Emotional Regulation: Mind-Body Wellness

WaterThe connection between a healthy mind and a healthy body is no longer in dispute. It is based on the recognition that the mind affects the body and vice versa, and that both mind and body are interrelated parts of a whole.

Talk therapy can help clients work out how to deal with negative thoughts and feelings and make positive changes; however, it often doesn’t address the body reactions to those thoughts and feelings resulting in self-sabotaging behavior.

One way to tackle this problem is using somatic therapy to learn how the nervous system works in relation to emotions, mind, and body wellness. The nervous system contains the parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous systems and both systems work well together. When the SNS is activated we feel stressed or excited. Eventually there is a compensatory reaction from the PNS. The PNS brings the nervous system down.

The “relaxation response” otherwise known as the PNS, is in charge, when your body is ready to relax. It tells your body to slow down.  This “relaxation response” also allows for all those positive emotions: contentment, joy, laughter and peace of mind.

The parasympathetic nervous system is involved in recuperation and healing. As the PNS calms the body down, immune functioning returns. The body discharges or let’s go of excess energy and returns the nervous system to a point of balance.

When the SNS and PNS don’t work well together, we begin to experience mood swings. Either too much anger, stress, anxiety—high sympathetic arousal—or too much depression, despair, withdrawal—low sympathetic arousal, both resulting in states of confusion, fear and fatigue.

What helps to modulate these states is the regulating function of our higher cortical centers in an area of the brain called the pre-frontal cortex. Learning to work with emotional states through mind-body techniques allow clients to made deep changes in their brain, opening new pathways and ways of being.

During my work with clients I focus a lot on emotional regulation to support brain changes. Body states often overwhelm cognitive processes. I help clients recognize subtle shifts in their bodies that cue them into what is going on emotionally. This process is at times show but eventually leads to mind-body wellness.

© Maria Stella, PhD. All Rights Reserved.

Posted in Uncategorized

Empathy versus Blame

Brené Brown suggests that blame is a way of discharging anger. When we’re listening to someone and attempting to figure out who’s to blame then we are not truly listening with empathy. But according to Brown, empathy is not scripted. There is no formula for it.

Empathy is about being present and fully engaged without our protective armor. Empathy involves first making friends with ourselves—listening to our own feelings and needs, with compassion and understanding—and then extending that to others.

Here’s a lighthearted video on the topic.

Posted in Uncategorized

Maintaining your Balance through Counselling

StatueCounselling offers a way to balance all areas of your life by exploring current issues and emotional patterns. It often appeals to individuals who have a desire to overcome obstacles, to heal, grow and transform their lives. Recreate a life of meaning and learn to discover well-being, creativity, and gratitude within you and share it with those around you.

According to Wolman (2001) effective counselling process includes four steps: noticing, knowing, understanding and action. It begins with noticing, perceiving and sensing an issue internally and externally. How do we experience this issue?

The second step is knowing, synthesizing the issue or experience. How do we link the experience to our past or our internal standards? The third phase is the specific instance of understanding. How do we conceptually elaborate the knowledge that provides insight into the meaning?

The final component is action. Full awareness and choice of implementation through action bring about healing and peace. As you can imagine we need to develop and maintain constant awareness in order to detect any imbalance and readjust ourselves to preserve a sense of serenity, nevertheless this is possible and available to all of us.

Through counselling you can learn how to connect to your internal wisdom and become creative utilizing your intuition and emotions to guide you toward growth and well-being in all areas of your life.


Wolman, R. N. (2001). Thinking with Your Soul Spiritual Intelligence and Why It Matters. New York: Harmony Books.

© Maria Stella, PhD. All Rights Reserved.

Posted in Uncategorized

Short-Term or Long-Term Counselling?

ShoreHow long will it take is a common question at initial counselling sessions. And this is not a simple answer. The length of time depends on a number of factors such as:

  • The type of issue.
  • How long an issue has been occurring.
  • How much work a client is willing to do.
  • How much of the situation is under the client’s control.
  • Time and funds available.

