Zach Morris Talks About Somatic Therapy for Processing Trauma in Differently Wired Kids
My guest today is Zach Morris, a semi-frequent guest of this show. I always love my conversations with Zach, so I was so happy to bring him back to talk about somatic therapy, and how this modality can be especially powerful in supporting differently wired kids struggling with anxiety and depression and recovering from both big and little T trauma.
In our conversation, we get into the Polyvagal Theory, what somatic therapy is, what it looks like in practice with kids, the underlying power of somatic healing, and how it can help kids develop resilience, even in the face of stressful situations. And as always when I talk with Zach, we talk about what can feel like heady or theoretical concepts in a practical, accessible way…ways that I hope will help listeners feel not only more informed, but inspired to incorporate some of what they learn through this conversation into their lives with their kids.
About Zach Morris
Zach Morris is a thought leader in education. He is committed to helping people increase compassion, collaboration, and learning. Zach supports individuals, families, and organizations who aim to develop a greater sense of safety and empowerment in themselves, in their relationships, and in their communities.
Gently guiding humans through the resistance they encounter is at the core of Zach’s work. He is inspired by the science of how people learn and change, and he aims to translate this to help individuals and communities improve awareness, communication, and structural support. Zach has 10+ years experience in the classroom, ranging from inner-city public school to rural therapeutic boarding school, and from non-traditional private school to individual co-op homeschool. Zach now serves as a learning consultant and communication coach, and he is most at home in the mountains of Montana, where he lives and works.
Things you’ll learn from this episode
- What Zach has been seeing among neurodivergent kids in response to the disruption of the past few years
- What the Polyvagal Theory is and how the sympathetic system works when our flight, freeze, fight, or fawn response is activated
- What “little t” traumas are and these may reflect the experience of many neurodivergent kids
- What somatic therapy is and how it helps kids foster and develop resilience around stressful situations
- Examples of what “discharging” looks like
- How we can help our kids begin connecting the dots between their feelings and their actions
- Why there is a relationship between neurodivergence and trauma, and how profound sensitive experiences makes one more open to somatic therapy
Resources mentioned for somatic therapy & kids
- The Center for Nonviolent Communication (Marshall Rosenberg’s Global Organization)
- Mona Delahooke on the Power of Brain-Body Parenting (Tilt Parenting Podcast)
- Dr. Ann-Louise Lockhart on Breaking Generational Cycles (Tilt Parenting Podcast)
- Brain-Body Parenting: How to Stop Managing Behavior and Start Raising Joyful, Resilient Kids by Dr. Mona Delahooke
- The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma by Bessel van der Kolk
- Call of the Wild: How We Heal Trauma, Awaken Our Own Power, and Use It For Good by Kimberly Ann Johnson
- Waking the Tiger: Healing Trauma by Dr. Peter Levine
This Season’s Sponsor: Outschool
Whether you’re homeschooling your child, looking to enrich their learning, or just want to give your kids a new way to dive into their interests, Outschool is for you. Outschool takes kids ages 3 through 18 beyond the classroom to explore the topics they love through small, live classes taught by expert teachers, all through an accessible online learning platform.
Back when we were living abroad and I was homeschooling Asher, we tapped into Outschool for classes in writing and Minecraft. Today, Outschool offers more than 140,000 classes in just about every topic under the sun — I just love how passionate they are about celebrating the needs, interests, and learning styles of differently wired kids around the globe.
CLICK HERE to learn more about how Outschool can support your child’s learning journey, and use the code TILT to get a $20 credit towards your first class.
Debbie Reber 00:00
Tilt Parenting is proud to partner with Outschool this podcast season. Outschool’s unique approach to education empowers differently wired kids ages three through 18 to dive into their interests in small live classes designed to foster a love of learning, create connections and cultivate independence. Learn more at outschool.com/tilt
Zach Morris 00:22
But that’s also maybe where the students started to really get to know. Oh, what does panic feel like? What does anxiety feel like before it’s banging down the door? Like before? It’s it stopping me in my tracks? What does it kind of feel like and perhaps that’s where I find myself in that future moment and I start to notice that and I feel that I go oh, I know what’s happening. I’m gonna go use those strategies. I’m gonna go regulate myself in some way.
