Click here to listen to the interview: Jane Shaw and Steve Haines 2015-07-09
Here she talks about creating safety in clinical practice, tips from meeting Stephen Porges at the BOL and some simple recommendations for clients to help them practice feeling safe.
Transcript of the Interview
Steve: Hi, Jane. We’re in Dublin right now, teaching seminar nine of the cranial course. I’ve realized we’ve known each other for a long time; about 10 years.
Jane: Mm-hmm, 10 years.
Steve: Amazing. I thought I’d pick your brains. You’ve done a whole bunch of stuff that I know of, running the Breath of Life Conference. You’re studying an MA in…?
Jane: MA PhD in Depth Psychology.
Steve: Wow. You also have a busy practice in Ireland, and you’re a tutor now in Body Intelligence courses. What are the highlights for you in your work right now?
Jane: As you say, I’ve got a clinical practice in Northern Ireland, and I also do a lot of traveling with the Psychology MA PhD in California, and teaching with BI, but my clinic in Northern Ireland is focused around working with people who have suffered trauma. That’s always been my interest since I graduated almost 10 years ago. That’s the area that I’ve focused on in my training and in my clinic.
Steve: Great. One of the big things that I’ve learned from watching you teach is a real emphasis on safety. Do you want to talk a little bit more about that, and why that’s so important for you in healing?
Jane: For me, safety is one of the fundamentals that our body can’t heal itself unless it’s safe. I have found that from my own personal experience, and of course, then working with people who have suffered bad experiences. People who have suffered bad experiences in their life, whether that be involved in a car accident, or being caught up in a bomb, or maybe raped, or something really horrible – their body tends to be on high alert in case it happens again. Their bodies are scanning for danger constantly, and while our bodies are scanning for danger, they can’t heal themselves. We have the two main parts of our nervous system, the fight or flight, and the rest and repair. Unless we’re in the rest and repair part, our bodies can’t start healing. Safety switches that on.
Steve: I know you’ve had the privilege of meeting Stephen Porges, a major theorist around how trauma works. You tell a great story about him helping you feel safe before you were talking.
Jane: Yes. One of the things I do is I run the Breath of Life Conference, which is a big international conference in London, where we get neuroscientists, and craniosacral practitioners, and other pioneers in the field to come and speak. We’ve had Stephen Porges over a couple of times.
There was one occasion when I’d been going through all sorts of difficulties, and my nervous system was running at high alert. I was about to go on to stage to introduce Stephen, standing up in front of 300 people, and introducing this eminent neuroscientist from America. We were standing in the green room, and he of course picked up my nerves, and he said: “Jane, one of the quickest, easiest ways to reduce your activation in your nervous system is to talk slowly in long phrases.”
Why that works is because when we do that, we are breathing out, we’re exhaling, and when we exhale, we switch on what’s called our vagus nerve, which is one of the key parts of his theory, and it’s one of the keys to creating safety.
Steve: Really nice. I really like that story. We can do simple, everyday things that will change our physiology. We don’t have to have huge understandings or journeys to discover why we’re activated, it’s just there are some skills in the present moment in your body that you can do right now. That’s a very nice one, take speaking more slowly (I’m terrible at that) and taking longer breaths, and it switches on your vagus nerve. Is that correct?
Jane: Yes. I particularly like that one, because we can know the theory of exhaling with long breaths, which is one that helps us to stop being nervous, but sometimes it’s difficult to do that. To speak slowly I think is an easier construction.
Yes, you mentioned also without having to know the whole story. I think that’s key to my practice as well. People come into my treatment room, and they want to know why they’re like this. Yes, that can be interesting to know why, as a 45 year old, you can’t sleep and you can’t digest food, and you are maybe irritable of whatever it is. Actually, if we just learn how to control the physiology by becoming more embodied, knowing our body, being able to differentiate all the different parts of our body, that actually is the major step, and certainly the first step to your body becoming more regulated.
Steve: Very nice. We don’t need to understand, we don’t need to remember necessarily; what we need to do is come into our body in the present moment.
Steve: What are some of the steps that you might do? Maybe setting up the treatment room, or those initial things that might help the process of someone feeling safe?
Jane: Someone initially comes into my treatment room, they need to feel safe in that room. Say a woman had been raped. She needs to know that she’s safe sitting there with me. Her body probably thinks the whole world is unsafe, at least that’s probably why she’s come to see me. There are all sorts of physical symptoms going on, that she maybe hasn’t necessarily connected with that experience 20 years ago. Very simple things I do is I will show her where the door is, so she knows how to get out. If she needs to get out, she can get out.
Steve: Yeah. I really like that one. I don’t sit between my clients and the door.
Steve: Really nice.
Jane: If there’s noise outside the room, I name it. I say: “Oh, you might hear noise, and it might be X, Y, and Z.” I live on a farm, it might be a tractor. Things like that can disturb people, and they start getting distracted, and they come out of their body, because they’re off wondering what that noise is. Is it going to be the old danger? They’re not thinking that cognitively; they’re thinking that with lower parts of their brainstem.
