Connection, Fear and Sensory Processing

fearThis is a topic near and dear to my heart!

Studying the brain has taught me how intimately connected the sensory systems are to the emotional centers (limbic system) and the rational centers (frontal cortex) of the brain. The bucket of chemicals that lives inside the amygdala (amy for short) does not know the difference between the sensory terrifying experience of fluffies in the socks from an earthquake! Each experience is interpreted through the perception of the individual.

When our clients are sensory defensive, their experience of sensations produce a dramatic neurochemical reaction of fear in the brain that becomes “engramed” or hardwired as an experience to be avoided. This is the case no matter how silly the behavior appears.

Because our nervous systems are wired for survival, fear responses occur very quickly and often subconsciously without time for rational thought to override the chemical reaction. The autonomic nervous system is triggered into fight, flight or fright, before a neuron in the frontal cortex has even registered the idea that fluffies are silly! This is especially true for young children who have a less mature frontal cortex.

Once a fear response is hard wired, it is hard to “talk” the brain out of its response. A titrated bridge of comfort is needed that dialogues with the subconscious and lower levels of the brain feeding in information that soothes the activated “amy” fear response. Such bridges as deep pressure, heavy work, soft music, rhythm, comforting touch and therapeutic connection send messages to the brain in conjunction with the fear inducing stimulus concomittantly helping the system learn to regulate and organize in a new way. The bucket of chemicals diminishes in intensity and the client learns that fluffies aren’t so bad.

Therapists often ask “How do I explain this to the client?” Validating the child’s experience is essential “I know that you don’t like the feeling of your socks” “It is scary for you”. “Let’s see what we can do to help your brain change how those socks feel.” Connection, reassurance and a new plan are in place.

The combination of therapeutic use of self, attachment and just right stimulation are a blend of intervention to change the channel of the “amy” from fear to organization.