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Interview with Dr Roby Abeles Walking the Tiger: Healing Trauma with Somatic Experiencing


Mr Clinton Power Founder and Website Concept Developer- http://www.AustraliaCounselling.com.au Relationship Counsellor for Individuals and Couples Clinical Counsellor and Gestalt Therapist http://www.ClintonPower.com.au

Ms Roby Abeles Doctorate in Clinical Psychology MATES Programme Co-Founder and Co-Developer Psychosocial and Clinical Advisor at AusCam Freedom Project Co-Founder at Kiara Projects Consultant, Programme Development and Training of Volunteer Crisis Line workers at Jewish House


[START OF AUDIO] Clinton Power: Hello! This is Clinton Power from AustraliaCounselling.Com.Au. And Im very pleased today to be here with my colleague, Roby Abeles, whos a Mosman Counsellor and Psychotherapist and also an Australia Counselling Member. Shes a therapist that specializes in trauma and addictions and in particular also works using EMDR and Somatic Experiencing. Ive asked Roby to join me today on the call because Im very curious to know more about Somatic Experiencing. I imagine as many of our members as well that would like to know more about Somatic Experiencing as well. But first of all, welcome, Roby. Thank you for joining me. Roby Abeles: Thank you, Clinton. Thanks very much for the invitation. Clinton: Its just wonderful to have you on the call. Look, lets get started straight away. Most therapists probably havent heard of Somatic Experiencing. So for someone thats never heard of it, can you just tell us a bit about what it is? Roby: Yes, of course. Somatic Experiencing is a natural body awareness approach to trauma therapy and its being taught throughout the world for the last probably 20 to 30 years. Its the result of over 40 years of observation, research, and hands-on development by Dr Peter Levine whos based in the United States. Clinton: Well, it sounds like it has a very strong research base. Roby: It actually does not, which I think its probably one of the drawbacks. Basically, it works, and people have just been doing it. Theres a lot of anecdotal evidence, theres a lot of DVDs out showing you how quickly and beautifully it works. But its not a therapy thats had a lot of research done on it yet.

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Clinton: Okay, so the 40 years you mentioned has been through clinical experience and observation. Roby: Correct. Clinton: Right, okay, great. So can you tell us a bit about the origins of Somatic Experiencing, and maybe some of its underpinning philosophy for those that dont have much knowledge about it. Roby: Yep. Basically, Peter Levine doctored in Medical Biophysics from California University of Berkeley. And what he noticed was that in observing wild prey animals through he noticed that prey animals dont suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. I think weve all seen those National Geographic documentaries where the wilderbeast almost gets eaten by the crocodile. But it doesnt go and sit under a tree and say I cant go on with the migration and I have a terrible headache and tummy ache, and I cant possibly continue with my life. And this happens to animals in the wild all the time. Peter was very interested to know why and how animals in the wild shake off or what do they do to not get that trauma stuck in their body. So he watched a lot of National Geographic frame by frame and found out that animals have innate mechanisms to regulate and discharge the high levels of energy arousal associated with defensive survival behaviours. So these mechanisms provide animals with a built-in immunity to trauma that enables them to return to normal in the aftermath of highly-charged life-threatening experiences. So his belief was that people have that as well since we are also animals. He started working with his clients to focus primarily on those defensive strategies and to reawaken them in people. Clinton: Thats fascinating. So Roby, youre saying that the origins of this therapy actually came from observing animals, which sounds quite unique compared to other therapies.
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Roby: Yes, exactly. I mean, we think weve had other therapists who have known the importance of the body. Gestalt therapists are very focused onand I think youre a Gestalt therapist too arent you, Clinton? Clinton: Yes, thats right. Roby: So the body is a big part of Gestalt Therapy, and that Fritz Perls really understood the fact that the body is trying to communicate with us throughout our therapy sessions. Most of us have not been taught how to make use of that attempted communication. Clinton: Yeah, I think thats such an important part in working with the clients is at least helping them raise their awareness about their own bodies and connecting with their bodies and listening into it. It sounds like Somatic Experiencing really helps client access whats going on in their bodies. Roby: Yes, and I think that a lot of my clients over the years, because I deal with particularly highly-traumatized clients, have a fear of their body sensations and have a big fear of their emotions, because in the past, both of those things have been overwhelmed. They have a sort of sensitivity and fear, and so they tend to avoid their emotion and avoid whats happening in their bodies. And that can make moving forward in therapy difficult because theyre so easily thrown back in time into the trauma, and they get so highly-aroused in the sessions so highly-activated, that they fear moving forward with the therapy. So part of why I took Somatic Experiencing training is it has techniques to help people really quickly learn how to down-regulate their own physiological responses and to feel empowered because they can do that.

