by Penny Boreham, Intake Manager
Khiron House features in the latest edition of the Craniosacral Therapy Association’s journal – ‘The Fulcrum’ (edition 62).
The article, written by Penny Boreham, our Intake Manager, was entitled “Working Through Trauma” and the journal made this the title and theme of the edition. Here is the text of the article without the pictures and artwork which we cannot blog for reasons of copyright :-
Working Through Trauma
Khiron House Trauma Healing Clinic is an innovative clinic where CST is among the therapies used to treat common mental health conditions and behavioural disorders, including addictions. In this article CST practitioner Penny Boreham Saban describes how the clinic was born and interviews some of the practitioners who work there.
“The body unconscious is where life bubbles up in us” – DH Lawrence quoted by Peter Levine
The first of its kind in Europe, Khiron House is modelled on a clinic in Arizona, USA, where founder, psychotherapist Benjamin Fry, was himself treated after a severe nervous breakdown five years ago.
At Khiron House’s residential clinic in Oxfordshire, people stay, often for months at a time, to take part in an intensive programme of therapy. They have typically been in and out of the mental health system for long periods of time, and are suffering from complex trauma, often with a history of abuse. I find my role there as intake manager calls on all my CST training – to be grounded and aware of my inner fulcrum in order to be a therapeutically supportive presence for the residents during their stay. I am also the first point of contact for anyone enquiring about our work and a kind of communications officer, writing blogs etc and raising awareness about this exciting new approach uniting top down and body up approaches to treating trauma.
The trauma healing clinic in Arizona which inspired Khiron House, and helped Benjamin Fry, was Mellody House, founded by Pia Mellody in collaboration with the renowned somatic therapist Peter Levine, who developed Somatic Experiencing to treat trauma.
Benjamin was so thankful for the transforming healing he received that he vowed to replicate it here in the UK. Benjamin’s choice of the word ‘Khiron’, from the Greek myth of the wounded healer, is of course significant and as he says:
“It is an acknowledgment of my own damaged parts and a reminder to those of us who work there never to stand apart from our patients. We are all on a continuum and on the same journey. Some of us just left on earlier trains… My life was handed back to me in the desert, and now it is on loan to others.”
Khiron House has both an outpatient Clinic in London, offering one to one therapy (Somatic Experiencing and Sensorimotor Psychotherapy) and also group work, with a residential clinic in Oxfordshire where those same therapies are part of the core programme as well as yoga therapy, meditation, mindfulness, Tai Chi, clinical nutrition and of course CST.
In 2008, Benjamin Fry suffered a severe breakdown in which none of the talking therapy he was trained in seemed able to help. He tried many therapists, was admitted to the Priory (which he says made him worse) and suffered bad reactions to any anti depressants he was prescribed. His journey brought him to Arizona, where he finally found his way to Mellody House. It was here that he started to realise it was early trauma, and its impact on his nervous system, that lay at the heart of his problems.
The Background To Peter Levine’s Crouching Tiger
Rewind to the 1960s, and Peter Levine, who was using body awareness as a tool for relaxation in the bodywork that he was also practicing, and when he encountered a very challenging session.
During this session, his client went into a frozen state and Peter describes feeling panicky himself. He then had a strong image of a tiger. He says:
“It was an unconscious image, a vision of a tiger crouching at the other side of the room and getting ready to pounce”.
He communicated this to the client and almost immediately “her legs started moving as though she was running… her whole body started to shake and tremble… and the shaking and the trembling and the waves of coldness and heat went on for almost 30-40 minutes. And after that her breathing was free and spontaneous”.
This was a pivotal and transformative session for her, as she had become aware, for the first time, of the trauma that lay at the heart of her anxiety: during a tonsillectomy as a child she was held down as nurses and doctors put on an ether mask. Finally in this session with Peter, her body had started to discharge the built up energy that had been locked in her system since she was a girl.
It was of course also pivotal for Peter, and for those who have since learned from his discoveries. From then on, he began to develop his work with trauma and it was rooted in the understanding that humans, like all mammals, have a fight and flight response that if activated and not discharged can cause massive problems.
A Pink, Luminous Ball Of Rubbery Goo
And 50 years later Benjamin Fry was experiencing his own pivotal session of Somatic Experiencing at the Clinic in Arizona, as he worked with what appeared to be his mother’s energy and emotions when she was dying.
“My therapist invited me to pick up and squeeze a child’s toy and massage it very hard – this pink luminous ball of rubbery goo? I was starting to think that maybe I had got this all wrong after all? But I had faith and followed her instructions and sat there squeezing a luridly coloured squashy toy, although I was still stuck enough in my old ways to be asking her what possible good this could do me. She gave me the eyebrows and told me to get on with it. Within about two or three minutes I was on the floor, curled up, wailing. As horrific as it was to be releasing this excessive scale of my mother’s terrified adult emotion from the tiny container of my infant, it was curiously better than feeling like I did before I had been able to do so”.
For Benjamin this was both:-
“the hardest therapeutic work I had ever done” and the most healing.
“Being connected with the sensation in my hands of that gooey, cold plastic brought me out of my malfunctioning human brain and back into the natural process of my mammalian brain, a brain connected with sensation rather than thought. I began to realize that as a psychotherapist I knew nothing, this was a new paradigm. There was such a sense of privilege, awe even.”