Debbie Reber 00:55
Hey there and welcome to Tilt Parenting, a podcast featuring interviews and conversations aimed at inspiring, informing and supporting parents raising differently wired kids. I’m your host, Debbie Reber and my guest today is Zach Morris, a semi frequent guest of this show. And I always loved my conversations with Zach. So I was happy to bring him back to talk about somatic therapy, and how this modality can be especially powerful in supporting differently wired kids who are struggling with anxiety and depression or recovering from both big and little T trauma. In our conversation, we get into polyvagal theory, what somatic therapy is, what it looks like in practice, the underlying power of somatic healing and how it can help kids develop resilience even in the face of stressful situations. And as always, when I have Zach on the show, we talk about what can seem like heady or theoretical concepts, but in a practical, accessible way, way that I hope will help listeners feel not only more informed, but inspired to incorporate some of what they learned through this conversation into their lives with their kids. And a little bit more about Zach before we jump in, Zach Morris supports individuals, families and organizations who aim to develop a greater sense of safety and empowerment in themselves, in their relationships and in their communities. He’s inspired by the science of how people learn and change and he aims to translate this to help individuals and communities improve awareness, communication and structural support. Zach has more than 10 years experience in the classroom ranging from Inner City Public School to rural therapeutic boarding school, and from non traditional private school to individual Co Op homeschool. Today, he serves as a learning consultant and Communication Coach. And before I get to that, a quick update about a book that I know many listeners have gotten for their kids over the years. It has been 10 years since Jennifer Cooke’s breakthrough book, The Asperkids Secret Book of Social Rules: The Handbook of Not-so-Obvious Neurotypical Social Guidelines for Autistic Teens was published. And Jennifer has done a substantial update for a brand new edition just out this week. I had a chance to read an advanced copy and I loved it. Jennifer really is the best big sister coach mentor friend every autistic tween and teen could hope for and she just writes with this perfect blend of compassion and humor and encourages readers to fully understand and embrace their awesome selves. So the folks at Jennifer’s publisher, Jessica Kingsley, publishers are offering a 30% discount on the book to Tilt listeners in the US and the UK for the next month. So through July 21 When you purchase it from their online bookstore, you can enter the code tilt 30 When you check out and you can find Jessica Kingsley publishers at us.jkp.com or uk.jkp.com. And I will include these links in this Thursday’s newsletter as well. So if you didn’t have a chance to write those down, you can get them on Thursday. Which reminds me if you’re not on the tilt parenting newsletter, now’s a great time to sign up. Every Thursday I send out a short email that has a little personal note for me, a look at upcoming events that should be on your radar and highlights of news items and other things that I think you might be interested in. So you can sign up for that at tilt parenting.com Alright, that concludes the PSA for this episode. Thank you so much. And here is my conversation with Zach.
Debbie Reber 04:42
Hey, Zach, welcome back to the show.
Zach Morris 04:44
Thanks so much for having me. Debbie. Happy to be here.
Debbie Reber 04:46
Yes, I’m so excited because we always have such interesting conversations and I’m just gonna say upfront listeners if you haven’t heard Zach yet talking with me or just talking in general, be sure to check out the show notes page because they’ll have links to our previous conversations as well as to Zach’s podcast, because they’re always insightful, deep all over the place, but in a very interesting way conversation. So go listen to those.
Zach Morris 05:12
Yeah, thanks, Debbie. You’re gonna You’re inspiring me to also have to get my podcast going again. I took a look. Yeah.
Debbie Reber 05:18
Yeah, absolutely. I would love to know, kind of, generally speaking, catch us up, like, what are you up to? Now? What’s the work that you’re doing in the world?
Zach Morris 05:27
Yeah, you know, so I’ve really, in the last couple years moved into serving as a learning consultant and Family Support Specialist, you know, working with individual families, working with other school programs, and and other teams, you know, on on a lot of a lot of structural development for what’s just supporting more connection, collaboration, understanding for whatever we’re sort of navigating here. And so really similar to the world I’ve been in, when I was running school, and doing all that, and now just kind of taking it more to individual families and individual organizations that are trying to redesign or just sort of evolve, you know, what they have going on to help create more wonderfulness for everybody?
Debbie Reber 06:10
That’s great. And I would love to know how you’re supporting families, or maybe even more deeply what you are noticing among neurodivergent kids, really in response to the disruption of the past couple of years, like what has been really showing up for you and your work and the families that are coming to you and the kids that you’re seeing?
Zach Morris 06:30
Yeah, you know, that’s interesting question because I think it’s, there’s such a split experience, in a lot of respects, right, I have for families that that have kiddos and students who maybe were needing more spaciousness and needing more flexibility, time, you know, all of these things that that actually the last couple years has provided a lot of opportunity for that nervous system to experience a little bit more sort of consistency of safety and security and all of those things. So so for as many people that kind of just getting connected with that, that maybe have been navigating some some challenges or things like that, like maybe the last couple years is actually things have settled, and now we’re maybe actually able to kind of do some more work that is maybe accessible that in the height of it, you know, maybe maybe wasn’t quite so much and and then on the other end of the spectrum for all those those kiddos that were thriving in the social, you know, and really need that stimulation on potentially higher levels and things like that, that that maybe that’s maybe there’s some some increased loneliness or missing connection, and some things like that, that are have changed things. But across the board, I guess this is maybe kind of leading into what we’ll end up talking about today. The common thread that I see the most is this experience of getting kicked out of a sense of safety in the body. And that puts me into a place of overwhelm, anxiety, worry, the narrative starts flooding, right. And all the sudden, now I’m, I have needs and I and I and I’m around maybe can access something or, and and so. So I think that’s what I see people needing the most support in: how to support our kids having more regular time in that sense of safety in their system, but also developing more efficient and effective strategies for getting back to that place of safety once I’m kicked out of it. And even recognizing that that’s what’s going on for me.
Debbie Reber 08:38
Perhaps this feels very much tied into and we were talking about this before the polyvagal theory. We haven’t done an episode just on polyvagal theory, but it’s certainly come up in conversation with Mona Delahooke, who wrote this amazing book Brain Body Parenting really is talking about kids’ nervous systems and what’s going on. So could you talk more even about the polyvagal theory? And I’m curious to know, again, maybe tied to what we’ve experienced as a collective over the past few years? Are you seeing things show up differently for kids? Or also, is it a result of maybe just particular experiences that they’ve had in schools or otherwise over the course of their life?
