This blog post was written by Rachel E. Sellers and initially published on her website here: https://www.rachelesellers.com/blog/polywhat-an-intro-to-the-polyvagal-theory
The word “Polyvagal Theory” just makes it sound like it’s going to be some super-complex, hyper-sciency theory or idea that is incomprehensible. But here’s the thing— it’s not.
I’m passionate about teaching people about this theory because I think that you should know about your nervous system. Why? Because learning about it is this really cool portal to self-awareness and self-compassion. We grow up learning things about our bodies like our 5 senses and how our hearts work but no one ever teaches us about our nervous system, a system that is so intricately involved in almost everything we do and explains why we do what we do. I feel a little cheated, to be honest. The fact that I learned this stuff after inhabiting this planet for a whole 30 years of life?! At least I get to make up for it now by teaching adolescents and teens this stuff when they see me for therapy.
Okay, let me break down this theory. There are two types of nervous systems in the body— the central and the peripheral. The Polyvagal Theory speaks to the inner-workings of the peripheral nervous system and more specifically the autonomic nervous system. This system is responsible for regulating involuntary bodily processes like heart rate, respiration, digestion, and pupil contraction. In other words, this system operates on an unconscious level. We don’t tell our body how or when to digest food or breathe— it just does it. In a more general sense, this system is involved in taking cues from the outside world and altering the body’s internal state.
For a long time, scientists believed that the autonomic nervous system had two primary means of responding to the outside world. These two nervous system responses might be words you're familiar with: Sympathetic (fight/flight response) and Parasympathetic (freeze/collapse response). But in 1994 Dr. Stephen Porges published his Polyvagal Theory, claiming a 3rd nervous system response (hence the name “Poly”, meaning more than one). The word “Vagal” is in reference to the Vagus nerve, a cranial nerve that is involved with our parasympathetic system. The Vagus nerve is a bidirectional nerve that runs from our brainstems to our gut. It also connects our brains to other organs like the heart, lungs, and digestive tract. Think of it as one of those make-shift telephones that perhaps you made in elementary school. The one with two paper cups and a long, thin string between them. The Vagus nerve is just like that, and it’s how our brain sends information to organs in our bodies (and vice versa).
What Dr. Porges discovered was this— there are 3 types of nervous system responses and the response that is activated is due to whether the body perceives safety or danger in the environment. Dr. Porges even refers to his theory as the science of safety or danger.
So you’re probably thinking…so what are these 3 responses?
These responses happen automatically and without any help from the most mature parts of our brain (the parts of the brain that can logically and rationally think through whether or not the body is safe).
This is because before the brain makes meaning of an experience, the autonomic nervous system has already assessed the environment and initiated some kind of nervous system response. Put simply, this happens unconsciously. And there’s a fancy word for it called neuroception.
Neuroception is similar to perception but it happens reflexively and automatically. This happens in the most primitive part of the brain (brainstem and mid-brain). We don’t wake up in the morning and consciously say, “Today, I’m going to use the mature parts of my brain to scan all of my environments for safety or danger.” Instead, our nervous system does this for us. Porges refers to neuroception as “detection without awareness” and “how neural circuits distinguish whether people or environments are safe, dangerous, or life-threatening.”
So what does all of this mean? What this means is that you were born with an inborn security system. Like, your body has cameras, metaphorically speaking, all over it that are scanning the world for safety cues or danger cues. Another way of thinking about it is to think of your autonomic nervous system as a compass. It’s constantly orienting you, shifting towards social engagement, mobilization, or disconnection.
Understanding the various parts of our nervous system invites us to a deeper understanding of Self. Sometimes we give our “thinking brain” way too much credit. In actuality, our nervous system and our limbic system (our emotional brain) drive the majority of our behaviors.
AND YET, the mind-body connection is still perceived as hippy-dippy and fluffy. It couldn’t be farther from the truth. Your body knows stuff before your brain consciously does. Your body is your first line of response, your biggest ally. This has a zillion implications for mental health and life and relationships and healing from trauma (and basically any other mental health “disorder.”) I’m going to post another blog soon about these specific implications, so stay tuned! Or better yet, listen to my podcast! I go in-depth with this in Episode #3 of Season 1!
