By Nancy Eichhorn, PhD
How the Latest Research in Epigenetics, Neuroscience, Polyvagal and Attachment Theories Are Making Somatic Psychology and Body Psychotherapy Foundational for Effective Clinical Practice
with Dr. Marti Glenn
“We’ve come a long way baby!”
Dr. Glenn started her talk citing that the American Psychological Association now gives CEUs for workshops with the word body in it! This was years in coming. She had just given an 8-hour workshop that she had to cover in 40 minutes. And basically, she did!
She offered short snippets of information in four main areas with bullet points to anchor the concepts.
(1) Behavioral epigenetics: DNA does not control our destiny. Experience determines gene expression. If we feel wanted, safe, cared for, our DNA prepares for connections, curiosity and creativity. If our environment does not feel safe, DNA prepares for hypervigilance, our energy is diverted for watch and prepare. This predisposes us for mental and physical illness. We can shift our epigenetics and destiny anytime in life, through life.
(2) Polyvagal theory: our social engagement system is not just fight, flight, or freeze. When a baby hears her mom’s voice, tiny nerve endings in her inner ear develop and help her to recognize the human voice. Eye contact helps her to recognize and to develop facial muscles around the eyes. The vagus nerve is myelinated down around heart. It flows into the digestive system. It helps us determine Self and other. If the mom is present, available, calm, the dance starts where the baby feels safe and reaches out. But if the mom didn’t get it as an infant, she can’t give it to her own offspring. You can’t get what you want from your mom nor can you blame your parents for how you are now. Neuroception—our guard watching for threat can sabotage connection by over and under reading social cues. If there’s not contingent communication in our social system, we miss social cues, we miss connections.
(3) Affective Neuroscience. Attachment research. Neuroscience (Siegel, Ogden, Fosha). “Neurons that fire together wire together.” She talked about neural nets and how our implicit memory, a body survival technique, is wrapped up in our experience. Mental models such as I’m not enough, I can’t have my needs met, and I have to be a bully to get my needs met become our foundational beliefs. They determine how we look at our world. We can grow new neural nets and change our lives. All it takes is one experience with a caring person to open our neural nets, to open space to create new mental models. This opening lasts five hours, so you can reinforce and shift old beliefs to new networks. You can have clients remember the space they were just in and repeat that feeling, a physiological remembering and recall that helps shift feelings. You need: safety and an embodied experience with a caring other.
(4) Attachment Research. Begins prenatally. An enduring emotional tie characterized by the tendency to seek proximity, a secure base, that results in a mental model, which impacts our physical health. Somatic components of attachment include: timing, intensity, touch, eye gaze, facial expression, tone, gesture, posture. Clients need: a responsive, consistent, emotionally available therapist able to offer interactive repair, contingent communication, a sense of being wanted. You have to consider their caregiver’s own attachment experience and their current family situation.