Steve: Excellent. It’s really a whole package of things, but you do a lot of work before you put your hands on people.
Jane: Yes, absolutely. Yes. I get people to notice their body before I put my hands on them. I create the safety in the room. The other thing, this is also come to Stephen Porges’ work, his social engagement. We didn’t name that, his work around the social engagement system. This is using all the parts of our face and our voice that create safety.
One thing I will do is I’ll speak slowly, and I’ll probably speak with a bit of intonation in my voice, and I might speak with a slightly deeper voice. If I speak very quickly in a high-pitched voice, somebody’s not going to be able to feel safe.
Steve: Yeah. Very nice. That’s been a huge learning for me, because often when I was a practitioner at the start of my career, I used to try and get people on the table straightaway. I didn’t perceive myself as a great talker, and just needed to use my skills to touch people. In a sense, I had to become an expert at chit-chat, just simple, ordinary, human interaction of welcoming people, engaging them. How did they get here today? In England, I always talk about the weather. That really helps create safety, I believe. I think Porges teaches us that we, human beings, seek safety in other human beings. If you’re the therapist, you need to be the safest thing in the room.
There’s also some very, very small things about just being an ordinary human that I think you describe very well that start that process of: “I can trust this person, because they’re looking me in the eye, because they’re not speaking quickly, they’re not rushing me, and they’re listening to me.” Is that fair, do you think?
Jane: Yes. “Listening to me,” listening with presence, that’s huge. In fact, I think that is a large part of what I do as a practitioner. I’m embodied. I know all parts of my body as much as I can while I’m with that person, and the other person’s system starts to entrain to mine, rather than me to theirs. I will be picking up all the nuances in their body right from the start. Creating that environment where they can trust me is huge. Listening with presence is an undervalued skill, I think.
Steve: Very good. As you work, helping people feel safe in the room and environment, helping them feel safe with you, what about when you’re actually working as a craniosacral therapist, as a touch therapist, what sort of other things might you be focusing on?
Jane: Again, keeping them engaged the whole time, so that I’m not leaving them hanging. They’re not going: “I wonder what she’s about to do next?” So: “When I put my hands on, I’m going to put my hands on your…” I don’t even say: “I’m going to,” I say: “How would it be if I put my hands on your shoulders?” So that I don’t just come and put my hands on, because that would be coming from behind, and that would again, would spark all those defence responses.
I’m constantly asking them how it is in their body as I’m working. As I move my hands around the body, I’m asking them to track the changes, and to notice… Sort of to map their body, to map the picture, it’s like creating… Maybe they start with a blank canvas, we then have an outline of the body, and then we can fill in the detail of it. The flowers, and the meadow, and the greens, and the blues, or whatever language they want to use. Some people might use colours, some people might use the physiology, but I use their language. That’s very important, to use the language that the client uses, and then to maybe reframe that for them to my experience.
Steve: You’re using touch, and negotiating that touch, and really orienting people to their own experience of their body, and continually helping them develop skills to find their sense of the body.
Jane: That’s right, yes.
Steve: Wow, sounds good. There are lots of things we could talk more about, cranial skills. Maybe we’ll do that one another time.
Any top tips that you give to your clients, the things they can do for themselves to support their experience of safety?
Jane: As I’m working with the client in the treatment room, I’ll be asking them to orient to certain parts of the body, and these skills I then suggest that they practice when they go home. Really simple tips. This is another one that came from Stephen Porges, was in a room full of people, we are scanning for danger. Especially if we’re on that high-activation path. A very simple tip is to stand with your back against the wall, because then you only have 180 degrees to scan, rather than 360, so your nervous system immediately, it takes a huge load off your nervous system. To speak in these low, long phrases, or to do breathing exercises where your exhalation is longer than your inhalation. A very easy way of doing that is to sing.
Steve: I feel stressed when you say that.
Jane: So sing in a car, where no one can hear you. Sing. Some people do chanting. Singing at football matches. The singing really helps to regulate that social engagement system.
Steve: So breath is a very powerful tool, isn’t it?
Jane: Breath is a very powerful tool. Children playing wood or brass instruments, they use their breath. That’s very good for children with ADHD or overactive syndromes.
What else do I ask people to do? I suggest that people orient to noises in the natural world. Birds. If you’re going for a walk in the park, or if you live in the country, orient to the birds and see if you can differentiate the birdsong. When we can hear birdsong as a human, there’s no threat. Because the birds would fly away if there’s a tiger around.
Jane: If you can’t hear birds, your nervous system tends to be a bit more hypervigilant. If you can train yourself to orient to the birds, then you will reduce the activation.
The last really simple one is to get people to push their feet into the ground, and push their back into the back of the chair. Noticing mapping the body, which is switching on the vagal response.
Steve: All right. Thank you. Nice talking to you.
Jane: Thank you.