Length of time also is affected by how open clients are with themselves and with a counsellor. Effectiveness of counselling depends on trust and comfort level, and these take time to build. For some issues, people have less need to trust a therapist at a very deep level, and for others, they have to trust more.

Short-term counselling is anything between 1-12 sessions where the focus is on helping clients to find new approaches to overcoming present difficulties. Often, this involves learning emotion regulation skills to effectively manage and change the way clients feel and cope with situations.

Short-term therapy is usually appropriate for situational problems such as stress management, conflicts at work, communication, relationship issues, parenting, etc. On the other hand, if the problems are deep seated and/or engrained in the relationship, have to do with any type of trauma or are as a result of a chronic diagnosis, long-term therapy, will usually be more beneficial. In the end, it is the client’s decision as to how much time and financial resources he or she can invest in themselves and overcoming the problem.

© Maria Stella, PhD. All Rights Reserved.

Posted in Uncategorized

Cultivating Inner Strength

SeagullsDuring challenging times when we feel stressed, experience losses, illnesses, and pain we may need the help of a therapist to rebuild resilience and inner strength. A therapist can assist you in discovering inner resources—or your own inner strengths.

Rick Hanson (2014) describe them as including:

capabilities (e.g., mindfulness, emotional intelligence, resilience), positive emotions (e.g., gratitude, love, self-compassion), attitudes (e.g., openness, confidence, determination), somatic inclinations (e.g., relaxation, grit, helpfulness), and virtues (e.g., generosity, courage, wisdom). This is the good stuff we want to have inside ourselves.

Why are these inner strengths important? Because they helps us deal with our challenges in a more open, kind and fearless way as well as give us a sense increased effectiveness in our everyday life.

You can grow your inner strengths alone; however, this process often takes a lot of discipline and determination. Or, you can meet with a therapist regularly to increase your capacity for cultivating them. Together in the therapeutic relationship you could learn to:

Identify the issue and the root of the problem. Sometimes it’s related to our world, our situation or sometimes it’s located in our body. The least we can do is noticing it and relate with our reactions to it.

Rick Hanson continues on posing the following questions, which could be address during therapy:

What psychological resource – inner strength – if it were more present in your mind, would really help with this issue?

This is the key question. It can be interestingly difficult to answer, so an initial confusion or struggle with it is common. Clues toward an answer could come from exploring these questions:

  • What – if you felt or thought it more – would make things better?
  • Does the issue ever get better for you – and if so, what factors in your mind (e.g., perspectives, feelings, motivations) help it be better?
  • Deep down, related to this issue, what does your heart long for?

There could be more than one resource, of course, but for simplicity and focus, it does help to zero in on just one or two key resources at a time.

Sometimes we need to grow an intermediate resource (e.g., capacity to tolerate feeling rejected, so that we are willing to risk experiencing that feeling) in order to get at the key resource we need to develop inside (e.g., inclination to ask for love).

How could you have experiences of this inner strength?

In other words, how could you activate it in your mind so that you can install it in your brain? It could be that the resource is already present and you just need to notice it (e.g., the feeling that the body is basically alright right now). But often, you need to deliberately create it (e.g., call up a sense of determination from the emotional/somatic memory of times you pushed through a difficulty).

How could you help this experience of the inner strength really sink in to you?

In other words, how could you enhance the installation, the neural encoding, of this experience to grow this resource inside yourself?

If you like, you can be aware of both the resource (e.g., feeling determined) and one or more psychological aspects of the issue (e.g., feeling helpless) so that the resource starts associating with and helping with these aspects of the issue.


Hanson, R. (2014). Grow a key inner strength – Just One Thing. To subscribe to his newsletter click here.

© Maria Stella, PhD. All Rights Reserved.

Posted in Uncategorized

Complex Trauma: Interventions

Ocean ViewA history of multiple, often chronic, traumatic events in people’s lifespan can create a number of difficulties. Events such as abuse, violence, or abandonment cause feelings of rage, fear, shame, defeat, and withdrawal; they are reactions to years filled with adverse and inhumane treatment by parents, family members, caregivers, or others who impact these people’s lives.

