Coaching for Deep Healing and Wholeness
Recovery from past trauma, resilience to current stress
At the Plum Spring Clinic, healing of chronic illness of body and mind is enabled by our team’s commitment to understanding and addressing roots of unwellness. Our functional medicine lens allows detection of physiological impairments hindering healthy function, which in almost all cases includes a nervous system ‘set’ of chronic stress reactivity. Our work with patients teaches us how the many and often overwhelming stressors of present life trigger activation of deep stress wiring laid down in reaction to traumatic or frightening experience in early childhood. The vulnerability to chronic stress reactivity grows, while resilience withers. This is a terrible dilemma for health and wholeness.
Here’s why: the mammalian stress reaction evolved brilliantly over eons to help us survive threat, and is wired into the core of we human mammals’ autonomic nervous system. Challenges and stressors in the present trigger activation of the deep vulnerabilities of unhealed past woundings. The nervous system is triggered to marshal physiological resources in defense against this amplified threat via the fight, flight or freeze responses. During this reaction, these resources are channeled away from the processes of normal and healthy digestion, repair and restoration. When sustained, as this reaction can sadly be with unhealed traumatic stress reactivated by current triggers, the body gets stuck or frozen in a defensive state, and doesn’t have the chance to rest restoratively. This pattern becomes habitual, and over time, breakdown of healthy function is the consequence.
Plum Spring Clinic coaches Lorre Fleming and Kathleen Williams bring an important lens to the work of healing the deeps wounds in order to restore the calm resting nervous system state. In this calm, or regulated state, the body-mind finds and experiences access to its innate healing intelligence — that core within each of us which is good, wise, and our authentic essence. We are born with this core, and it is never lost or damaged. Rather, this core of us is like the sun, source of energy and light. While the sun can be covered over by storm clouds and fog, it is always there, and we each can learn to connect with it and be resourced by it. The job of Plum Spring Clinic coaches is to facilitate that access to their organic essence in our clients. This work is fundamentally relational and skills-based. Our training in Internal Family Systems theory and Polyvagal Theory of nervous system regulation reminds us first that none of us does this healing work alone, AND that all of us need to learn how to do this work.
Our coaching is offered in one-on-one sessions. We also value the benefits we’ve seen in small group work, both a lower cost alternative to one-on-one coaching, and the opportunity to experience learning in a very supportive relational setting. In either format, the coaching process is not a quick fix. The process is about learning and taking on the skills of kindly care of self. This requires us to get to know our nervous system and its triggers, ways to regulate activation and nurture calm, to open the nervous system circuits of safety.
We rotate starting times for Zoom group work of 5-6 members. Click here to register for our next small group opening.
Return to Resting Default
With the work of Dr. Stephen Porges describing polyvagal theory, we know that our nervous system has 3 settings that have evolved in a hierarchy: dorsal vagal (collapse in the face of life threat), sympathetic (flight or fight in the face of danger) and ventral vagal, the setting of safe connection. The ventral setting evolved with mammals to be the most adaptive survival strategy: cooperate, collaborate, help each other.
Connection to Trauma
Early wounding — unresolved or unsupported, lives in our limbic system easily retriggered in the present. Modern epidemiology, physiological science and our increasing ability to hear without judgment the stories of people who were raised in situations of “adversity” have helped us to understand the profound chronic distress this creates. The Internal Family Systems theory provides the lens to understand and bring compassion to those early parts of us who were hurt and are stuck in that past wounding.
If the NS seeks safety in the company of safe others, why is there so much anxiety and depression provoked in our relationships? The human nervous system, like the long arc of neurobiological evolution, develops starting before birth in response to environmental factors and experience. Human babies are the most vulnerable and dependent creatures on earth, for the longest time of any animals. The baby autonomic nervous system can detect the peril of insufficient attachment, or register the pain of being hurt or powerless or overwhelmed, long before its prefrontal thinking functions come online. In the absence of safe ventral connection, the new baby ANS will prompt a dorsal and or sympathetic reaction as a means of defense, just as the turtle retracts to protect itself, or a snake will lash out when threatened.
So it is that our early woundings — the ways we didn’t experience the attachment necessary to convince our vulnerable new nervous system it was safe, and the ways we did experience things too intense to handle without sufficient support — ‘set’ the tendency of our nervous systems toward a hypervigilance that registers as deep insecurity, depression, or anxiety. We know there is a strong direct correlation between early trauma and adult chronic illness, and we see this connection playing out at all times in habitual autonomic stress reactivity. Our experience over years of holistic medicine practice has pointed us to the importance of helping the nervous system release the imprints of trauma via Somatic Experiencing, which in turn frees the nervous system to rewire circuits of ease and safe connection.
Polyvagal-informed Coaching for Building Stress Resilience
Recent decades of research have overturned long-held notions of the brain as a fixed organ, ie once our brain learned its basics of identity and ability, it couldn’t change. Much has been learned about the good news of neuroplasticity — the ability of the brain to change continuously throughout an individual’s life. This happens in response to experience, just as the earliest formation of nervous system function. Stress management coaching for stress resilience aims to harness our innate neuroplasticity by intentionally building moments of experience into the day that erode the stress reaction by building reinforcement of calm ease.
In the coaching relationship, it is the safe connection between the coach’s and client’s nervous systems that can result in the amazing and beautiful capacity to rewire our reactivity to resilience. Together, we set out to provide the nervous system cues of safety in the smallest, most kindly ways. This involves getting to know our ANS activity. Because autonomic function happens so far below consciousness, we can’t directly know our autonomic state. But since these states create physical sensation in our bodies, we can get to know our autonomic states by learning to ‘hear’ what’s going on in our bodies. Kindness is of utmost importance in the process of attending to our nervous system states in order to rewire for ease. The critical voice that characterizes the self-talk of stress is itself a cue of danger to the ANS. Developing the lens of kindly, curious attention through which coach and client together observe inner states undoes the critical messages that tend to keep signalling danger to the nervous system. Over time, the attention that is befriending and non-judging ‘teaches’ the nervous system it is safe to prompt ease in the body and mind.
Here is the sequence of steps involved in stress management coaching work:
- Establish safe rapport;
- Learn to recognize our autonomic states;
- Learn to provide our nervous system with inputs it can detect as safe, and therefore signal ease to the body;
- Build habits and practices that will gradually erode the default of fearful sympathetic arousal and establish a resting default to spend some part of each day in.
Throughout this sequence, we work both ‘top down’, learning the cognitive frame that supports our nurture of autonomic calm via readings and talks, and ‘bottom up’ with practices including guided meditation and visualization, coming to the present, mindful awareness, mindful breathing, intentional pause, and personal reflection.
When calm, or better to say, when provided inputs it can detect as safe, our ANS outputs signals to the body for release of the ‘happy’ neurochemicals. The body/mind under the influence of this set of neurochemistry can rest and digest and heal and learn and grow and thrive. This is the full healing we aim for with our patients. Thus, stress management coaching for stress resilience plays an important role in the Plum Spring Clinic functional medicine method for engaging with patients in their journey of healing. Learn about our coaches.