses dopamine to reduce the emotions we have long suppressed.

Anxiety is not fear of what is happening now, but a perceived threat in the future. After a traumatic experience you may be fixated into believing that the past is about to repeat itself.

The problem is this: we are picking up stress from our environment all day long. If we ignore the signs and fail to self-regulate our emotions the stress never gets discharged. The body senses stress, but the 'sensory-brain' cannot locate the source of the threat. That's because there is no imminent danger. The source of stress is the slow build-up of stress and sensory reminders of traumatic experiences.

The thinking brain

So the 'thinking-brain' asks: what is going on, why do I feel so stressed? Why do I have a disproportionate reaction to normal events? The 'thinking-brain goes off to search for the answer in vain. It creates several possible scenarios, problem-solves them and invents a story-line to help it make sense of what is going on. But this does not discharge anxiety.

So the thinking-brain disconnects itself and ignores the symptoms of stress on high alert in the body.

You may be unaware of stress hormones. And these neurochemicals continually fire back-and-forth between your body and brain. For example, think of how you regulate your heart, lungs and organs, all without thinking. Think: how quickly you react to a sudden threat. And how easy it is for you to drive on autopilot down a motorway. Or how easily you catch a fast-moving ball, mid-air, without thinking.

Holistic or psychological therapies?

No matter how rational you are, you're wired to survive first. The brain's primitive alarm system is constantly scanning the environment for signs of threat, even in sleep. This means to truly understand your distress, you need to treat the body and mind as one. You have to explore your bodily sensations, well-being and physical health to get a deeper awareness of the events in your mind. This is because events in the body, are also events of the mind - each impacts on the other.

You may need to accept that not all mental health problems require thought-based solutions. Far from it.

Traditional vs. sensory based counselling (Counsellor in Whitton)

Traditional approaches to counselling usually focus on the psychological symptoms of mental health. This often means talking through your story and commenting on your unconscious patterns of behaviour. It also means helping you resolve emotional disturbance, unwanted thoughts and conflict in relationships. Such an approach can lack focus on your overall wellbeing. And it also misses the point: the brain and body are interconnected through the nervous system. The anxious brain, for example is only responding to sensory stimuli and stress hormones in the body.

As a counsellor in Whitton, however, I help you understand yourself as a whole person. And this means, helping you explore how your instincts and bodily sensations, inform your emotions and thoughts. You will also look at how your unconscious impulses are the primary drivers for embedded patterns of behaviour. Understanding how you learned your 'survival maps'  during childhood. As well as how you learned to self-regulate emotions and whether these patterns persist into adulthood.

Neuroscience of the Brain

You need to be aware that conditions such as fear, anxiety and depression are all caused by the way your mind and body interacts with the environment. Your mind is not separate from the body, but interconnected via your nervous system. Sensory stimuli, trigger stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline to regulate your emotions and cause you to behave instinctively.

During a state of anxiety, panic, or  trauma your brain and body goes into survival mode  - such as a "fight-flight-and-freeze response". This may lead you into conflict, avoidance or withdrawal from relationships. When you are at your most vulnerable you may experience excessive worrying, health concerns, dissociative states, or intrusive thoughts.

What will I experience?

These experiences can be very frightening; almost as if the threat is immediate. You may relive a trauma  and have flashbacks to images, sounds or smells. Your body may become hyper-aroused with sensations such as breathlessness, heart dysregulation or physical pain. And you may freeze in a trance-like state, or become numb and detached.

These dysregulated states not only condition your emotions and cognitive processing, but also disrupt your ability to think and make informed decisions. In this state you cannot problem-solve or accurately attune to the emotions of other people. For example, a belief such as "I am helpless" or “I am irrational” may interrupt your ability to use appropriate boundaries to protect yourself, or say “no”.