I want to leave you with a visual representation of the Polyvagal Theory— see graphic below! By means of application, have you felt your body in either of these states this week? What triggered the response you had?
This blog post was written by Mimi Cole and was originally posted on April 27, 2022 on her website. The link to the original post is: https://mimi-cole.com/2022/04/27/thats-your-eating-disorder-talking-and-other-canned-recovery-answers/
Client: “I am tired of talking about my eating disorder”
Therapist: “It sounds like your eating disorder voice is getting loud again.”
Client: “I’m not restricting, but my stomach hurts really badly; I think something might be wrong.”
Therapist: “Keep eating your meal plan. The eating disorder can manifest in GI issues and we can’t feed it by restricting. You have to just stick with it. Your eating disorder is telling you that you should restrict because it hurts, but the more you stick with new foods and sit with the discomfort, the better you will feel. Just give it time.”
Client: “I am so tired and I can’t focus on work when I’m constantly feeling guilty about eating, I can’t meet the meal plan but I don’t feel like treatment will be helpful.”
Therapist: “You’re malnourished, if you keep nourishing yourself, you won’t feel as tired anymore. Don’t let the eating disorder keep you sick, ED wants you to stay at work instead of going to treatment so that you don’t recover.”
Client: (helpless in the face of power dynamics), concedes.
These are sentiments I have heard all too often in eating disorder recovery spaces, and I honestly believe they are doing more harm than good. While I believe that the sentiment that the eating disorder takes over and hijacks individual’s brain was well-intended and remains helpful in some aspects, in many ways, the field has really taken the concept and run with it. It is true that malnourishment negatively affects our relationships and our brain function. It is true that when someone has an eating disorder, it can make it so that they will do anything to satisfy the wants of the eating disorder because the eating disorder will always want to survive at all costs. The personification of eating disorders was a huge help to many people in their recovery journeys. However, I notice in the field (and in life) that often when we find something new that works or resonates with a large group of people, it becomes not only a suggestion, but an imposition: it becomes the way we promote recovery for everyone.
PROVIDER-CENTERED, POWER DYNAMICS
In my work treating eating disorders, I notice the dissonance between the answers I have heard and been taught to relay and the changing needs of my clients. In my practice, I see over and over again, that people are no longer interested in what I call my “canned recovery answers”, they know this information and it isn’t working. In fact, it may be making things worse. There are quite a few problems I see when providers respond to client concerns with “that’s your eating disorder talking”:It perpetuates the inherent power dynamic of therapist (or provider) and client. When clients make the decision to come to therapy, it is often disregarded that they are paying for a service that is intended to help them meet their goals and move towards their own values, not those imposed by the therapist. There is an inherent power dynamic in the therapeutic relationship where the therapist is often viewed as the expert and the client is in the role of someone vulnerable, sharing their fears and whole life stories in a fairly non-reciprocal relationship. The therapist holds to power to diagnose, to pathologize, and to send someone to a facility based on their perceptions. Not only is there the therapeutic relational power dynamic, but also many times there are identity differences that create even more power and privilege dynamics. For example, a White male therapist working with a Black female client will carry not only the power of being the therapist and holding valuable information, they will also have to grapple with the historical power dynamics of patriarchal power structures and racial privilege / oppression that will show up in the room. This may look like the therapist pathologizing normal responses to trauma or racism, perpetuating stigmatizing diagnoses. This may show up in the client withholding details of their symptoms or experiences because they are afraid the therapist won’t understand them or will pathologize cultural experiences, which may be perceived as withholding or non-compliance, etc.
We take away even more agency from the individual and discourage them from practicing trusting their bodily experiences of pain and their perception of the world. The eating disorder already is associated with cognitive distortions and a view of the world that isn’t always trustworthy, and to tell clients that they are not perceiving their experiences of symptoms correctly is to diminish their ability to trust themselves and their identification of their own needs. What if we engaged in collaborative conversations that are guided by the client? Imagine how important this could be especially for clients who have experiences of trauma — they are able to take the power back in decision making, gain more of a feeling of control instead of perpetuating the taking away of control that is a hallmark of trauma. If we embrace curiosity instead of assuming we know best as the “expert providers”, then clients can have a safer space to be honest, and imagine what this does for deeper processing of eating disorder beliefs and fears, leading to longer-term recovery that isn’t based on surface level behavior management but on real, raw relationships.
