ACA Blog

Deb Del Vecchio-Scully
Aug 27, 2012

Putting the Brakes On

I am in the process of taking an online course – Trauma-Informed Art Therapy by Cathy Malchiodi, PhD, LPAT, LPCC, ATR-BC. One of the assignments was to watch a video “Putting on the Brakes” featuring Babette Rothschild in which she describes the need to work with traumatized – if not all clients at their own pace, allowing time to decompress from the emotional intensity experienced during a therapy session. She likened this process to the balance of driving a stick shift car and the need to apply the gas and the brakes to move forward and to foster safety. It is one of the many pearls of wisdom I have gained through this course and other trainings given by Cathy.

What watching the video about putting on the breaks, I realized that I don’t put on the breaks early enough. It isn’t until my stress level escalates to the point that I have physical sensations that I become aware of my stress level. At that point, I put on the breaks through movement – taking a walk, yoga stretches, mindful breathing all help to slow me down on the inside. After I slow myself down and reduce the physical symptoms of stress, I can usually begin to process cognitively what the source of the stress is. Identifying the stressor and my emotions often begins putting the brakes on to my reactions. It is ironic that I had been using this technique already in my personal life and with clients. The video elicited an AHA! moment for me helping me to realize that I must recognize my stress levels earlier - before physical symptoms occur and apply the brakes.

Most of my stress is related to time and feeling as though I don’t have enough time to do all of the things I need or want to do. Work related stressors are most often time-related: the pressure of staying on schedule, meeting deadlines and paperwork and sometimes, it is the client’s themselves whose needs are complex and want easy fixes or their trauma stories are intense and hard for me to bear. At home, it’s usually trying to fit in all of the tasks related to keeping a household in order like housekeeping, laundry and grocery shopping – my top 3 fun things – does sarcasm count as putting on the brakes?

Honestly, I do a pretty good job of putting on the brakes once I am aware I need to do so. I rely on nearly daily exercise, eating nutritiously and laughter as my core prevention strategies. Once stressed, I visualize a stop sign in my mind which helps me to stop, take a moment to pause and breathe and redirect myself. Meditation, music, self-hypnosis, support are my key strategies for applying the brakes and work well. My work is to utilize them sooner, to recognize earlier warning signs of stress and apply the brakes before the stress impact can escalate.

Deb Del Vecchio-Scully is a counselor and writer who focuses on healing the mind, body and spirit. She specializes in PTSD, Chronic pain and mood disorders. For more information:

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