Zach Morris 09:18
Yeah, I think for a lot of the families I’m working with, I would I would say that the last year hasn’t necessarily exacerbated some of that and less all of a sudden I’m like, Wow, I’m so missing that community I was a part of are like all those people and and now that’s what’s really impacting me, though, that seems to be the main demographic that I see like having specially been impacted maybe in that in that last year and in a way but a lot of the other the other aspects of it is just sort of, I guess what we would we would describe as more of some of those like complex traumas, right? Those like those little T traumas that sort of developed over time that we all have in some way, right where just from like patterned sort of habituation of exposure. uriens with something. Now, I’m sort of carrying a little bit of a visceral experience from that experience into future moments. Right. And so, so when we talk so polyvagal theory, right talks so much about essentially how trauma impacts the nervous system, right, what that what that does, you know, for our experience, and, and when I’m sort of having a trauma experience, we can sort of talk about it as how it’s, it’s the past arising in the present. And that’s what that visceral experience is on a physiological level. So polyvagal theory really sort of brings us into examining this part of our nervous system that is our social engagement system, right, that’s unique to the mammalian system, that sort of stacked on top of other parts of our autonomic system. And that’s the place that keeps us like, when we’re in our social engagement system, that’s where we are in relationship, and we can be flexible, and we can access our core values, right, all of these things that that are sort of going to impact us being our best self in a lot of respects, right? And, and it’s when I get kicked out of that social engagement system, when I lose that sense of safety. Because I’m in my social engagement system when I’m anchored in safety. And so when I lose that sense of safety, for some reason, it takes me out of that. And, and this is where we experienced the fight, flight fawn freeze, right, all of those responses. And, and there’s some definite things that happen to our physiology, when we’re in those different brain body states, essentially, right. So we know, and there’s so much we could talk about here. So I’m going to try to be really brief, you know, but we can kind of speak about some other questions and things. But, you know, we know things that like when, when I get kicked into that sympathetic part of my system, that that more fight or flight is sort of energy, that that really impacts how my ocular system functions and takes in visual stimulus, it really impacts actually how the sort of muscles in my inner ear start contracting and constrained to be able to take in information, right and so. So it really, that directly even just changes our ability to have certain experiences. So for example, when I get kicked into that sympathetic system, my ears start priming myself to be more attuned to low frequencies of sound. Because those are sounds, those are predator sounds, those are sounds of danger and threat. And so I’ve already got kicked into that part of my system to be like, be aware of threat. There are threats out here. And so my ears actually get more attuned to being able to hear those sounds, than hear things like the human voice. So that person that’s like asking me to pay attention or do something, it’s like, I actually have a harder time hearing it. So I have a harder time making sense of it, processing it, integrating it, right. So a lot of what polyvagal theory takes us into a sort of understanding of how the physiology gets so impacted by these brain body states, and therefore a lot of the manifestations we see, they’re not chosen by people, right? They’re not, they’re not like someone not trying hard enough for someone being trying to make your life difficult. It’s just like, This is what happens to the system, like I actually may be unable to process some of this information in a certain way right now.
Debbie Reber 13:30
I’ve never heard it quite explained that way. And that, I just feel like I have even a different level of understanding of what’s really going on. It’s fascinating to me and makes so much sense. And I want to go back to this idea of little T traumas, you know, we’ve talked about Big T traumas, we’ve talked about ACEs adverse childhood experiences, we did an episode last season about breaking generational cycles. So we have explored this, but I think it’s interesting to think about these traumas that we may not recognize as traumas. And so could you give some examples or better explain what a little T trauma is and how those might be accumulating for our kids? And we may not be aware of it.
Zach Morris 14:14
Yeah, yeah, absolutely. And I will sort of make note, I’m not, you know, I know that that’s how people have kind of talked about it in the past, you know, and I’m not sure if that’s sort of still really a part of the lexicon, this sort of like little T trauma. It’s just my way of trying to connect with some people’s background knowledge and understanding and some things like that. But yeah, I think of it as I might. I mean, let’s just take an example that maybe resonates with listeners of, I’m getting driven to school, and, and just along the way, I’m already starting to think about what the expectations are going to be over there. And I’m sort of getting a little worked up. And I’m thinking about that I’d rather kind of be doing something Nelson this moment, right, don’t have this, right. And all of a sudden, like, just all of these narratives and thoughts that are coming from maybe whatever experience happened previously, and I’m riding in the car, and we get there. And I’m getting a little resistant to get in as that pattern continues to happen. Over time, maybe all that needs to happen is me to sort of get asked like to get ready to go to school. And I already start feeling all of those experiences that have been sort of building in that that other moment of like, when I’m in the car, and I’m, I’m actually kind of feeling a little sick to my stomach maybe around like, I’m getting sweaty and and all of a sudden, someone asks me, Hey, can you get ready for school? And I just, I start feeling that a little, but I might not be aware of it. Right. So this is where sort of like somatic experiencing and understanding of polyvagal really comes into play is how do we help our children really get to know the experience, not the narrative, not the perception, but just actual experience? In this moment, what Deb Dana talks about, right, she’s really involved with polyvagal theory, and Steven Porges resonates with this, right? This idea that, as I get to know the experience, I start to understand what facilitates it, where it’s come from. And I also start to understand where I’m going with it. And what’s going to bring me back to a sense of safety. I was just talking about this today. And I think this analogy kind of like helps me wrap my head around it a little of that idea of like the value of knowing our experience, and really just like noticing it and knowing what’s there is like, take that idea of, of when you’ve maybe felt hangry
Debbie Reber 16:47
That’s never happened to me …
Zach Morris 16:48
But before you realize what’s going on, you’re maybe just irritable and short with people and don’t have a right and you’re manifesting in all the ways that you are and it feels kind of unmanageable, right? In the minute you go, my stomach is so empty, I need to eat food, like there’s nothing. I have a headache, like this is what’s going on. All of a sudden, we can settle actually, for a little bit of a moment, because I’m like, I have some understanding of what’s led here. And I also like safety is on the horizon, I just need to get some food like that, ah, that’s available that’s possible, when I don’t know what’s happening. And I’m just experiencing the narratives in the flood and in all this it can be hard for me to make sense of it. And or take action that’s going to help me meet my needs.