“That’s your eating disorder talking” ignores the intersectional, complex contributors towards eating disorder development and recovery. When we take on an approach that focuses solely on reducing ED behaviors and changing cognitions, we miss out on a lot of the deeper work of recovery that creates eating disorders in the first place. I wonder if this is part of the reason why so many people pass along from treatment center to center, from one provider to another (and can you imagine what this does in terms of attachment trauma — being vulnerable and passed from one provider to another creates more patterns of unstable, short-lasting relationships, and doesn’t create space for individuals to learn what healthy trust looks like in longterm relationships, how to speak their needs and engage in difficult conversations and seasons of relationships). When we ignore the influence of trauma, marginalization, and oppression in body image and eating struggles, we continue the trend of shallow recovery that gets people out the door of treatment and out of providers’ liability / concern, but keeps people stuck and feeling like it is their fault. Canned recovery sounds like “once you address your eating disorder, you’ll feel more capable of doing other work” or “it is best to not engage in ED behaviors and if you want to, that is your eating disorder talking.” What if it isn’t just about people stopping behaviors and doing CBT to reframe their thoughts because I’m seeing in my practice, that this is just not enough. A happy, food freedom and “recovery is possible” just isn’t that exciting or attainable for everyone, and it is not because they aren’t “choosing recovery” or that they’re “letting the eating disorder win.” It’s because they aren’t recovering into thin bodies, and that means that recovery may lead to increased experiences of stigma and shame.
“That’s your eating disorder talking” ignores the intersectional, complex contributors towards eating disorder development and recovery.
PRIORITIZING INDIVIDUAL’S VALUES
The world wasn’t built to celebrate or support recovery, and that is really important to sit with. Eating disorder behaviors feel good and serve a function, why in the world else would anyone use them? And that is uncomfortable for providers to sit with. Recovery does not feel better than the eating disorder for a lot of people, and that feels scary to providers because the canned answer that it’ll get better doesn’t work. Some people would rather prioritize feeling safe from bullying or name-calling in their families or access to quality medical care than recovery, which may lead to weight gain and feeling unsafe with trauma, years of paying for therapy, and losing connection, and that has to be okay. I think many of us are afraid that if we accept our client’s agency and values, then we are encouraging them. Acceptance and support of a person is not the same as encouraging. I think because this reality is so gloomy and not picture perfect, it feels too uncomfortable. If we say recovery isn’t possible, then there’s this false belief that people will just give up on recovery or therapy. But what if when we are really honest is when the healing work can more sustainably and beautifully begin. What if we allowed ourselves to sit with the discomfort of a client saying “nothing feels better than restriction” and instead of responding with “it’ll feel better I promise,” we create space for uncertainty and fear: “I don’t know if it will feel better. It might feel worse — you might be less productive, you might experience more distress around food, you might feel unsafe. And, I wonder if that means you are longing for more connection, safety, and support. I wonder if you can choose nourishment one meal at a time and know that each day or engagement in behavior gives us neutral information. What is it that you need to feel safer to do this work? Where are my blindspots? Do you want motivation to change or do you just want to feel sad, scared, and hurt?” How honest.
GETTING REALLY HONEST
Just like grief, I don’t think our canned recovery answers are working or what people need. I think many people just want to be able to be honest that they don’t want to give up their eating disorder and not be bombarded with “let’s change that thought” or “I know what is best for you and you are not well enough or capable of understanding your needs.” Instead of screaming recovery when clients whisper their hardest truths, what if we held space for the “I wish I had anorexia” “I would rather purge and hurt myself than have to feel the pain of my trauma” “I keep engaging in behaviors because I want people to care and be concerned.” Make space to pivot: instead of we have to get these cognitive distortions under control or you have to meet the meal plan or I’m sending you to treatment, “what do you want?” “What is it that I’m not hearing or assuming or imposing, how do you feel?”