Working with a clinical counsellor can help individuals experiencing the effect of complex trauma, such as difficulty managing emotions, dissociation, confusion, attachment and relationships issues, mind-body health issues. Long term therapy is often needed to work through complex trauma. 

Malchiodi (2012), a leading expert in trauma, suggests the followings clinical interventions:

1.  Establish a sense of safety. This includes helping people establish both an internal sense of safety and identification and support for safety within their homes, neighborhoods, and communities.
2.  Regulate affect. Help people understand that what has happened is “not their fault,” and assist them in learning methods to regulate and moderate arousal [limbic system] with the long-term goal of restoring emotional equilibrium.
3.  Reestablish attachment. Chronic, complex trauma disrupts basic trust because it is often caused by dysfunctional or abusive interpersonal relationships; our goal as helping professionals is to help people reestablish attachment with positive adult role models and to learn how to empathize and productively interact with peers.
4.  Enhance the brain’s executive functions. Serious and repetitive trauma impacts cognition, disrupting cortical functioning; our goal is to help people effectively engage attention, comprehension, and problem-solving skills to allow for the experiences of mastery, self-esteem, and self-efficacy.
5.  Reframe and integrate traumatic experiences. Chronic, complex developmental trauma cannot be erased from memory; however, with our help children can learn to how to manage their reactions, enhance adaptive coping skills, and cultivate present-oriented responses to current stresses. Our ultimate goal in intervention is to help these people transform, incorporate, resolve, repair, and construct meaningful lives, post-treatment.

This clinical interventions can assist clients regaining a sense of balance and well-being over time, as well as connecting them with the lost inspiration and creativity in their lives.


Malchiodi, C. (March 2012). Part One: Developmental Trauma. Retrieved from http://www.cathymalchiodi.com/art-therapy-books/trauma-informed-art-therapy/#sthash.6OewgdqM.dpuf

© Maria Stella, PhD. All Rights Reserved.

Posted in Uncategorized

Self-Compassion: Making Friend with Ourselves

Water LilyHow do we create a saner world, a better relation, or job situation? How do we work with ourselves in a way that opens up the space rather than closes it down? How do we create space for others and ourselves to connect with our own wisdom? How do we create a space where we can find out how to become more a part of this world we are living in and less separate and isolated and afraid?

This process starts with us. The first step is making friends with ourselves: learning to be gentle and present with painful emotions and stressful experiences. This means allowing ourselves to feel what we feel and not pushing it away. It means accepting every aspect of ourselves, even the parts we don’t like.

By cultivating self-compassion, we train to be honest, loving, and compassionate toward ourselves. Sometimes we feel good and strong. Sometimes we feel inadequate and weak. Without self-compassion it’s difficult to genuinely be kind to others.

With kindness and acceptance of ourselves we begin to open our heart, we let our heart be touched by the world. We know what to say to another because we have experienced hurt, anger, closing down so we can connect with others with an open heart.

During our day we may be able to take a moment to notice if we are open or closed to be compassionate, tolerant, respectful, and supportive toward another. If we are closed what could we do to take care of ourselves? Taking time for ourselves, rest a little, and do some exercise—and notice how that affects our relationships. Notice how these little things stop us from getting used up or angry eventually needing to withdraw.

This process helps us cultivating patience. Sometime we find ourselves in situations where we become afraid or angry, there is a rush of adrenaline occurring, it’s like everything speeds up. We can use this energy to remind ourselves to slow down, listen and wait: that helps develop patience. As our self-compassion increases we’ll be more available to another, more likely to be patient, supporting and loving.

Self-compassion is the key to increase inner strength, confidence, and happiness in all areas of our life. Recognizing this process will change our life for the better and change the lives of others around us.

© 2014 Maria Stella, PhD. All Rights Reserved.

Posted in Uncategorized