Debbie Reber 17:41
So fascinating. So you mentioned somatic experiencing. And that’s something when I first reached out to you I said I wanted to learn more about and share more about to the listeners. So could you explain what that is? It’s you know, it’s something I hear about and I don’t know that I have a deep understanding of what it actually means.
Zach Morris 18:02
Yeah, it’s it’s a modality that’s used in in throughout a bunch of different sort of therapeutic supports and models and you know, and I will kind of describe to people like it can definitely be like a therapy or led through in that sense by someone and and I also think it offers a lot of philosophy and understanding for us to all utilize as we try to have like support our own nervous system and in the nervous system other people but Somatic Experiencing pioneered by by Peter Levine. Dr. Peter Levine Waking the Tiger, a book of his I can’t recommend enough Somatic Experiencing essentially tries to facilitate this completion of a self protective response, like a self protective motor response. And or releasing of like a stuck survival energy. Right, so So let me take us really quickly into how Peter Levine was sort of like taught maybe talks about some of the somatic experiencing, because it goes all the way to like just like mammalian biology, right? Of he often will take you through the example of like picture the lion chasing after the gazelle. And the gazelle gets tackled, and it’s like about to get eaten, right? The Gazelle shuts down, maybe, right? It’s the it just sort of goes off the nervous system goes offline, it goes into that total like immobilization survival response, right where you might notice that like playing possum idea, right? And the whole the whole idea with this is that it’s not chosen the the animal did not go you know what I’m going to do right now I’m going to shut down it just like sort of happens to our system, right? And so, so that it doesn’t have to experience the pain that it’s about to experience right. Now say something else happens in like some other animal comes out and chases off the lion. And so now, so now the Gazelle is alive there, but in this shutdown state, what we see in here We’re living shows video footage of this is what we see happens is the gazelle start will almost start to like convulse in shake. And it will go through this like shaking experience on the ground, maybe until it then just gets up and runs away. And he talks about that shaking, that dis, that’s the discharge, that’s the discharge of the stress response. And he sort of talks about how in our modern life, we don’t have our stressors. Our stressors are not this, like, whew, surge of stress. And then like, we’re right back to safety. And we were able to discharge that, like, instead, we have like the worry of that, oh, yeah, work project that’s due for the next like, six months, or the the child that’s like, the teenager that’s worried, they’re never going to be able to buy a house when they’re older, like, whatever those those hums of stress are. So it doesn’t have that very finite start and end point, right. And, and so he talks about how, because of this, also, we’re just not discharging a lot of this distress, it’s really just getting kind of, kind of trapped in the body, you know, and so, so he talks about how that that discharge is necessary for then, you know, the, the term in this sort of, like, biology world is prompting to then sort of like, run back off into life, and get back into there from a regulated place, right. And, and so the whole idea is that, we will get back to a place of regulation, always, because that’s just, honestly, just a matter of time, right? That’s just how the system works, we could get really worked up, we could go sit on the scroll on the computer for 20 minutes, and eventually, we’re gonna get back to feeling kind of regulated. Now the difference there is I didn’t really, I didn’t really move through it, I didn’t really discharge any of it, I just sort of like, distracted or disassociated. And so it helped. It was like a strategy. In that moment, I got some needs met, I got back to a place of regulation, but I didn’t build any resiliency for a future opportunity where that happens again. So that’s what sometimes we’re seeing as parents where it’s like, wow, every time this thing comes up, we’re just right back into that big expression, that dysregulation and it just sort of is like this revolving door, like we’re just always back there. And because we as humans will find strategies that work for us, but that have, maybe EAS don’t take lots of exertion, right, whatever. And those can just become sort of like the self soothing techniques, right, that get us through it differently than maybe the like self regulating, sort of techniques that actually help us move through it, discharge it, and develop more resiliency around it.
Debbie Reber 22:42
So if it’s not discharged, does it accumulate, kind of build and become more and more of an unresolved issue?
Zach Morris 22:53
I think we become more patterned in it, essentially, right like that, that we become perhaps a little more sensitive to it, that’s where the sensitivity can develop over time, right? Like, perhaps the longer that thing goes, and the more I’m triggered by it, potentially, the more either maybe the more hyper or hypo sensitive to it, right, this could happen that I could get really hyper sensitive to that thing. Or I could start to actually slip into that more like shut down any energy around at all and just get more apathetic, or just get more isolated from it. So that experience could be big, but it might not feel super big for me, right? It doesn’t always have to go to that hyper state, I could kind of start to shut down around. And that that also sort of depends, I think a lot on just like personalities and, and attachments and sort of all of that is like what is your go to, you know, when you get dysregulated like me, I’m a total fawner, like that’s, that’s like when I get dysregulated go to that place of fun, right? Some people there may be more likely to go to fight, some people are more likely to go to, you know, freeze like and so it kind of depends, I think on the person to have where that starts to go and maybe over time. And I’m kind of just sort of theorizing myself here that that’s maybe what moves us more into maybe continuing to have hyper experience with things that are actually starting to move the opposite and kind of have like, like, it doesn’t even really matter to me. I’m just numb. I’m numb to it at this point, kind of you know.
Debbie Reber 24:22
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Debbie Reber 25:27
What does discharging them look like? You know, is it shaking? I’d love to know. And maybe if you have an example of what it looks like, when you work with a kid to go through this, I’m so curious.