Sometimes recovery won’t feel better. I’ve heard so many times that meeting the meal plan will make people feel better and I think that is more for the provider to wipe their hands of the messiness than for the client, sometimes. Also, it often minimizes and perpetuates problems that have solutions. Maybe it is ignoring difficulties with concentration and brushing them off as malnourishment. While this may be the case, what if we took those concerns seriously — assessed for ADHD or talked about other treatment options. If a client says they have chronic pain or that they aren’t hungry throughout the day, but are able/willing to eat more at night, instead of “that’s your eating disorder taking control”, what if we bring back that curiosity and work with clients instead of above them. I’m not saying nothing is the eating disorder, but I wonder if we can just… ask the client? And in this way, we bring back that agency and encourage the skill of helping them become more attuned with their body and mind; people are often more capable than we give credit for, especially when they are labeled as mentally ill or incapable of making their own decisions.
All in all, I see an overall theme here: touting recovery as possible for everyone feels easier and more hopeful. Being honest and allowing space to not know the answers and feel the grief of that is uncomfortable and scary. Hear people out, even and especially when it brings up strong feelings inside of you. Maybe some of those strong agitations are actually fears of your own recovery and curated life feeling threatened. Collaborate, engage, listen. Be open to feeling hopeless and being wrong.
Blog Post Written by Mimi Cole
Think back to the ideas and connotations of therapy in previous generations. Does Freudian psychoanalysis come to mind? Suppression of emotions and a sense of grit-and-bear it? Maybe you think of broken familial structures and questions about the id and the ego, or how it all comes back to childhood and our desires? Or maybe all of these terms are unfamiliar to you, and that is okay, too.
Therapy has changed very much over the years, but one of the most significant changes, in my opinion, is the relationship between clients and therapists. Back in the day, as the old phrase goes, therapists were often viewed as elusive, unknown individuals. It seemed to be unusual to know very much about one’s therapist’s life. Therapists were discouraged from sharing personal narratives as the focus was not on connection, but rather on resolving the client’s issues. This reflected a society in which therapy was stigmatized as something for “broken people” who needed fixing and solutions.
I believe the rise of research on vulnerability and human connection (think Brené Brown) and the bravery of clinicians with lived experience working in their fields has changed the face of therapy. We have learned that we are wired for connection and belonging through vulnerability, and this is a central aspect of the therapeutic relationship, in my opinion. Shame is that feeling of being exposed and wanting to hide ourselves as a result. This is one of the root issues that perpetuates the stigmatization of therapy.
The therapeutic space is intended to be a safe one, where the client is able to explore parts of themselves that have been wounded or that need more attention. The role of the therapist is to aid the client in understanding and living in alignment with their values. Therapy has become a space that is for everyone: for those who want to delve into their past and how it informs their current relationships, for those who have experienced trauma, for those who simply want to understand themselves more deeply or work through how to set boundaries in their relationships. Therapy is for those who feel broken and for those who feel like they have it together because it is about you and your needs in the moment, and we often see better from an outside perspective what we cannot see for ourselves.
In some ways, therapy does come back to our childhood; the way that we were raised informs how we function in relationships and how we view others and ourselves in the world. This can change with the forming of new relationships, however, and in community as we work through processing old narratives and reframing our stories in a new light. The ability to engage in new, healthy relationships is part of the trauma healing process. In order to unlearn the narratives that were shaped from past harmful relationships, we must experience good and lasting ones that show our bodies and minds that we are worthy, resilient beings and can receive affection, attention, and love (referring to an intimate, non-sexual sense of belonging we are able to share with others and are invited to be a part of ourselves) from others.
Recently, I have been reading the book, Maybe You Should Talk To Someone: A Therapist, Her Therapist, and Our Lives Revealed, and have really resonated with it. The author, Lori Gottlieb, is a therapist herself exploring her clients’ lives, as well as her own relationship with her therapist after an abrupt breakup. She talks about her own clients’ experiences ranging from a terminally ill patient who has cancer and is trying to make the most of her life to a man who works in media and is frustrated that everyone around him is an idiot. She writes about personal insights and discoveries in therapy as a therapist herself.
