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Introduction to Experiential Therapy

Introduction to Experiential Therapy

New experiences change your brain.  Your brain makes constant predictions based on your previous experiences.  These predictions are non-conscious and operate from billions of threads of implicit memory, most of which were formed in first few years of life.  If you're living with a legacy of trauma, chronic health issues, loss, social isolation, or a painful childhood, it's natural to feel stuck in states of anxiety, depression, or low self-worth.  Experiential psychotherapy informed by interpersonal neurobiology (IPNB) calls upon your whole, embodied brain to understand the past, process your history, and connect you to your natural resourcefulness. 


"Experiential" refers to therapeutic modalities that invite you to pay attention to the physical and emotional processes that accompany the content of your therapeutic work.  Working with these aspects of your experience makes therapy more efficient because we deliberately target implicit memoryIf therapy stays at the level of verbal processing, you might gain insight, but insight alone won't change the way your brain hold the information that is the root of why you feel stuck.  I incorporate Sand Tray Therapy, Somatic Experiencing, Emotional Transformation Therapy (ETT) with my core modality, Internal Family Systems Therapy, to help you learn how to identify and work with implicit memory.

Internal Family Systems Therapy

Internal family systems Therapy

Pause and just listen to your mind for a moment.  What do you notice?  There are probably a dozen different things buzzing around.  A part of you might be anxious to start therapy while another part would rather get a cavity filled than talk about your feelings.  Maybe a part of your body hurts.  If you check around your heart, perhaps there's a remnant of a feeling about something you saw online earlier today or something your partner said to you this morning.  If you're like me, there's usually a song running the background, too.


Current neuroscience supports the perspective that the natural state of the human brain is multiplicity, which means that in our healthiest, most integrated state we will experience our internal world as made up of different "parts".  When our environment hasn't been ideal, some parts of us get walled off while others become struck in extreme roles to protect us from ever experiencing the pain of the past again.  Extreme roles can look like judging ourselves and others harshly, people-pleasing, caretaking, or getting angry and pushing people away.  They might even look like a mental health diagnosis, like depression or anxiety. 

Internal Family Systems Therapy (IFS) helps us learn how to relate to our own experience from an open, nonjudgemental stance.  From this place, we can offer witnessing and healing to parts of ourselves that are stuck in painful or traumatic memories.  The more understanding, compassion, and healing we can offer to ourselves, the more integrated, creative, and alive we feel. 


  • A path to separating from hurt or overwhelmed parts of yourself 

  • New choices for how you show up in your relationships

  • A compassionate, non-pathologizing way to talk about your experience

  • A evidence-based method for healing trauma 

Somatic Experiencing, ETT, & Sand Tray Therapy

additional training and therapeutic modalities

I support my clients' IFS work with techniques from Somatic Experiencing, Emotional Transformation Therapy, and Sand Tray Therapy.  If you're interested in my training and experience, please check out my Q&A page.  Each of the modalities I incorporate are experiential and trauma-informed.  

somatic experiencing (SE): SE creates a frame for tracking and releasing the embodied experience of a traumatic event.  SE practitioners see physical symptoms as manifestations of thwarted defensive responses in the body.  In our work, we will learn how to track and pay attention to the wisdom of your body.  When appropriate, we will also utilize SE to work through a single-event trauma.  

emotional transformation therapy (ett): ETT utilizes light, eye movement, and color to target brain regions were specific emotion and meaning states are held.  This helps shepherd these areas to their naturally healthy and integrated states.  If you have questions about ETT and whether or not it's right for you, please contact me for a free consultation. 


sand tray therapy: Sand Tray Therapy is one of the most quietly powerful therapeutic techniques available.  The Sand Tray calls forward our implicit memory and invites us to feel, process, and bear witness to what can often only be held in emotion and metaphor.  Sand Tray is ideal for clients who desire self-discovery, attachment healing, and deep connection.


populations served

you deserve an active, caring therapist.  If you're already intrigued by how experiential therapy might work for you, I hope you'll reach out.  You might have already have a psychiatric diagnosis like PTSD, depression, or anxiety, or you might simply be interested in how you can feel more creative, alive, and embodied.  I often work with people who are interested in knowing themselves deeply, thriving in their relationships, and living more authentically. 

I am also dedicated to providing trauma-informed therapy driven by the science of relationship to individuals living with more complex issues.  While I divide Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD), Dissociation, and Chronic Illness into sections, the truth is that most people with one of these experiences also live with aspects of the others.  I explore each separately so that you can start to track what might be most alive in your life and where you and I might begin if we were to decide to work with one another.


Living with the effects of ongoing trauma, dissociation, and pain that seems endless can feel like running into a brick wall.  You need a therapist who will stay firm in the hope that you can heal while working at your pace.  You deserve a therapist who looks forward to seeing you, even when you're struggling the most.   

A note on trauma, physical pain, and intersectionality

An individual's experience of trauma and chronic illness is intricately tied to cultural contexts of ablism, classism, sexism, transphobia, homophobia, and racism.  Some questions to consider when seeking support for trauma and chronic pain/chronic illness are:  

  • Are the traumas of microaggressions, structural racism, and poverty taken into account during your treatment and assessment?

  • Are your a symptoms treated as moral issues (personal failings) rather than as a natural result of body differences, trauma, and/or neurodivergence?

  • How does your clinician's perception of bodies and the spectrum of human sexuality affect your diagnosis and treatment? 

