A few weeks ago, I wrote to Rudy Skowronski, LCSW, who is a brilliant trauma therapist in practice in Saco, Maine (you can see his full bio at the end of this post). I asked Rudy to talk about his work with Dominant Emotional States as part of the the New Perspectives Series. Rudy’s letter back to us illustrates the deep and profound work that can be done when you worked with a highly skilled therapist. Making lasting emotional changes is possible with the proper understanding and guidance. Many thanks to Rudy for this contribution.
Here is the explanation that I use to convey my ideas around Dominant Emotional States (DES). After the description I will write briefly about the way I use my ideas around DES in therapy with individuals couples and families.
Dominant Emotional States are developed to protect ourselves from past emotional difficulties. It is important to understand that the emotions that we feel on a daily basis may be a subconsciously sustained pattern that protects us from feelings related to traumas from earlier in our lives. Through exploration of these emotional states we can sometimes gain a sense of the emotions that are underneath the familiar emotions. This exploration gives a chance to explore emotions and the somatic responses that exist in relation to both the dominant emotions and primary emotions that are related to past events.
Dominant Emotional States just happen and they shape way we view the world. They are maintained by the same part of our brain that allows us to drive our cars without being mindful to the process. These states are “underpinned” by the chemicals that we feel as emotions. The more we feel an emotion, the more we need to feel an emotion.
Because of the prevalence of Dominant Emotion in our lives it is best to identify them and understand them. This is where mindfulness comes into the picture. When we effectively learn to mindful we can find our way through the Dominant emotions, and then can learn to sit with the emotions underneath. Once we can acknowledge the “deeper” or “Primary Emotional State” and sit with it, we can learn to modulate the Primary Emotional State which can benefit us in many ways. Many of the individuals I work with report finding a place of quiet inside themselves which they have never been aware of before.
So when it comes to actually working with people, we (the client and I) begin by exploring the clients ability to name and sense emotions within themselves. This varies by client to being very adept at identifying emotions to not being able to identify them at all. Where ever the client is fine, that is where we work. We then work to guide the client to pair the emotions that they are feeling in the moment to the body sensations that they are experiencing in the moment. When working in this manner it is important to keep the client in present emotions and sensations. In this way we begin to teach and coach the client in mindfulness around emotions and awareness of body sensations. The client is coached in moving between the body sensations and emotions. Typically through the focus on emotions the emotions increase. As the focus moves to the related body sensations they typically modulate/lessen.
As the client learns to do this (typically in a few minutes) we then work to gather the history regarding the client’s past and how their past impacts their “now”. We work to sort all of the emotions and their relationships to the clients life. I work with the client to sort through anxiety, sadness, depression, or whatever the client is feeling. We work to separate whatever comes staying present focus until we get to the core emotion of fear or terror.
When we get to the fear/terror the client is guided into relating the emotions to the related trauma, the client is guided in staying out of the memories and coached in modulating emotions. The client is taught to modulate those emotions and sensations outside of the traumatic memory, prior to reprocessing with the DES protocol or any other trauma reprocessing model such as EMDR.
This process allows the client to experience and modulate the emotions and body sensations in a way that is less overwhelming and allows the client to reprocess trauma in a less intense manner.
I hope this is helpful in teaching the understanding at a different and effective way to work with clients,
Rudolph “Rudy” Skowronski, LCSW on DES
Rudy is one of the founding members of Island Institute for Trauma Recovery. The clinicians at the island came together as a group to form a practice with others who had the same views around therapies specifically for Post traumatic Stress Disorder and Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. These beliefs are what binds us together in both treatments for our clients and in educating other clinicians in ways see our clients more holistically. This is what led us to begin our Brainstorming series of trainings to help both ourselves and others understand the neurobiology and instinctual reactions behind the human reaction to psychological trauma. In this way we can better understand people who struggle with the past and see them as individuals with unwanted reactions rather that individuals who are “disordered”. Once individuals see themselves differently it can be a motivator for real and lasting change.
My training includes EMDR (Internationally Certified Through EMDRIA International Association), Sensori-Motor Psychotherapy (Trauma Certification), and Structural Family Therapy are among the trainings that I have had in the past. I have also explored neurobiology and emotions and their relationship with one another through reading and trainings.