Gottlieb writes that “we grow in connection with others.” This rings very true; and how can we build relationships with others that we do not know at all? Self-disclosure is, to me, a very valuable tool in the therapeutic relationship, when used appropriately. Knowing that our therapists are not these far off, superhuman individuals reminds us of our shared humanity and helps destigmatize the idea that only “broken” or “really messed up people” need therapy. Even therapists often have their own therapists.
So, what does appropriate self-disclosure look like? It looks like thoughtful, considerate sharing of that which helps the client. This requires reflection and discernment, to navigate when to share an example or experience, and when to focus on the client’s experiences. Therapists must be careful in navigating vulnerability because while authenticity and trust are essential for this work, so too are boundaries and protection of the client from the therapist’s biases and needs. Ultimately, therapy is for the client, and often, the client is seeking deeper connection and help in rewriting new narratives of stories they are grappling with; and this work highlights our humanity and need for relationship.
Therapy sure has changed over the years, and it has a long way to go. Research has confirmed the importance of vulnerability, connection, and belonging, and therapists are making strides in the field to show up as their authentic selves and become more aware of how their own biases and narratives can inform their practices. However, there is still work to do in terms of de-stigmatization of clinicians with lived experience, ensuring therapists have appropriate spaces to be vulnerable themselves, and using our humanity as a tool in the therapeutic space to facilitate connection and further healing.
This blog was originally posted by Rachel Sellers on July 11, 2020. To see the original post visit www.rachelesellers.com.
Mainstream culture has adopted an extremely narrow-minded view and understanding of trauma, and we desperately need a paradigm shift. I’d go so far as to say that the health of our country depends on it.
If you are reading these words, you have experienced trauma and probably a lot of it. 2020 has been covered in global and collective trauma, as have the many years before that. Perhaps, as you reflect on your life, you think of a few ups and downs. But you think, nothing “that bad” has happened. You’ve “gotten over it”, you’ve “forgotten about it.” Maybe you have (or maybe you’ve just successfully repressed it?) Even still, you carry trauma in your body, both yours and what you’ve inherited from your ancestors, because you are a human who is alive right now.
Words like sexual assault, natural disasters and childhood maltreatment would likely fall into your socially constructed category of “trauma.” And these are certainly traumatic experiences. But we must deconstruct the narrative that only these “big things” are traumatic, that only the big things “count” as trauma. This lack of understanding has kept us, personally and collectively, in so much denial and pain.
Experts in the field of neurobiology, psychology, and psychotherapy have widened my understanding of trauma and its impact on the brain and the body. I’d like to share some of their wisdom and words.
Bessel Van Der Kolk defines trauma as “An event that overwhelms the central nervous system, altering the way we process and recall memories. Trauma is not the story of something that happened back then, it’s the current imprint of that pain, horror, and fear living inside people.”
Peter Levine says, “A trauma is defined by a shocking or a dangerous event that you see or experience.” He also states that the nervous system (your body) cannot discriminate between trauma and simply being overwhelmed.
Resmaa Menakem states, “When something happens to the body that is too much, too fast, or too soon, it overwhelms the body and can create trauma.” He also says (and I think this is incredibly well-stated), “Trauma is a wordless story our body tells itself about what is safe and what is a threat. Our rational brain can’t stop it from occurring, and it can’t talk our body out of it. Something in the here and now is rekindling old pain or discomfort, and the body tries to address it with the reflexive energy that’s still stuck inside the nervous system.”
Janina Fisher states, “Trauma is defined as an overwhelming experience that exceeds our capacity to make sense of it, no matter how resilient we are.”
Do you see a pattern here? Trauma is not the event itself, but rather what happens in our bodies when we experience something overwhelming. Trauma is a response, not an event, nor is it simply an emotional response. Trauma is what happens in the body. This is why, for example, two people may experience the same event, like hearing fireworks or witnessing a car accident, and have two totally different responses. This is because these two people are perceiving and responding to this event in different ways.