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Clinton: Yeah, that sounds so important. Particularly what Im hearing inside there as well is the active avoidance of feelings in a way keeps the client stuck, so they try to avoid their somatic experiences, but the actual avoidance keeps them very stuck in process of the trauma. Roby: Yes. Whatever people do is part of their therapy. We cant really do it because were spending so much time trying to help them just stay in the moment and stay with the process. So SE is a really gentle, very, very slow body awareness approach that just helps people calm down and down regulate their emotional state as well as their physiological states. Clinton: So Roby, lets talk a little bit about whats involved in the methodology of SE. So if we are observing a practitioner working with a client using Somatic Experiencing, how would we know? What types of things would we be observing? Roby: Well, its a normal setup of the client sitting opposite the therapist, so thats not different. But rather than the therapist sort of guarding the process as far as what do you thinking about that, that sort of thing. The therapist employs awareness of body sensation to help the person renegotiate and heal the event rather to relive or re-enact the trauma. So the therapist would be guiding the person to check into the bodily felt sense of whats happening, which allows the highly-aroused survival energy to be safely experienced and gradually discharged during the session. So theres a lot of titration ofwhat we call titration, which is the person has a small feeling of effect and bodily sensation. And instead of light going fully into the traumatic memory, the therapist might just ask him for one phrase or one sentence about what happened so that the client might say, I was in a car accident two years ago. And we just work with that. So what happens in your body when you think of that car accident.
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And then we help them to down-regulate to breathe, to notice their feet, to allow the whole body to share in that experience rather than have the energy focused too much in one area of the body. Clinton: So it sounds like you work very much moment-by-moment as well. Roby: Yes. And it slowly builds tolerance to the emotion and to the bodily state while being in the present moment. So that they can see in the moment, even though my body might feel afraid, Im actually safe in the office here with you. Clinton: Great. Roby: Yes, so its lovely because you sort of move. And you can move between the parts of the body that feels frightened in the moment. That might be the chest or heart, and a part of the body that in that same moment can feel somewhat relaxed. So that then they can see that even though part of their body is holding the fear energy, part of their body is also relaxed. So it helps them see that not all of them is out of control. Clinton: Yeah, I imagine that also helps that sense of empowerment again which is so vital for people who have been traumatized. Roby: Yes, absolutely. And then you can help the move between the parts of the body. Notice the part of the body that feels more anxious. Okay, and now notice the part of the body that feels less anxious. And youre noticing the part of the body that feels less anxious, it actuallywhat happens is the part that felt more anxious starts to settle. Clinton: So you help kind of the client distinguish different parts so that theyre not overwhelmed by global feelings or memories, but they can start to differentiate different parts within themselves. Is that what youre saying?

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Roby: Different physiological parts. I think a lot of us are used to working with different emotional parts. But this is just like what most of us dont know because we arent raised in a society thats particularly body-aware, is that you can feel really, like, children going to school and they have tummy ache because they dont want to go to school. But what you think that the whole body feel sick. But thats not actually true. Its, like, your throat might feel fine if you got a tummy ache. Your arms and legs may feel fine. So what weve learned to do is how to focus on the part of us that feels the fear or feels the anger or feels whatever the emotion is. What we focus on expands, and then we think all of us have that feeling. But if we can also sort of pendulate, like a pendulum, between the part of the body feels calm and the part of the body that feels more stress. It actually has the effect of calming the whole body. Clinton: Its fascinating. Im listening to you, Roby, and Im also thinking I certainly worked a lot with emotional parts. But its not something thatits quite a novel idea to actually start to differentiate the physiological or the sensation parts. Roby: Yeah. Clinton: So Im kind of excited hearing this as well. Roby: Its really exciting. Because its thought of, like, opening a present at Christmas and youve got, Well, Ive always wanted something that would help me work this way. And it is beautiful, elegant, simple, and gentle. I was trained in trauma therapy in the 1980s, where we took people fully back into the traumatic experience. This is the complete opposite to that. This is very slowly going into a tiny little bit into the feelings and the emotions even the thoughts. So Somatic Experiencing does

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take into account also images, thoughts, behaviours, effect, movement, so it is all of that. We do take into account all of that. Instead of being a topped down therapy, like, CBT where you work with the thinking and then the emotion, this is what they call a bottom up therapy, where we work the door in is through the body, and then we work up towards the emotion and then the thinking. Clinton: Is touch a part of Somatic Experiencing? Touch between therapist and client? Roby: There is a little bit of touch toward in the advanced year of training. But the touch is not necessary, so you dont have to touch if youre in a profession, like, the way you dont touch people. But there are things that I dofor example, as youre sitting opposite someone, if theyre a little bit anxious you can just say to them, Would you like to just touch the top of your shoe to the top of my shoe? Just for some additional support and grounding. So you dont have to actually touch the person if thats not something that youd like to do or comfortable doing. But you can with some people theyre all right with it. And this is also taught to body workers and other people who work with the body directly. So of course they do do it. Clinton: Yeah. As Im listening to it Im wondering how there are therapists beyond counsellors and psychotherapists that can actually use Somatic Experiencing as well. Is that what youre suggesting? Roby: Yes. And all over the world I see its taught over a variety of different types of people. It can be taught to teachers, so that they can help calm their students in their class. Its taught to first responders. Its taught to all sorts of body workers, psychiatrists, medical doctors,