An emotion such as fear may escalate your emotions to the point of overwhelming panic. In this case a smell or feeling may trigger a reminder of the traumatic experience, which is perceived as a flashback or reliving of the trauma. This is why sensorimotor interventions can help you regulate thoughts and emotions. It teaches you new strategies for managing your experiences as you heal and recover.

Counsellor in Whitton - sensory awareness counselling

As a counsellor in Whitton, I take a sensorimotor approach which focuses on building emotional awareness, thought-processing and learning to trust your instincts. This method of counselling is particularly effective for working to limit obsessive thinking, screen-playing and compulsive behaviour. We will also look at how you offset procrastination, dissociation and withdrawal as a way of avoiding action.

I want to emphasize how sensorimotor techniques can be integrated with counselling to that treat these symptoms. Because the therapist's ability to interactively regulate clients' dysregulated states and also to cultivate clients' self-awareness of inner body sensations is crucial to this approach, three sessions are described illustrating the clinical application of this method.

Sensorimotor psychotherapy (Psychotherapy Twickenham) helps you process heightened states of emotion, traumatic memories and self-destructive patterns of behaviour. It helps you regain safety and self-care routines, improving wellbeing and developing new patterns of interacting in relationships. These sensorimotor techniques help you become more aware of your physical and sensory patterns. Moreover, you will learn how to deactivate states of arousal, how to process traumatic memories and adaptive behaviours.

How can I help?

As counsellor in Whitton, I will help you tune into your five senses. You will improve your stress-response by paying attention to your motor impulses, muscular tension, posture, breathing and cardio-vascular system. If you gain insight into your "felt sense" of the world, it will help you to react more proportionately. You will trust your instincts and validate your own experience. You will feel more confident, without having to rely on others approval, or support.

However, many people are brought up without ever learning how self-regulate or acquire the tools to do this. It doesn’t mean that you won’t have learned them somewhere. I am a firm believer in your ability to utilise your own coping mechanisms. Building up your own survival strategies, rather than replacing them with ready-made techniques they do not resonate. It is simply a matter of modifying, adjusting and tweaking them to become more effective.

In counselling, you learn how to distinguish between physical sensations and unconscious reactions. This means cultivating a stronger awareness: learning to tolerate heightened states until they become stabilised. One of the first things you will learn is to develop a body map to identify and observe your bodily sensations. You may learn how they are triggered in specific situations, events or interactions with others.

The body-map and self-awareness

As a counsellor in Whitton, I help you use body scans and the body map diagram. In these simple exercises you pay attention to your internal sensations. For example, noticing your bodily responses to anxiety. Locating the source stress such as back pain, muscle tension, headaches, dehydration, hunger, lethargy, or under-breathing. Or, noticing how you respond to conflict in relationships - such as freezing, avoidance and withdrawal.

You will learn if you are a freeze and avoid animal? Or a fight-and-flight animal? You will observe how your body reacts to tension, panic, breathlessness, heart palpitations or stammering. You will then observe how your thoughts distract you with worse-case scenarios.

Slowing down your awareness will help you pause, step back and discharge arousal. And encourage you to become more assertive: creating a sense of calm to deal with your problems in a clear state of mind.

How to use the sensory-motor body map:

  • You can draw your attention to noticing and observing what sensations are triggered. Notice the location or region of the body you experience a particular sensation – such as the heart, lungs, gut, legs, shoulders, neck muscles, backbone, joints, ligaments, eyes or mouth etc.
  • Then draw an arrow on the body map diagram and label the part of the body you have identified.
  • Underneath it you can describe that sensation or feeling – such as breathlessness, light-headed, exhausted, calm, peaceful, hot, perspiring, or dehydrated etc.
  • You can write a brief description of the triggering event, situation or interaction.
  • You can continue to experiment and explore your sensations throughout the days and weeks.
  • Then try to record a number of techniques to relieve your stress symptoms – mindful breathing, grounding, meditation, stretching, yoga, exercise, walking, martial arts, or swimming etc.
The Brain Counselling Twickenham and Hounslow