Zach Morris 25:39
Yeah, you know, it could be as simple as tears, tears coming out, right? We’re all familiar with that of like, you’re sitting with someone you know, and maybe I don’t know, you even just like, maybe you ask the right question, or you said the right thing. And all of a sudden, someone’s just welling up in tears. Like, that’s a bit of a discharge, right? When I’m, I’m getting that out, we’ve all even maybe had experience with a really young toddler who’s like, totally worked up, they’re kind of like almost hyperventilating. And I’ve like scooped them up, and I’m rubbing their back or something. And they finally have that moment of like, ah, that like deep sigh, right? Like that can be a discharge. So this is also something I talk a lot about with parents of teenagers, where we get lots of size, we get lots of, you know, maybe things like that. And I really try to empower people to like, what if I see some of that through this lens of discharge? Depending right, like on what’s going on? Because sometimes we try to, like, get people to not do that. Out of like politeness or out of whatever, right? But what if, what if that’s serving something for me? So, you know, maybe I’ve maybe I’ve asked someone to do something for me. And, and, and not out of fear and obligation, right, but just out of the sort of asking, they don’t really want to, but they’re willing, and so they sort of begrudgingly are like fine, you know, and it’s like, how worked up we could get about what’s respectful, and what’s, you know, and all those things, but But what if that’s actually just like a discharge of some? Well, a little bit of stress right now that I’m getting out, to go do the thing, I said, I was gonna go do it, you know, like, and so, so I’m trying to look for also those other things that I might not at first see that way, but go, maybe there’s something there, maybe there’s some discharge going on there. Right. And, and, you know, this is maybe simultaneously discharge, but also could be this, you know, the other side of it, too was this like, completing the the self protective response, right, so So let’s talk maybe like a bigger trauma, for example, for a moment of maybe someone, maybe, maybe a student, at at school, once or with a group of people, all of a sudden kind of was was like the victim of some ramie really intense bullying, where maybe they were being even, like, constrained with their physical movement in some way, or something like that. And they, and they couldn’t get away. That response was maybe what was happening in that moment, I had an urge to flee to get away, but I couldn’t. That’s going to be intense on my system, of how some of that stress response is gonna get lodged in here, because I didn’t get, I didn’t get to do the thing to complete the motion. And so sometimes this is that moment of maybe someone gets triggered, right? Like by something that triggers that experience of that and all sudden, I have this, like, I’m having these visceral feelings as if I’m like, back in that, that situation where people are telling me like this, the past, coming into the present, somatic experiencing is also the thing that might try to get someone to like, oh, yeah, get away, you can run, run, run away from this space right now. And literally, like, in that moment of feeling it trying to get them to go do that thing they couldn’t do in that moment, to try to like, get it finish it finish that, that completion of that that motor response that didn’t get to happen, but is impacting me on really deep visceral levels right now. And so, so again, that could kind of be both in that sense, where like, it could just be explosive movements in some way, right discharge could come in, in a lot of physical ways. But it might also, depending on what some of my traumas are, it could be that I’m, there’s maybe just some other movements that were trying to happen at some point. But Peter Levine couldn’t tell this whole story of like, when he got in, he got in like this car accident. And everybody wanted to, everybody wanted to keep him not moving right, and get them on the stretcher and do all these things. But he was saying like he needed to move like he was him discharged, like, and so he even kind of goes into saying, like all the ways we actually try to, you know, obviously there’s all kinds of medical considerations and things to think about, right. But he sort of talks about how, in a lot of these environments, we’re trying to support people. Sometimes we’re stifling And that motor response that needs to happen to get the energy out to discharge it.
Debbie Reber 30:07
Wow, this is so fascinating. As you were talking, even that story you said about tears that just earlier this week, I was on a call with a bunch of colleagues and someone said something that just and I’m not a, like I don’t Well up often said something that really just resonated with me. And just like I got hit, right with this sentiment, and I instantly had tears welling up and I didn’t know any of that was there. So that was now I hearing you explain it, that was obviously a release of something that I’ve been kind of that’s in my system that I haven’t. I hadn’t made that connection. And so, you know, you talked about the size or the grunts or these things. So more than us being aware if our kids are doing that, is it helping them also connect the dots of what they’re doing to kind of the underlying why behind it? And how that could be helpful, like, do we want them to see to connect the dots?
Zach Morris 31:03
Yeah, you know, I think ultimately, I think the the rub is like, how do we lead people into that, where that’s not threatening, right where it’s like it and it doesn’t become like kind of to formalized or to whatever, you know, and so, so I find that this really all starts with a with a noticing practice, right that like essentially, what we’re ultimately trying to do is notice what happens for me, in this maybe situation where I get pinged into activation. And I’m trying to notice, like, you know, what is happening in my chest here, like, what is going on in my stomach? Like, what do I notice, you know, in my temperature, right, like, so that I can tune into that and in, to get back to a regulated place via my my body and my, my, my sensory system, right? Now, you can imagine trying to lead people into that, that have maybe a small window of tolerance, or are experiencing lots of this or just kind of a are in chronic stress, places that like that could be just as threatening to try to, you know, lead someone into noticing what’s going on for themselves. And so, so we can kind of take it to really beginning places like, well, what is safe to start noticing? Like, what can we start anchoring in right and so, so I’m often trying to lead students into maybe just noticing, too tangible concrete anchors that are in the environment via the sensory noticing, right? So, some just to touch up my practice of even being able to do that even being able to notice, like, I’m in a body, and I’m having experiences in the body, right? Like, you could go on a bike ride with your child. And on that bike ride. Every week could be like talking about some philosophy concept or not talking at all, and everybody’s just like thinking about their day yesterday. And, and therefore like, it’s not, it’s not that that’s bad, right? It’s also not super present for my sensory experience. Like when I’m in the mind, and I’m in the thoughts like I am not experiencing present sensory things, really, maybe I’m experiencing them, and maybe not, I’m not aware of them, right. And so the whole idea is bringing the awareness to it. So I could also be on that bike ride. And I could be noticing what the wind feels like on my skin, I could be noticing what my feet feel like, as I’m taking each petal, I could be noticing the birds that were up on that tree. That’s that practice of being in my sensory system and going wow, I’m a body that sees stuff. I’m a body that feels temperature, you know, because that’s what’s really real and tangible right now. And when we’re in that space, when it’s safe, when I can notice that and not have that trigger some other sort of activation for me, like, that’s where I experienced a sense of safety also, too, right? I’m not going to think myself back into the sense of safety. I’m gonna notice myself back into a sense of safety.