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nurses, sort of pretty much anyone who has anything to do with healing or helping people to get back into after a trauma. Clinton: Roby, are there any populations, particularly populations that are more suited to working with SE or any that are contraindicated. Roby: I think that the answer is no. Theres no particular population thats more suited to working with S.E. And I think that probably just pregnancy may be an issue, but may not be depending on how traumatized the client is and how far into the pregnancy they may be. Just because you want to not overwhelm someone too much during a pregnancy. I think a group that I found out really fabulous with are the people who have quite complex trauma histories and who are really terrified of processing their trauma. So because they can have a really gentle, little experiences of being a little bit upset or even quite a bit upset. But then within 30 seconds, 40 seconds or a minute, theyre back to feeling settled and calm. And they learn that and practiced that out in the world. Then they can slowly realize that they can do the trauma work and it doesnt have to be scary and overwhelming. Clinton: Thats great. And then Im also thinking clients that has perhaps been retraumatized by a therapist who have forced them through go over their memory again. This would also be a great therapy for them. Roby: Yes. And thats what I was mentioning before. When I was trained thats what we did, thats what were trained to do. Take people fully into the experience, regress them back, so that theyre a child in the corner crying. So we know now that there are much gentler, easier, more efficient and effective ways of discharging that trauma and working with the person as an adult in the present moment to do that.
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So it works a lot deeper into the brain. There are therapists like, Bessel van der Kolk, whom you may know as a trauma therapist in Boston at the Trauma Institute has said that in his opinion Working with people in those regressed states is now completely unethical because they cant really benefit from the therapy while theyre in that state. Clinton: No, no. Thats a good point. Youve spoken a lot about trauma and Im curious to know does it have more applications beyond clients that are traumatized? Roby: Yes, absolutely. Its also good for people who have all sorts of different types of physical problems. So for whatever reason people have, they might not be able to sleep, they may have basic anxiety or depression or anything at all, they might have nightmares, whatever. Also any kind of physical problems. I deal a lot with people who have digestive problems, which is actually the result of stuck energy in the body. It works with immune system problems, skin problems, people who have mood swings, people who have attachment disorders, avoidance behaviours. So it can help people who have had fallsI mean thats a sort of trauma, too. But it doesnt have to be massive trauma. It can be being laid of work. There are some people who are obviously coming to therapy now and theyve had their third or fourth or fifth retrenchment, so theyre stressed over that. Anyone whos having any difficulty with stress, its good for that. So you dont necessarily have to have had a massive thing happen, but you may also have relationship difficulties because you tend to get upset by things that your partner does. It can really help with that. So its got a wide range of applications. Clinton: Yeah, Im hearing that. And particularly, well, pretty much any type of distress or stress it can be used effectively.
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Roby: Yes. Clinton: Yep. Now, I know that you are involved in bringing Somatic Experiencing training to Australia for the first time. Ill ask you about that in a moment. But can you tell us a bit about what is involved in a therapist that wants to undergo this training? Roby: Yes. Its a full trauma counselling training that is a course over three years. Weve broken it up into two 6-day trainings per year. So you not only trained in trauma, but you also get fully trained in neurophysiology. They go into Steve Porges Polyvagal Theory. Youll learn all about muscle groups, different types of how trauma gets into the body. In the second year and to intermediate year, the specific Somatic Experiencing techniques taught for different types of overwhelming experience. For example, a Somatic Experiencing therapist would treat a falling off a roof differently than being attack by a dog. So theres a very specific and detailed journey into the body, the mind, and how trauma and overwhelm affects us and how to gently bring people back from being stuck in it. Clinton: That sounds like in your training you worked very intensely. Did you say thats a 6-day twice a week training? Roby: Twice a year. Clinton: So you worked very intensively for these six days. Roby: Yes. So what we do is sort of 9 till 6. We have of course breaks for morning and afternoon tea, and a big break for lunch. One of the differences, Clinton, about this to a lot of trainings Ive taken, is it is the most highly-supported training Ive ever taken. What I mean by that is that we break up into small groups after the trainer has explained the technique and we break up into smaller practice groups. So each practice group which may

