Updated: May 12
In the world of trauma work and "healing" there are countless modalities and frameworks that have been developed. For me, one of the most exciting things about being a practitioner in this field is the sense that there are endless roads to explore, infinite possibilities for growth and transformation of my practice over time. My own life experiences may shift my focus drastically. We don't know how culture and research will change over time, so we can't possibly know what we might learn in a decade or five decades. My practice shifts as I shift, this work changes as the world changes.
Through these shifts, it can be helpful to have a stable base to return to. When I learned the below principles in Alchemical Alignment, I had the sense that these might be my stable base. While my focus, specialties, and modalities may shift with time and experience, I will likely return to these guidelines over and over again. These principles can also serve as a shared foundation of understanding between practitioner and client for what a session might include.
The Seven Principles come from the work of Ray Castellino, who researched what allows children to flourish in families, and the conditions for meeting trauma imprints and difficulty. Notice what arises as you read these - it's very possible that you've experienced a lot of the opposite, which we might call danger within intimacy. Notice if you can acknowledge both from a neutral place: the danger, and the possibility of flourishing in a relational space.
1. Mutual Support and Cooperation: We are all humans with unique and intelligent bodies, security systems, and nervous systems. It is my job, as practitioner, to understand my clients' intentions and to support them to move towards those intentions. It is also my job to ensure that I have the capacity to offer this support, that I am receiving enough compensation to do this work sustainably, and to seek any support that I need while I am sharing a relational space, while maintaining role clarity. As a client, it is up to you to understand your own intentions, to recognize your role as the receiver of support, and to express your needs and choices whenever possible.
2. Choice: We are almost always making choices, whether we're conscious of them or not. When we are in our "imprints" (learned patterns), we can easily forget that we have choice and feel like helpless victims. We can strengthen our sense of choice by revisiting our intentions, asking each other for permission, and tuning into our own readiness & needs. My teachers would often say "start with no", which still kind of blows my mind."Even in the context of a training, I get to say no?!" Yep. And when you're in therapy, and your therapist asks you a question or suggests a practice, you get to say no. Sometimes there's a cognitive-yes, and a body-no, and this is when our intentions can guide our choices. Sometimes, we have to meet a threat response and complete it, or stabilize, before we can access a full yes or receive more care.
3. Pause: I use pauses in sessions a lot. Sometimes, I offer a pause when I sense that there's a lot of momentum, and some pendulation back to neutral or stability might be nourishing. Sometimes, I take a pause because it will help me to be more present with my clients. A pause helps us stay attuned to the need for integration of a wave of experience; it allows us to live at a digestible pace. If our experiences move faster than our capacity to receive and metabolize information, we can get overwhelmed. Pauses help us to stay in our window of tolerance, or our range of regulation (I don't love these terms, but they are useful to understand the model of polyvagal theory and the general map of our nervous system). When I find that I, or my clients, are losing track of our choice, I may ask for a pause.
4. Self-care: This is a term that has been so overused, it has has nearly lost its meaning. What this really means is that each person is committed to attend to whatever supports us to stay in attunement and presence with each other: eating, drinking, peeing, moving, sleeping, leaving the space, turning off the camera, yawning, stretching, pushing, walking, giving or receiving touch and attention, speaking up, getting time alone, etc. This is what we offer to ourselves so we can stay as connected as possible to each other. Self care contributes to the collective, and it nourishes all of us. I have learned over time that having water, a blanket, a notebook, plants, and stones nearby allow me to care for myself while I am with clients. At the beginning of sessions, I will often remind clients to gather whatever supports they need around them.
5. Brief frequent somatic attunement: Connection sustains relationships. Things like eye contact, touch, and attuned listening (with all of our senses) can nourish and regulate individual and collective fields. It supports healthy connection, bonding, and attachment. Tidal health and consistency is a foundation of secure attachment, it allows us each to stay with ourselves and with each other through pendulation. In sessions, I attune to the relational field, to my clients, and to myself, tidally. I do not spend a whole session entirely wrapped up in my clients' experience, I don't lock eyes with my clients for 45 minutes straight - that would be counterproductive to building secure attachment with each other, and would undoubtedly feel invasive and draining for both of us. We connect to ourselves and to each other through tides of attunement. When I sense that a client has might be losing themselves in their own somatic experience, I might gently call them back with the question, "what are you noticing?" I will note that this question does not require them to articulate their experience, it's simply a reminder that I'm still here with them, and they can share if they feel called to.
6. Negotiated touch and attention: This is an interesting one, especially for those of us that work virtually. Although "touch" is not common (and even often looked down upon) in the psychotherapy world, it is an important aspect of somatic and post-trauma work. It can feel incredibly supportive to request permission to engage in and withdrawal our touch and attention. Abruptly moving our attention or touch can disturb or shock someone's system, and if someone is very sensitive, it can be important to give them information about what you are about to do. In my own sessions with clients, this principle is most often utilized when I mention right distance. Right distance is one of my favorite practices, and I hope to discuss it more in future posts, but for now: this can refer to the distance of my screen from me, my clients' screen from them, the amount of attention they want from me, the angle that we are facing, etc. This is, partially, about the exploration of boundaries, as articulated by Prentis Hemphill: what is the distance from which I can access both myself and this other person? Some people want to feel very close to their therapist, as though we're sitting right next to each other, other people might prefer to feel like we're on entirely different continents. My own somatic coach lives in another country, and it's one of the reasons that I felt safe enough to feel my own body in a relational space with her. For a long time, the right distance from which I could receive support was literally hundreds of miles away.
7. Confidentiality: This is already a well-known aspect of therapy, but it always bears repeating and remembering. Confidentiality not only builds trust in relational spaces, it is also a sign of respect for another person. Most intake paperwork will include requested permission to share about a client (without identifying details) for the purpose of receiving support and supervision. Ray Castellino specifically points out that babies' and children's confidentiality is constantly violated - we often talk about kids as though they are objects in space. Thus, from a very early age, we learn not to share our experiences with the people that are meant to support us.
So many of us have experienced injuries within intimacy. So many of us have experienced boundary violations. And many of us seek to protect ourselves from further harm by consciously or unconsciously disconnecting from intimate relationships. But we are deeply relational beings. Intimacy may have been the cause of much of our present pain. It is also the medicine we need to heal. These seven principles can guide practitioners and their clients towards creating the conditions to meet and care for our injuries.