Debbie Reber 34:02
This is fascinating to me. I mean, what you were talking about before was really a PTSD response. Right? When we’re, you know, in a situation where we get triggered and have that same experience. That’s a word or a condition that I think gets thrown around a lot, especially when talking about neurodivergent kids, I hear from parents all the time, my kid has PTSD from school, from school experiences. I think we’ve even talked about this and maybe in our very first conversation that kids who would show up to your school, many of them were experiencing that. So I’d love to even just talk about the relationship between neuro divergence and trauma and our neuro divergent people who tend to have very kind of profound sensory experiences more open to somatic experiencing as a modality. I don’t know if my question makes sense, but I’m kind of interested in the intersection of all these things.
Zach Morris 34:55
Yeah, I’ll first kind of speak towards you know, what I see in this sort of like PTSD, neurodivergent trauma relationship a little bit and as just being an educator and and not diagnosing psychologists at all, you know, but I sort of the thread that I see is that what shows up in in both of those situations, even though there’s multitudes in that situation, right, the PTSD experience or whatever other neurodivergent sort of experience I’m having is that I’m, I’m easily kicked out of my sense of safety. So like, that’s the common thread. And, and because that is what’s happening, we can look at the, the physiology and the biology, like through a very similar lens, we can sort of say, well, polyvagal theory and somatic experience is going to apply to both of these, because Because whether you got kicked out of your sense of safety because of x, or whether you got kicked out of your sense of safety, because of why like that doesn’t really totally matter, actually, it just matters that you’re not in your sense of safety. So what does that mean is happening to your body? And what is the road to getting back to that place, if that makes sense?
Debbie Reber 36:02
It does. And Mona Delahooke and her book Brain Body Parenting talks about having, I think she calls it one’s platform, they’re kind of how sturdy is their platform and and that neurodivergent kids kind of inherently have a platform that may not be as sturdy, so they’re more primed to be kicked out of that sense of safety.
Zach Morris 36:23
Exactly. And so now speaking towards like, whether, you know, what I see on sort of the neurodivergent population of like, maybe connecting with, like, some of these Somatic Experiencing practices or things like that a little more not, is that? I think in the beginning, it can be more challenging, maybe to bring someone into that, right? Because I am, I’m dealing with this experience a lot, right? So it’s like, so if I’m not, if I’m not experiencing a sense of safety a lot, it’s, it’s hard to do these things, because we also introduce this from a place of safety. So the whole idea is, like, if you were going to try to help, sort of the noticing, and some of these things, we typically don’t really bring it in, right? When you’re really activated. You’re dysregulated like, we tried to bring it in from the other reg more regulated places, and maybe, will then start to get to bring it in, in these other moments, right. But what I find is, once we get the access often, then we can make people seem to be interested in taking it really far. Because it’s because we can experience the value we can, we can get relief, maybe for the first time, right? So to tell a brief story I’ve been a student I’ve worked with for probably the last seven years, and for a long time had been trying to lead this student kind of into some of this stuff right into some of these nursing, but there was a lot of resistance, right? Because that seemed threatening, right? Also, you can imagine, to go to my quiet times of also noticing and being in my spaciousness Well, that’s when the threats really start creeping in. That’s where my mind starts going. You know, and so, and also, I might have feel like, I’ve tried so many things, or met with so many different people that I don’t want to just try the next thing, right? Like, I don’t feel very hopeful that that’s maybe going to do anything for me, right? So, so sort of been in this relationship for a long time, you know, not really getting a whole lot of movement on it. And finally do right Finally, for whatever reason, I think this also happens a lot. It’s like sometimes it’s just a matter of time and maturation that someone needs to get to, to sort of be open to finally being guided in some way, right? Because you know, what, I haven’t figured it out myself, I continue to have the same experience. This person in front of me continues to be safe. So why not say yes, at this point, right. And so, so finally, we say Yes, right. And we just start doing some of that, we just start doing some really basic noticing from a regulated place. This is where I’m like leading the student through doing some like body scans, right, just kind of like mentally trying to tune in to sensations they’re experiencing maybe, while I’m just like leading them through some brief things, maybe for like, two minutes, literally, like 120 seconds, right? So that it doesn’t get too much, right. And no sudden we start to lose it and lose ourselves. And we do that for a little bit. And next thing, you know, like, we’re doing it longer, right? And then I’m checking in with the student and I hear like, wow, yeah, every time we finished those two minutes, this person’s feeling relaxed. Like they kind of enjoyed that time, right again, and so we kind of start doing a little longer. And then I started introducing some more techniques that someone could sort of engage themselves. So we start doing a couple different breathing things, we start doing some different self massage, we start doing some different things like that. And I hop on a call with the student, you know, weeks later, and he tells me and you know, a student totally on the web of neurodiversity, right? And this student tells me, I basically stopped a panic attack this week, using some of the strategies we’ve been doing. And it was like, wow, this is like that’s, this is where I was hoping we’d get to and where I was so confident, right, but for and we couldn’t touch it for a long time. But once it was safe. And once we got in, and once we utilized it, all of a sudden, he pulled it out and was like, I started to notice, right? Because that was the whole thing inside of this. This is where like, eventually you may even be able to take someone right? Doing this enough you might be able to. I might have been able to, with that student, go, And what do you notice in your body? When you think about, think about having some math homework to do? Or what happens in your body when you think about gym class, or whatever that is right? And all of a sudden, like, yeah, maybe some of those sensations start coming back, and I start to tune into those. Well, now I’m starting to get to know them in a much safer place also, because like, I could help co regulating some other ways, right? So so obviously, we don’t want to rush too far too fast into something like this, right? But that’s also maybe where the students started to really get to know, oh, what does panic feel like? What does anxiety feel like before it’s banging down the door? Like before? It’s it stopping me in my tracks? What it kind of feel like, and perhaps that’s where I find myself in that future moment. And I and I start to notice that and they feel that I go, Oh, I know what’s happening. I’m gonna go use those strategies, I’m gonna go regulate myself in some way.