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be about six people is facilitated by a fully-trained Somatic Experiencing practitioner who is not the trainer. So as were practicing which I loved in my own training, as I was practicing with my colleague, if I got stuck and sort of you know how in a training, you sort of go, What was I meant to do now? I cant remember. So youve got the assistant right there sitting next to you and you just turn to him or her and say, What was it again? This isIm a bit stuck. So you get in the moment coaching so you dont have to take a note or remember for later when the group reconvenes to ask the trainer what you should have done. Clinton: So this is like a live supervision. Roby: Exactly. Lots of practice. Yeah, go ahead. Clinton: Well, I was just going to add that that such a powerful way to train. Ive done that kind of training before, when youve got a third party observing interaction thats coming in when needed. Roby: Yes. Its fantastic. Also part of the training is if you want to become a Somatic Experiencing practitioner, which is the final sort of certification, youll also have to take additional personal sessions and supervision sessions additional to this six days twice a year. And theres an extra cost involved in that which Id like people to understand. Clinton: Yeah. Obviously, theres a very large gap between the two 6-day trainings each year. Is there any type of on-going or peer support between the intensives? Roby: Well, eventually, that would be a yes. The six of us in Australia who are already trained will be able to in time provide clinical supervision. Until then, what weve all been doing is Skype sessions with supervisors overseas, because unfortunately there are not enough people here yet for us to have smaller groups.
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My London group that I trained with would meet themselves once a month and do practice sessions with one another, which was a lovely thing for them to be able to do. So when they came back after six months, theyd had lots and lots of practice not only with their clients but with one another. Clinton: Great! So the idea is the on-going support between the intensives is if youre working clinically, you connect with a supervisor whos experienced in this modality as well. Roby: Yes. The whole training and the supervision is through the Somatic Experiencing Training Institute in America. And they have on their website a list of all the people they have approved to give supervision sessions. Clinton: Great! It feels so exciting, because its like youre on the cusp of bringing something a very, very new and novel to Australia. Roby: Yes. When I talk to people, clients or other therapists, people get really excited. I have a client at the moment who Ive recommended a book to him to read. Peter Levines first book was called Walking the Tiger which I do really recommend. And the client called me yesterday very excited and said, Im reading the book. And he said, My body is tingling. He said, Its almost, like, my body understands what this book is saying, and my body is very excited. And hes very depressed. And he said, I have not had this live feeling in my body. Im so excited to do the therapy of reading about it. If just reading about it makes my body sort of, like, hes got little champagne bubbles inside of him. Hes so excited. Clinton: So that book you mentioned, its by Peter Levine called Walking the Tiger? And you recommend that for clients and practitioners?

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Roby: Yes, its written for the general public. Its an easy read. Its very good. Hes written another book more recently. Its just was published I think in 2011 called In an Unspoken Voice which is another one. And theres a great one for using with children. Hes co-written it with the woman called Maggie Kline whos going to be our trainer for the beginning and intermediate years. And that book is called Trauma-Proofing Your Kids. Clinton: Okay, thank you. Im imagining theyd be some Australia Counselling members that really would pique their curiosities out this training. Are there any more details you want to give to members about what might be the next step if they decide this is something they want to explore or find out more. Roby: Yes, sure. Weve put up a website with all probably which would answer a lot of questions which is www.SEAustralia.Com.Au. That also has on there a Keep me informed icon, its a little envelope. So if they wanted to sign up for that, theyll get the newsletters. But theres also registration information and the fees the dates, all of that. Clinton: Great! Can you give us a rough idea when the training is commencing in 2012? Roby: Yes. Its going to be in Melbourne, September 27th to October 2nd. Clinton: Great! So theres plenty of time if any of the Australia Counselling members are interested if theyre listening to this recording. Im recording it in March at the moment, plenty of time to kind of get under way and put that into your schedule if youre interested in doing this training. Roby: Weve also got an early bird discount and a lay-by plan. Clinton: Fantastic! We all love an early bird.
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Roby: And youll all have lay-by because you dont have to put on your credit card and get interest. Clinton: No, thats right. Roby: Its the old lay-by system works very well. Clinton: It does pay-in- instalments. Well, Roby, thank you so much for speaking with me today. I really enjoyed speaking with you and I feel like youve piqued my curiosity and interest and you got me thinking about new ideas that I can bring into working with my clients as well. So thank you again. Roby: I am pleased. Clinton: I wish you all the best with your training, and hopefully we will stay in touch and you can let us know how Sematic Experiencing develops in Australia in the coming years. Roby: Yep, love to. Thanks again, Clinton. Clinton: Thanks, Roby. Roby: Its really delightful. Thank you. Clinton: Bye for now. [END OF AUDIO]

Visit http://www.australiacounselling.com.au for more information and resources for therapists and counsellors.

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