After trauma (which you have experienced), you experience the world with an entirely new nervous system. I wrote a blog post explaining the nervous system and diving deeper into trauma responses, so feel free to go read it! But what I’ll say here is this— one of the most pervasive impacts of trauma is the way that it affects the threat-perception system. This is our bodies “alarm” system, the system that alerts us in the face of danger (those moments where we really do need to fight, flight or freeze in order to survive.) Once trauma gets stuck in the body, and if it is not addressed, the body’s threat-perception system becomes extra sensitive, and we perceive danger when there is no danger at all. When this happens, your “thinking” brain goes totally offline, and your body reacts just like it would if you were really in danger. Stress hormones begin cascading through the body and you may become explosive for seemingly “no reason” and/or numb out and disconnect from yourself.
There are several opinions out there about what can and will change the world. But I really believe that if collectively and individually we all began to heal our trauma, the world may start to heal too.
I don’t believe in pathology, and I don’t think people are mentally “ill.” I think we’re all just incredibly traumatized and hurt. I think we’re also exceptionally creative because we sure have adopted a library of unhelpful coping strategies to deal with it. We’re pretty damn resilient, too. During these past two years of studying psychology and counseling, I have realized that what lives and breathes under the guise of a “disorder” is unhealed trauma. Anxiety and depression are consequences of a dysregulated nervous system, and if we want to achieve better mental health, we have to look at trauma and we have to engage the body. We’re not brains on a stick, people.
Several things get in the way of us admitting and facing our trauma, and what’s ironic, is that what gets in the way of us facing it is a result of the trauma itself. One of the reasons that we don’t face it is because we are still actively living in an activated, trauma-response state (i.e.: fight, flight, freeze, fawn.) We’ve become so conditioned to living this way that we don’t even realize we’re stuck and disconnected. What is actually a traumatized state has become our normal, this-is-how-I-am state. Another reason we don’t face our trauma is because we get stuck in this popular yet entirely unhelpful narrative— “But I don’t have it as bad as them.” Sure, maybe you haven’t been sexually assaulted or maybe you’ve never been a part of or witnessed a mass shooting, but the presence of such abhorrent violence and pain doesn’t discount yours. Your trauma matters. Period.
Look, if trauma is an overwhelming or terrifying experience, then we’re all traumatized. And if we’re all traumatized, then wouldn’t it make sense that the stigma for getting help might start disintegrating? I truly hope so.
Our bodies are resilient. They are as susceptible to healing as they are to trauma. If you want better mental and physical health, perhaps it’s time to look inside yourself. Reach out to a trauma-informed therapist who is well trained. Learn about your nervous system and how to regulate it. Practice deep breathing, mindfulness, and meditation. Get curious about why you do what you do, why you think what you think. Start the work of befriending your body again and coming home to yourself. If trauma robs us of the ability to sense and trust our bodies, which it does, then healing must involve repairing the relationship with your Self.
At large, every generation that has gone before us has just been hurling their unmetabolized trauma onto us. This is called intergenerational trauma, and thanks to the field of epigenetics, we now know that trauma can literally be passed down via gene expression. Can we please, for the love, finally be the generation that moves through our pain and heals? Can we please stop blaming all the world’s problems on everybody else and maybe take a look at ourselves? Can we please stop hurling our hurt onto other people (ahem, racism)?? It’s seriously time to wake up. This work is long overdue.
Resmaa Menakem speaks to this in his book My Grandmother’s Hands, and he takes the words right out of my mouth. “As every therapist will tell you, healing involves discomfort— but so does refusing to heal. And over time, refusing to heal is always more painful.
An End The Stigma campaign has brought mental health and emotional wellness into our casual conversations, workplaces, social media platforms, healthcare systems, and news stories. We are seeing so many celebrities, athletes, politicians, and influencers speaking out on the prevalence of mental health and trauma across the globe. They are sharing their own stories, championing non-profits, and spreading awareness.
In an op-ed published in the Huffington Post, Michelle Obama wrote:
“We should make it clear that getting help isn’t a sign of weakness - it’s a sign of strength - and we should ensure that people can get the treatment they need.”
