Trauma Therapy

Resourcing, Pendulation and Titration: Practices from Somatic Experiencing®

Resourcing, Pendulation and Titration: Practices from Somatic Experiencing® 2048 1282 Sarah Ross
Window of Presence.

Window of Presence. This image demonstrates the normal activation and settling that occurs in the nervous system within an optimal range, referred to here as the Window of Presence. It also shows nervous system functioning and associated symptoms beyond the optimal range.

Somatic Experiencing® (SE) is a body-based approach to healing trauma, developed by Peter Levine, PhD.. SE focuses on supporting optimal functioning of the nervous system given the primary importance this system plays in the maintenance and resolution of traumatic symptoms. Resourcing, Pendulation, and Titration are three methods used in SE to guide the the nervous system towards increased equilibrium. This is a brief introduction to these methods to give you an idea of somatic principles that I integrate into therapeutic work.

Our brains have a negativity bias, meaning they are more likely to pay attention to threat than safety. This is a survival mechanism. The problem is, that if trauma is part of our history, our mind/body may be responding to threats from the past that are no longer present. Approximately 80-90% of the way our brains detect safety or threat comes from the state of our internal organs (via afferent motor neurons sending messages to the brain by way of the vagus nerve). The threatened mind/body may remain on high alert to keep the system safe based on outdated holding patterns in the body. This perpetuates a feeling of threat.

Resourcing is the practice of inviting our mind/body to attune to sensations of safety or goodness, however small they may be. The process of attending to a felt sense of “okayness,” begins the process of teaching our nervous system that it can experience stress, and then come back to a state of calm. I am continuously supporting clients to resource during sessions. It is preferable to maintain as much presence or ground in the body as is possible during psychotherapy sessions. When stress is high, it is especially helpful to have someone guide us in consciously connecting to resilient states. 

Pendulation is the natural pulsation between states of expansion and contraction in the nervous system. This is a basic principle of life, seen in the ebb and flow of the ocean tides, the wings of birds opening and closing in flight, etc. A resilient nervous system is one that can move back and forth between alertness and action, and calm and rest without getting stuck at either extreme. Pendulation introduces “resourced,” states into awareness to help us develop confidence in the ability of our nervous systems to move between inverse states. We can then practice moving back and forth between more and less resourced states. 

“In renegotiating trauma via Somatic Experiencing we utilize “pendulation,” the shifting of body sensations or emotions between those of expansion and those of contraction. This ebb and flow allows the polarities to gradually be integrated. It is the holding together of these polarities that facilitates deep integration and often an “alchemical,”  transformation.” – Peter Levine, PhD

Titration. Less is more, slower is better in trauma work. Our brains don’t like this, (or at least mine doesn’t.)

Titration means that we slow things down. Because trauma is “too much, too fast, too soon,” we want to counter this in trauma renegotiation. Slowing down looks like working with only small bits of difficult experiences at a time. It also looks like pausing, and taking time to notice sensations in the body that correspond to what is being spoken about. When we do this, the sensations of the body will often move towards completion of protective responses that were unable to be carried out in the past.


Facing the Elephant

Facing the Elephant 1346 903 Sarah Ross

Photo Credit: Barcroft Media/Sylvie Robert from: Tippi my Book of Africa

Photo Credit: Barcroft Media/Sylvie Robert from: Tippi my Book of Africa

Healing is the process of coming home to ourselves. It is releasing resistance to the truth of who we are, rather than changing who we are. Releasing resistance is not a passive process. It requires engagement and the creation of a practice. Releasing is fierce, active, warrior-work, laced with moments of ease.

The photo above exemplifies what healing means to me. Taken in 1996, it features a girl named Tippi. The caption reads, “Tippi, aged 6 dancing with Abu the 34-year-old elephant in Okavango Swamps, Botswana.”

Ganesh, the elephant deity in the Hindu pantheon, is considered to be both the remover of obstacles and the obstacle itself. In one version of his creation myth, his mother, Parvati, creates him in order to guard the threshold of her home. She creates him while her husband Shiva is gone, and instructs Ganesh to let no one pass through the door. When Shiva comes home and is denied entrance, he is outraged, and severs Ganesh’s head. Upon experiencing Parvati’s despair at her son’s death, Shiva makes reparations by replacing the boy’s head with that of an elephant and restoring him to life.

Experiences that exceed our capacity to cope breach a boundary within us. Like Parvati placing Ganesh in the doorway, we protect ourselves by creating internal barriers between ourselves and experiences that are too overwhelming to bear. When we are unable to take adequate action to protect ourselves, the self that is harmed severs that experience from consciousness.  This dissociation ensures survival by protecting the vital core of the self. However, the dissociation means we become fractured and lose access to parts of ourselves. When external situations no longer necessitate the same protection, these protective barriers become our own obstacles.

In order to be whole, we need every part of ourselves. Keeping up barriers requires tremendous unconscious energy and psychic space. Everyone experiences being walled off in different ways. I often feel afraid of the discomfort, pain, and fear that I experience. I want to push it away, and avoid it like hell. But I know avoidance creates the very things I want to push away. I believe discomfort is the call to come home. When I relate to discomfort in this way, the obstacle becomes the opening.

I love that Tippi is facing the elephant with her arms wide open. She stands in total surrender to the weighty elephant truth that lives in her.

Not only that, she’s dancing with him.  She’s moving into action.