Today while walking on the beach, I noticed a whole clamshell washed up on dry sand. As I looked more closely, I found a live clam inside. I carried it back to the ocean, hoping it would survive. Then I saw two more and put them in the sea. Further down the shore, I came across a whole group of clams. I wondered why so many where on the beach. Why had they been disconnected from their clam community under the sea? They were exposed to the elements and to seagulls who kept scooping them up and dropping them from the sky to crack open their shells.
The Human Clam
Often we hear or use the phrase, “happy as a clam.” But the original idiom is “happy as a clam at high tide.” When the tide is high clams are immersed in water, safe from certain predators and able to feed. Clams live in concentrated groups, rooted together in the sand as a community. Clams also need their shells for protection; without them they are totally vulnerable.
Like clams, we humans need protection too. The walls of our homes, and the creation of our routines help us anticipate what to expect from daily life and how to tolerate the inevitable stressors that come our way. We also need interaction and support from our communities. Much like clams, our inner and outer lives are equally important to our overall well-being.
At some point we may experience events so profoundly stressful in life that we are deeply affected. Sometimes such experiences alter the way we find safety.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and other stress responses are common in those who have been subject to events experienced as life threatening. After such traumas people may re-experience what they endured through disturbing thoughts, images, and dreams. They may also be constantly on guard, ready for imminent danger. Some even unconsciously seek out and recreate traumatic situations, perpetuating the experience of being victimized. When we live in a state where the fight or flight defense mechanism of the body is engaged, it becomes difficult to function well in any area of life, and it is physically and emotionally detrimental.
Fear can cause us to avoid social situations and “clam up,” even when it’s painfully lonely. Or we shut down emotionally, either from total overwhelm or because ongoing stress depletes us. Shame, guilt, humiliation or grief may weigh heavily, and symptoms like chronic digestive upset or sleeplessness may plague us.
We consider some major life stressors as “not traumatic enough” to warrant how upset we are or how off course our lives have gone. But the loss of an important relationship, or the experience of being rejected or shamed is painful and can result in a loss of faith in others and in the world.
Trauma can also injure us on a spiritual level. We may believe we are not supported by a community or being looked after or guided by a higher voice and purpose. Without these vital connections, we are vulnerable like the clam at low tide despite the walls we’ve built around ourselves.
At times our need for protection becomes so strong that we tuck ourselves away in our shells, intent on staying safe. But when we burrow into an impenetrable shell, others may no longer be able to reach us. Humans like clams need their shells to survive, but we also need community–people who care for us and for whom we care–to feel truly safe.
Opening Up Our Shell
How does one heal from the far-reaching effects of stress and trauma? How can we gently open our shell without breaking it and rejoin the world with confidence?
Integrative psychotherapy offers an opportunity for deep healing—mind, body, and spirit. With the integration of select therapeutic techniques, necessary attention is given to the whole person. From this holistic perspective, one is rightly seen as a complex, multidimensional, social and spiritual being. Psychotherapy delivered in a spiritual context seeks to awaken our higher knowing and to teach us how to access it. Once a strong connection is established, a sense of inner security and confidence will emerge. This therapeutic work is often transformational because it reconnects individuals on multiple levels and thus allows our best selves to emerge and meet the world. Relationships can be mended and more meaningful connections with others can be forged.
Here are some of the tools in an integrative therapist’s toolbox:
This is the safe and sacred healing place of counseling. It is both the physical space of the therapy office itself and an energetic space. A mirror is held up by the therapist so that an individual’s own light is continually reflected back, until that image becomes familiar. The container provides a nonjudgmental honoring of the individual just as they are–unconditionally lovable and unquestionably valuable. The container allows us to feel safe and trust so that we can relax and open ourselves up to the healing process.
“Talking things through”
Just the act of verbalizing our thoughts and feelings to a trusted listener can provide immediate relief. It releases tension and loosens up our mental gears, which may have churned to a halt. Getting feedback and looking at situations from new perspectives gives us insight into our own and others’ behavior. It allows us to make decisions with new clarity and find more forgiveness and compassion for ourselves and others.
Guided meditation and exploring our dreams allow us to find images, feelings, and symbols, which we can explore and interpret. Tuning into the language of symbol connects us to a rich source of information that we typically do not utilize.
Trauma and stress not only affect our minds and emotions, it can also cause imbalances, blockages, and deficiencies in the body, which amplify emotional symptoms like anxiety or irritability, and can cause physical signs of stress like headaches, digestive upsets, sleeplessness, and tension. Natural remedies help restore balance to the body, and facilitate the the counseling work and overall healing process.
By tuning into the body itself, the chatter of the mind and its predictable interpretations can be bypassed. An intuitive sense of things can be explored so that previously inaccessible information may be discovered allowing new awareness. We often store memories in our physical body, and carry these old experiences along with us which impacts our future in positive or negative ways. With the latter, they can perpetuate negative patterns of relating to others or ourselves, and to feelings like anxiety, fear, or grief. By identifying the places were these memories have taken up residence, we can resolve and heal wounds and be free to move forward and consciously create our future.
We can only access our true being with present experiencing. What we find in the present moment provides everything we need to know. It’s the place that sits between each thought our mind fires, and each action we get busy doing. By drawing attention to our present experiencing, we find the answers to our burning questions, to our ultimate truth in difficult situations; we find our gifts, our strengths, and our purpose, and we receive the guidance we need to heal ourselves. Here we readily find the answers we need, ones we may have previously searched for in books or by consulting outside experts. What we need is here in the present moment, if only we take notice.
Integrative psychotherapy endeavors to restore our connection to other people, to our true authentic selves, and to the spirit residing within us. Building a bridge back to this place of connection—a place one may not remember ever having been before—is our destination. Once there, we can open our shell feeling connected and confident. Now standing in the light of day, with our personal gifts illuminated, we discover that we have a unique purpose to follow. Allowing our shells to pop open, we can let our lives in fully and experience joy, and perhaps be as happy as a clam at high tide.