Prince Harry, in defying British royal tradition, has openly discussed his struggle with grief after the traumatic death of his mother, Princess Diana:
“I can safely say that losing my mum at the age of 12, and therefore shutting down all of my emotions for the last 20 years, has had a quite serious effect on not only my personal life but my work as well,” he admitted. “I thought that thinking of her was only going to make me sad and not going to bring her back. So from an emotional side, I was, like, ‘Right, don’t ever let your emotions be part of anything.’”
Entertainer Selena Gomez has publicly struggled with her mental and physical health. In a recent interview she said:
“Vulnerability - and I’ve said this before - is a strength. As I grew up in this chaotic space, I did have to learn how to be tough, and to be strong, but I’m not this hard person. And I have every right to be.”
As so many influencers and public figures are speaking out, we are seeing a huge influx of people taking inventory of their own well-being. People are recognizing the pieces of their lifestyle that aren’t working, renegotiating past experiences and relationships, and looking forward on their healing journey.
In a perfect world, everybody would have access to the practices that promote mental wellness, trauma recovery, and emotional healing; all barriers to service for all persons would be eliminated. Insurance companies would reimburse fair rates, integrative practices would be covered by managed care organizations, practitioners would be culturally competent, technology would be used to reach rural communities, and accrediting bodies would promote ease of licensure portability. And this is just scratching the surface.
The most common remarks that we hear when it comes to accessing mental health services, healing practices, and trauma recovery support are:
“How can I work on my mental health if I can’t afford to go to therapy?”
“A membership at a yoga studio is too expensive. I don’t have that kind of money.”
“My insurance doesn’t reimburse for the treatment that works for me.”
“I can’t find a practitioner in my area.”
A harsh reality is that two of the biggest barriers in people moving forward in their healing journeys are cost and access.
In an effort to change this reality and promote healing, there are so many organizations, individuals, and collectives that are coming together to make healing accessible and affordable for everyone. If you are ready to begin your healing journey but feeling blocked by the barriers mentioned above, we hope that the resources below can bring some direction and guidance.
1. Low Cost Psychotherapy Options
2. Insurance Benefits for Psychotherapy
What are my mental health benefits?
What is the coverage amount per therapy session?
How many therapy sessions does my plan cover?
How much does my insurance pay for an out-of-network provider?
Is approval required from my primary care physician?
Can you give me a list of providers in my area who are accepting new clients?
3. Pro Bono Therapy + Therapists Who Offer Sliding Scales
4. Community Mental Health CentersA lot of community mental health centers offer grant-based programs that may offer support by way of psychotherapy and medication management. A lot of these centers will also offer programs for substance abuse at low to no cost.
5. Telehealth/Online Therapy Offerings
6. Self-Healing Communities
7. Books that Support Self-Healing: Head to your local library or download an app, like Libby, that links your library card to a wide selection of free e-books. Some of our favorite authors are Peter Levine, Brene Brown, Anodea Judith, Sheryl Paul, Dan Siegel, and Arielle Schwartz. Be sure to keep an eye out for our upcoming blog post on our recommended books for your healing journey.
Movement and Meditation Resources
8. Community Yoga
Small World Yoga
9. Online Yoga Offerings
10. Online Meditation Offerings
11. Community Acupuncture: Search “Community Acupuncture Near Me” to see if any of your local practitioners are offering community-style acupuncture. Community acupuncture is practiced in a group, rather than in a one-on-one setting. Community-style clinics run on a sliding scale in order to make them more affordable, and so that people can get the amount of treatment they need in a shorter period of time. The idea is to make acupuncture as accessible as possible for the most amount of people.
12. Virtual Community Circles
We know that healing looks different for everyone which is why we have included an array of healing practices in this post. Maybe therapy isn’t for you and you are looking for an alternative to therapy. Maybe your yoga practice is established and you're seeking for a community to support your spiritual growth. Whatever you are searching for, we hope that the information provided above can serve as a guide in facilitating your journey on a budget. Wellness and wholeness don’t have to be expensive - we just have to know what we’re looking for.