Eye Gazing and PTSD

NOTE: Client D was asked many times through our process if it was ok that I speak about our work with eye gazing as a treatment for managing his PTSD, keeping his identity confidential.  He has continued to grant me permission.  

Client D sent a session request through my website CuddleSanDiego.com on 4/23/19.  (I was living in San Diego at the time.) He explained as part of the request that he is “Currently in therapy for ptsd. Eye gazing was suggested and I believe it would help me with the reconnect process – the eye contact practice is what I am seeking more than physical touch.” 

In his recent feedback, he shared that his hesitations before our first session was that I would be crazy and he was worried about privacy.  We shared a phone call as part of my new client vetting process and booked a session for the next day.  

As of July 6th, 2019, as I write this, we’ve shared 21 sessions over 11 weeks.  We meet for 1 hour at a time, 2-3 times a week. All sessions have been client led.  Previous to this client I had zero direct experience working with PTSD. His therapist is aware of our work together but didn’t feel the need to speak with me.  The instructions were “just don’t talk about the trauma”. I’ve used my intuition to offer curiosities to the client. Example: I wonder how it would feel if we had shorter gazing increments?  What if we stopped gazing after you felt relaxed into the gaze, past the uncomfortable feeling? I wonder what it would feel like to reach out and hold my hand when you have the urge to self soothe? (Something that showed itself as him stroking his arms, like hugging himself in a way.) This kept the sessions client led, meaning it is ultimately of their choosing how the session will proceed, allowing the client to manage their anxiety; determine and communicate their boundaries, needs and wants; develop a sense of empowerment and agency.  As the client and their body/nervous system begins to trust that the client can indeed keep them safe the client can start to challenge their edges and explore more opportunities. In fact, Client D has been seeing so much growth lately from small tweaks in our sessions, I felt the need to remind him how important it is to honor any hesitation.  Our bodies need to truly trust us in order for us to feel secure in the world around us. 

Items of note:

  • There is no manual to the work I do.  My service is to be attuned to my client and to use my nervous system to help calm their nervous system.  I can see how my growing up in a household with a parent with a temper and having spent 20 years in a relationship with a similar husband, that I’ve gained an ability to attune and read the people around me.  It was a survival/coping mechanism that is now a tool I have in my toolbox. It’s nice to see there was a benefit and actually makes me better at my job.
  • Titration, introducing something new in tiny amounts and monitoring the reaction, is imperative when working with clients with any degree of hesitation around connection.  
  • Pendulation, re-experiencing briefly the trauma stress and then being comforted, is really where our work together started to gain a lot of momentum. In An Unspoken Voice, Peter Levine describes it as “The mechanisms that regulate a person’s mood, vitality and health are dependent upon pendulation.  When this rhythm is experienced, there is, at least, a tolerable balance between the pleasant and unpleasant. People learn that whatever they are feeling (no matter how horrible it seems), it will last only seconds to minutes. And no matter how bad a particular sensation or feeling may be, know that it will change releases us from a sense of doom.”  We are working together to retrain the nervous system to be resilient.
  • Witnessing my client shake was not anxiety showing up, as I had thought.  It was actually the discharging of trauma. It’s not to be soothed, rather it’s to be celebrated!
  • By building trust with my client and my client building trust with himself, he was able to open up and share his trauma story with me… when he was ready.  It was never asked and it was never expected. But it did feel like a gift. I treasure the moment he shared his experience with me. It might be one of the biggest honors I’ve felt in this work.  
  • I can appreciate all the research my client has done around trauma.  We were able to really connect over the work of many like Peter Levine, Bessel Van der Kolk, etc.  He is able to teach me and I am able to teach him. It is a lovely collaboration.  
  • Touch has definitely played a role in this process, though it took quite some time to integrate it into our work.  It’s helped him feel connected. It helped me feel connected to him too.

Client D’s feedback as of July 5, 2019:  “[I’m] calmer, easier to be around people. The ability to work through the discomfort of emotional connection with you has translated to other people in the world. You know how … when a person is attacked by a dog and they develop the fear against all dogs? In a way, this is the opposite. By having a positive emotionally-intimate experience with you, I developed a positive attitude to interactions with others. [I like your] willingness to be creative, try different things.  [Your] understanding of psychology makes it easier to communicate. [Also, I have] less chronic muscle tension, focus better [and have] more energy.”

Added 7/7/19 – I came across this great video that helps explain trauma in the body and titration.

Interested in exploring a session together? Let’s connect!

Michelle (she/her), based in the Baltimore area, offers human connection coaching ranging from cuddle therapy to surrogate partner therapy (sexual surrogacy).  While Michelle is not a sex therapist, she is a sex geek, experienced in kink/BDSM, polyamory and other relationship structures.  Your weird isn’t weird to her.  In her world,  you’re normal.

Michelle (she/her), based in the Baltimore area, offers human connection coaching ranging from cuddle therapy to surrogate partner therapy (sexual surrogacy).  While Michelle is not a sex therapist, she is a sex geek, experienced in kink/BDSM, polyamory and other relationship structures.  Your weird isn’t weird to her.  In her world,  you’re normal.