Debbie Reber 41:13
So a lot of things came up for me as you were sharing that first of all seven years. And I’m also reminded that one of our podcast conversations was about how we help a child change their world view. And the whole theme was that this is the long game. So I love that example. And now, as you were just describing, I mean, what an incredible breakthrough. And I can imagine how that felt for you to know that this kid tapped into that skill and was able to stop a panic attack, I think about the zones of regulation. And the charts that kids in first grade are given, like when you’re feeling this way means you’re going into the orange zone, or the red zone or whatever. And you know, every time you stop yourself from doing that, you’ll get a chart or, or a sticker, or whatever it is. And I think about just hearing you describe this work and as an adult human knowing how hard it is to really understand my body’s cues and recognize them and notice them in time to even make a conscious decision. It just really strikes me and hearing you describe this of the expectations that we have surrounding what kids should be able to do. And we really expect them to learn these emotional regulation skills really quickly, because we’re so focused on behavior and classroom management and all of those things.
Zach Morris 42:38
Yeah, exactly. And how actually, as we take kids into that we can, we can make, I think experience one dimensional, a little bit instead of having duality, right? So if we think about those zones of regulation, it’s like, in a lot of respects that someone has to choose, like, I’m in one of these only, as of right, where it’s like, I could be having seemingly red zone experience in something. But I could also be grounded in a different zone simultaneously somewhere else right? And, and in Am I led to notice the duality, right? So sometimes when I’m trying to help students, maybe notice those sensations of discomfort, or some of those sensations, I’m also maybe simultaneously then trying to bring someone to notice, maybe there’s a place of comfort to write like, like, it’s not all just that, like, I’m not all redzone maybe, right, like, and so that maybe doesn’t totally represent this complex dual experience for me. And that’s why I’m really confused, too, is because like, you know, I simultaneously don’t want to and do want to, huh, so I’m maybe simultaneously really worried and kind of excited, you know, and like, where does that put me? You know? And how do I sort of tune in to both and then decide what I’m going to do with either of those experiences, essentially. Or maybe they’re super related. Maybe I start to get to know that sort of stomach gurgling a little bit that I thought was all fear and worry. But now I start to come through but that version of it is like excitement. Right, that version is actually like, I’m getting giddy. And so that would be good for me to know, perhaps, right? The difference between those things, so I’m not just maybe reacting from one of those places.
Debbie Reber 44:30
So then what I’m hearing is that this is a way to process trauma, whether that’s even big T or little T trauma, but this is a way to process that to learn how to discharge to learn how to better connect with your experience with one’s experience in their body and identify what’s happening. What does this look like down the road? So it’s also I imagine about being able to navigate the world in a way where you’re just kind of there’s real communication happening internally, what does it look like?