  • How seriously are your symptoms are taken when you ask for help?

  • Do you have access to the services you need?

  • Did you learn that it's okay to slow down and prioritize rest and healing? 

I believe that ethical, effective therapy for trauma and chronic pain/chronic illness names these larger contexts and supports parts of you in receiving the ongoing support you need in navigating systems of oppression.  

Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD)

For a lot of people, the label "C-PTSD" can bring both grief and relief.  C-PTSD occurs when someone experiences early, ongoing trauma (like child abuse, an unpredictable caregiver, or neglect) along with one or more single-even traumas (like the death of a loved one, a car accident, or a sexual assault).  Often, when a person seeks help for the symptoms of C-PTSD, they wind up with an alphabet soup of diagnoses.  Some of the diagnoses are helpful, while others don't quite seem to fit. 

Discovering the concept of "complex post-traumatic stress disorder" can suddenly bring order to the chaos.  It can be relieving to recognize that a lot of what you experience everyday can be attributed PTSD.  Reading that other people have similar thoughts, fears, and ways of coping can start to take away the sting of self-judgement around things like emotional flooding and avoidance.  However, you might also experience grief as you begin to how much your early life experiences had an impact on you. 

C-PTSD is not a DSM* diagnosis, but it is widely acknowledged by trauma therapists that individuals who experience early and persistent trauma experience greater challenges with nervous system regulation and PTSD effects.  Some typical experiences typical for a person with C-PTSD might be:

  • Feelings of shame or guilt 

  • Severe self-criticism 

  • Trouble regulating emotions

  • Difficulty maintaining close relationships 

  • Nightmares and/or sleep issues

  • Suicidal or self-destructive thoughts

  • Physical symptoms, including:

    • body aches 

    • tight/braces muscles

    • exhaustion 

    • headaches 

    • gastrointestinal upset 

    • autoimmune disease** 

  • Trouble concentrating 

  • Poor short term memory 

  • Persistent anxiety 


If you identify with most, or all, of what was on that list, it's natural to feel activated right now.  It's okay to step away from your computer, or put down your phone, and do something else for a while.  If this information is still relatively new, it will probably take some time to digest and to feel ready to talk about with a therapist. 

Working with me.  My approach to C-PTSD is rooted in the science of relationship.  Together, we will discover the edge of what feels just challenging enough and explore that experience until we have your permission to move forward.  While the "learning" parts of your brain might take in new information really quickly, the "survival" parts of your brain need time, space, and safety to re-orient to the possibility that it's okay to be in a different kind of relationship with yourself. 


Effective trauma therapy always works on the same principles: help your brain learn how to slow down and observe an experience instead of getting pulled into the emotional undertow, connect implicit (immediate, embodied) memories to higher brain functions, reclaim your natural wisdom through integration experiences.  Ultimately, the most effective trauma therapy for you will be the one that you stick with.  My hope for every client is to form a collaborative relationship where we continue to discover what's right for you at this stage of your healing. 

*The DSM is the reference book mental health professionals use to formally diagnose for insurance coding purposes 

**See ACE studies.  For more information about my approach to the intersection of chronic health issues and therapy, see below. 



stacking doll.jpg

Dissociation can be one of the most confusing experiences to identify in therapy.  The essence of dissociation is separation, so often any effort to name it is met with self-doubt or discomfort.  While all people dissociate from time to time (like blanking out for a few minutes in front of the TV or missing your highway exit because your brain went on autopilot), for some people, dissociation becomes a life-preserving constant.  

My approach to working with dissociation is both persistent and respectful.  Each invitation to come into greater connection with yourself (and with me!) is opportunity to learn more about your protective system.  Sometimes, parts of you will take the invitation and experience the connection as helpful and healing.  Other times, parts of you will know something that I don't and maintain the disconnection that's been so important to your survival.  Both are welcome.

The following is a list of ways dissociation can be experienced.  It's normal to be unsure if this really applies to you.  Just notice if something in the back of your mind feels awakened by any of these descriptions: 

  • Foggy or cloudy thinking 

  • Feeling numb or disconnected in your body

  • Observing yourself performing tasks without really feeling connected to who you are or what you're doing 

  • Feeling disconnected from the visual image of your body (for example, your hands or your reflection might not feel like they "belong" to you) 

  • Feeling as if your surroundings aren't quite real 

  • Having no memory of certain periods of time 

  • Having no or few memories of important life events 

  • Finding notes or writing that you don't remember completing

  • Finding objects that you don't remember buying

  • Waking up in clothes that you don't remember putting on 

When you experience higher levels of dissociation, it's important to find a therapist who validates how you experience dissociation in your system.  Reach out if it seems like I might be that therapist for you. 

Chronic Illness

chronic illness

Chronic illness often makes it feel as if our only choice is to live with a divided mind.  We want to be active and available for others, so we compartmentalize our own grief and suffering.  Slowing down and reaching out brings its own challenges when we're met with stories of how someone else miraculously recovered or, worse, receive the "have you tried" questions.  Of course you've tried.  All you do is try.

Therapy for chronic illness creates a supportive space to express how you're really feeling today--without shame or judgement.  As you're ready to take in new information, we will explore how physical health is intricately tied  to emotional and relational health.  While therapy can never guarantee to alleviate physical suffering, learning how to relate to our illness with curiosity and compassion decreases the stress response in the body, which opens up new possibilities for hope, healing, and choice.  

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