As I am always hearing, the key is safety.
It just isn’t possible to discharge such built-up energy unless you are held in a very safe place, supported in a strong and boundaried frame, with delicacy and subtlety.
While not practiced at Mellody House, Sensorimotor psychotherapy has been included at Khiron House. It was founded in the 1970s by Pat Ogden, who is often quoted as saying “the body has been left out of the talking cure”. While working as a technician and a yoga and dance teacher at a psychiatric unit, Pat saw that, while most of the patients with trauma were constantly at the mercy of reliving their past traumatising experiences, the treatments at the hospital were actually also triggering traumatic reminders.
From then, Pat Ogden became committed to developing body-centred somatic psychotherapy. In 1981, she founded the Sensorimotor Psychotherapy Institute, which draws on somatic (‘of the body’) therapies, neuroscience, attachment theory and cognitive approaches.
Twelve years ago, our clinical lead at Khiron House, Catriona Morten, was finding that the therapies at her disposal were not answering the needs of the deeply traumatised children she was working with at the time for the NSPCC. So when Catriona found how this therapy worked with experiences as “felt” and processed within the body, she recalls:
“It was as though a light bulb went on, and I felt this was exactly what these children needed. It was a therapeutic approach that I just knew would work, and it did, and I also knew I had found something that could help people recover from trauma and not just learn to live with it … Also I now knew that people did not have to tell me deeply painful and humiliating details in order to get better”.
CST At Khiron House
One of the practitioners here at the clinic, Prahlad Galbiati, is both a Somatic Experiencing practitioner and a biodynamic CST practitioner.
Prahlad has explained to me that his biodynamic CST experience informs every aspect of his work. It is of course a huge part of his grounded and compassionate presence with clients and leads to a continuous attention to his inner fulcrum, resources and his midline.
He finds that SE and CST can be used complementarily for the real benefit of clients at the clinic, and in many cases he ends a session of SE with CST as he finds it enables the client’s system to “remove the ripples of dysregulation and discharge, and allow the system to integrate the process through the quality of the tide”.
However, Prahlad finds that if there is too much dysregulation in the nervous system the client cannot settle and “there are situations when any touch, however respectful, is not appropriate or possible. The client’s system cannot tolerate it”.
Therefore, he judges, on a case-by-case basis, whether to use CST: “I offer CST when I feel the client, and the client’s system, is ready and capable to be stable enough to dive in at the depth of the Tide”.
Prahlad has described to me how, as the relationship between the practitioner and the client establishes itself, “the perfect opportunity often arises to bring CST in to support the client’s process”. In some cases, though, Prahlad points out “it can take years to get to that point” and “what I find helpful is the ongoing negotiation of contact – in fact negotiation about all aspects of the session. This is empowering the client to be a relevant part of the unfolding treatment by feeling listened to and met”.
Prahlad first connected with Benjamin Fry, in 2011, when Benjamin was recruiting his team for the House. Prahlad was a Somatic Experiencing practitioner and had been a biodynamic CST practitioner since 1999. His spiritual background, the long-term bodywork and SE training felt like the right combination of skills for the KH project. Both Prahlad and Benjamin attended the Breath of Life conference in which Peter Levine participated, as well as an additional 2-day workshop he gave in London. Benjamin was looking for Somatic Experiencing practitioners for his new clinic, and not long after Prahlad joined him.
Prahlad was introduced to the work of Peter Levine in his second CST training where the teachers were Somatic Experiencing practitioners themselves. As soon as Prahlad encountered Peter Levine’s approach he was drawn to it:
“I resonated with Peter Levine’s work as soon as I read ‘Waking the Tiger’. What stood out for me was an example he made about how when you are flying on a plane and sitting there in a relaxed way and you suddenly experience turbulence, you are thrown into a state of fear. You can feel the shift in your body. I began to see the connection within mind and body in relation to trauma.”
Prahlad had himself been involved in a serious accident in 1997 when he crashed against a wall on his motorbike – it had left him in a coma and led to surgery, and he remembers the first extraordinary treatment he received from one of the SE trained biodynamic CST teachers.
“It was mind-blowing for me, absolutely transformative – the way the practitioner invited me to build resources that were perfect and ideal for me. When I got to the point of crashing myself against “the wall” – a big chunky white cushion – everything was so perfect that the idea of ending my ride slowly in that way was absolutely and completely the next thing I wanted to do. This allowed the system to manifest a thwarted defensive response as well as release a lot of energy from the body
For Prahlad, Somatic Experiencing is all about delicacy, precision and compassion and he often recalls Peter Levine’s words “I demand precision from my students” and Prahlad describes how the SE process needs to be as slow as the individual system requires.
“It involves mobilizing just the right amount of energy to help the client to process. I will always recall Peter’s phenomenal acuity in discerning what is happening in the physiology. This calls for 100 percent attention in order to discern shifts and micro shifts which can can happen in a fraction of a second”.
Penny Boreham has been a radio producer for 25 years, for 15 of those she was a Senior Producer at the BBC World Service, and (as Penny Boreham Saban) she is a CST practitioner, graduating four years ago from CCST. She is now the Intake Manager for Khiron House.
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