Zach Morris 45:04
I think what it looks like is giving ourselves more opportunity to sort of pause and have understanding and then and then, and then make a decision that feels like it’s coming from a place of being empowered, not just a place of reaction. Right. So, I, I’ve probably had many of these experiences, you know, recently, but, but I’m thinking back to last week of my boys being upstairs, you know, plan, whatever they’re playing up in, up in the room, and I hear some conflict happening, right. Now, here’s some, and, and in some patterns, conflict, like things we’ve been there before, we’ve talked about listening to each other’s nose before, right, all of those things, and, and I just feel this, like, flood in my body, right to, like, take action, and to go, like, intervene. And, and I almost do, I almost like I almost like, catch myself as I’m like, running up the stairs. And, and, and I go, Wait, let me like what’s happened in here for me, right? And I’m able to, like, tune in to like, whoa, like my, that just like, got my chest racing, like heart racing a little bit. I just felt this surge of energy. Like, that’s my cue not to necessarily go up and intervene and do something like it could be, they could need that support. But that might just be my cue that like, I got really frustrated that that’s still a conflict that’s happening, or I got really worried that they’re not going to figure this out. Or, or I got Yeah, like scared, someone was hurt, even though they weren’t right, or whatever that is, and, and so. So instead of rushing up, in like having some intervention and saying something, or whatever, I was gonna say like, well, it’s not that I just went and sat back down on the couch, because I wanted to, like still check in with people. But it totally changed everything. When I was realizing like, Wait so much more of what’s igniting this energy for me is just like this discomfort I’m experiencing right now. And I’m going to try to go like, exert some power control so that I can feel better. Like, instead of that it looked more quietly, going up the stairs, looking for something in the closet, like not just to make sure people were safe, not not directing my attention to them at all. And we’ll talk about that later, when people are regulated, or people because in that moment, if I would have just gone in, they probably would have deer in headlights, like, immediately been afraid, right? Like what? And and therefore now on that spectrum of receptivity and defensiveness, they’re way on the end of defensiveness, and we’re not going to get anywhere. So instead, right? We’re able to just have that conversation a little later, like, Hey, I noticed this thing earlier. What were you thinking about? Right? And we could and then we could actually maybe do something with it, but But what it looked like in the moment was noticing me using the information that I know, that tells me about myself, my experience my needs, and then taking an action that actually aligns a lot with more with my core values, and my sort of like, clear perspective, after the fact what I would have been like, Oh, um, that’s how I would have wanted to do it. I don’t know if that answers your question. But
Debbie Reber 48:15
But yeah, I mean, it sounds like a superpower. Really? I mean, the question, you know, now we’re shifting to the adult experience, the parent caregiver experience here. But that’s a question that comes up all the time. How do I do what you did? How do I stop before I…
Zach Morris 48:31
Yeah, we can just you know, so that we can extrapolate that to our children, right? And so it’s like, it might, it’s not going to be around the same topics, but it’s that moment of like, ooh, Did I did I have that moment of like, pausing taking stock a little bit, and in sort of just getting a little bit more clarity on what’s really going on? Right, that like, this is what’s really happening right now? Not necessarily just all the stories I would tell myself or all the sort of perceptions I’m making or or intentions I’m giving to someone else, or, you know, whatever that is, like I can get a little more clear on this is what’s real right now.
Debbie Reber 49:08
Okay, that’s great. And so for people who are listening to this, who wants to explore Somatic Experiencing somatic therapy as a modality for their kids, you know, you mentioned waking the player. Do you have any other favorite resources that they should check out? And I can include these in the show notes page?
Zach Morris 49:29
Yeah, there’s a book called Befriending Your Nervous System by Deb Dana and DebDana. So, so much, she’s really taken polyvagal theory into sort of, practice of she’s an LCSW like therapy practice and sort of that whole world so she’s making polyvagal theory really applicable to you so I I think I think that’s a great resource and and Kimberly M Johnson any of any of her works and her her main book is escaping me right Call of the Wild, we can really add Johnson. So many more, but that’ll get everybody started.
Debbie Reber 50:05
That’s great. No, I’ll definitely include those listeners, you can check those out. I’m gonna be putting them on my Amazon.
Zach Morris 50:12
Oh, and actually one last one because even totally a part of this whole mix is the Body Keeps the Score by Bessel van der Kolk. Yeah, a huge part of it.
Debbie Reber 50:21
Awesome. Well, is there anything? I mean, I have more questions. But you know, we’ve talked around so many things. And I feel like this is a really good introduction to, to this topic and to just this idea of the power, you know, of helping our kids really tune into their bodies and what that might look like, is there anything that we haven’t touched upon, that you think is really important that my listeners know about?
Zach Morris 50:46
I think the the connection that this has to neurofeedback, so I think that that for for the people that are we’re really struggling to help them like start in on some of this process, like start in on a noticing process really start maybe being guided in any way because it’s maybe just all too much right I work with with some of these families where it’s just like, we just can’t seem to maybe offer much without it getting dysregulated and activated, right is that neurofeedback is sort of being seen to maybe help people kind of get over that initial hump of just the sort of like, stress release a little bit so that then maybe we can actually access some more of this work and so so if if you or your you know, people in your family are noticing you’re, you’re really at that just super beginning stuck point, I would maybe encourage people to also look into some Neurofeedback stuff.
Debbie Reber 51:42
Okay, that’s really helpful. And that’s another topic that I need to bring onto the show. There’s so much to talk about and so much to learn about. But this has been fascinating. And yeah, I’m really, as always, I’m just grateful for what you do in the world. And I think that kids and families who get to work with you are super lucky. And I just want to thank you for everything that you shared today. And yeah, I’m looking forward to getting feedback from listeners on this, too. So, listeners, if you’re listening to this, and you have more questions, follow up questions, and you want to go deeper into this. Also, let me know that helps me as I’m planning future episodes. But thank you, Zach so much. Oh, before we go, just let people know where they can connect with you.
Zach Morris 52:28
Yeah, you can find me on my website. email@example.com. That’s all spelled out in three words. firstname.lastname@example.org. I’m not very frequent in the social media world. So you won’t find me there, really. But there’s a contact form on my website, you can reach out and they also might find me on the PDA North America website. And there’s a lot of things sometimes happening with PDA in North America. I’m running some workshops over there. And so people might also see what’s happening over in that realm.
Debbie Reber 52:58
Oh, that’s great to know. Yeah, we’ve done a couple episodes on PDA. And I know that we have a lot of listeners who are getting very involved and excited that there’s more resources here in the US specifically for PDA. So that’s great. Awesome. Well, thank you again, for hanging out with us this afternoon, and just great to connect again.
Zach Morris 53:18
Thank you, Debbie. It was a pleasure to be here. Thanks for all the work you’re bringing to the world as well and showcasing all these resources. So thanks so much.
Debbie Reber 53:28
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