Nancy Christie movement symbol

How I Work

I specialize in a branch of psychotherapy known as “Sensorimotor Psychotherapy”, a mindfulness based, talking therapy that has proven to be an effective technique with people suffering from trauma. You’ll learn that your symptoms are a natural, neurobiological result of past events, that they can be diminished, bit-by-bit in a safe and gentle manner. You’ll learn that your own inner wisdom has a lot to offer as a guide to your healing.

Many who have experienced trauma don’t relish the idea of paying attention to their body experience. That’s because the body is stuck in a trauma pattern. Developing mindfulness (i.e. awareness) of your present experience will be the beginning of a series of changes that your body is longing to make. Using Sensorimotor Psychotherapy, many clients find they are able to slow down their experience, observe its components and make simple choices that relieve the trauma patterns

The generally accepted theory of trauma treatment is to work in three, safety-building stages of treatment:

Stage 1. First we work on feeling and living with more safety and security. Your life feels and becomes more stable. In sessions, you experience mindful tracking of your body as it reorganizes its sensorimotor pathways towards being grounded, centered and aligned. You take away new skills to use in between sessions. Since body sensations are the foundation for how you experience the world, these new skills for attending to and subtly adjusting your body will be of immediate assistance. For example, Alice learned not to criticize, correct and judge herself, but rather to be mindful of how she was being in her body.  She learned that a more upright posture and relaxed full breathing lessened her anxiety.

Stage 2. Next we process traumatic memory, always in a manner in which you feel safe and minimally overwhelmed. You don’t relive the memory, but process and integrate very thin slices of it until you can speak of the event(s) without being triggered at all. For example, now that Alice could track and attune to her body sensations , she could process a small trigger of the trauma. The original attacker had a red coat, so when Alice had seen another man with a red coat she became extremely anxious and short of breath. We dropped our focus on the content of the trigger (i.e. the red coat) and processed her reaction, sensations, emotions and thought. Alice’s body made the movements it had never been able to do at the time of the incident. Alice remained mindful of her body and was not upset or challenged by this work.

Stage 3. Finally we work on integrating all this into a larger whole - your work, relationships, creativity, and social network. All the changes that you have made are fine tuned and integrated into a life that is more of who you were meant to be. Alice was less fearful of moving forward in her career and into new relationships. She was now able to act on her desire to paint and sculpt.

The way I work applies to all the safety-building stages:

My style of working is highly collaborative: From the first time we meet, I’ll be asking you if my responses feel right to you and it if seems like we’re on the right track. I don’t want you to do anything or talk about anything that doesn’t seem helpful to you. I believe in your internal guidance system and your inherent ability to heal and grow. If what we agree on together is correct, you will feel that it’s right inside yourself and the changes will be evidenced on the outside too - in the way that you want.

I work with present experience:  The difficult time you are having happens in those moments when you are anxious, your partner wants intimacy, you are frozen with terror, you wake from a nightmare, you feel immobilized, just to name a few. It is those very moments that you want to change. So I work with you as you are experiencing those moments. I ask you what is happening in your thoughts, emotions and sensations right in that present moment. We don’t ‘talk about’ the problem any more, we begin to change it. Sometimes I might say, “What happens inside you right now as you just imagine telling me about the traumatic incident.”  This avoids your being re-traumatized or overwhelmed by telling me something that you are already having a great deal of trouble integrating.

Mindfulness Psychotherapy: Mindfulness is moment-by-moment awareness. It is a non- judgmental quality of observing that allows you to pay deep attention to your experiences as they occur. After we begin talking to each other about what’s happening for you, what you would like help with and how I might help, I guide you to study your present experience, without judgment, correction, or criticism.  The trauma has caused your experience to remain as if the trauma were still happening in some manner, even if you do not think of the trauma when a negative experience occurs. From this beginning base of mindfulness, with calm and security, we can access your body’s inner wisdom to make core changes in how you feel.

Talk- Body Psychotherapy:  As we work together in this mindful way, I’ll stay in connection with your ongoing experience by observing you in a non judgmental manner and describing what I see. For example,” your shoulders are dropping, your breathing is deeper.” At the same time, you will be telling me what you are observing. I’ll get ideas about what you might like to try to access a better feeling inside. Once you are there in mindful awareness, you can feel in your body how it wants to lead the way.  My training has prepared me to watch for signs of what the body needs - for example, a movement that you are not aware of, a tightening or loosening could be a sign for your body to let go, to move a certain way, to make an involuntary movement, to use or stop using a defense, to attend differently.  This is distinctly different from traditional therapy in which the therapist would be reluctant to talk this much for fear of interrupting or interfering with the client.

I have been described as ‘agile’ in my ability to flow with my clients’ changing needs, by changing method, orientation and approach on an ‘as needed’ basis.  I can work with dreams, expressive art, movement, role-playing according to what we as collaborators agree upon. Some people need to talk to me for quite a while before doing mindfulness work. I value remaining mindful as possible myself so that I can respond to the unique needs of each client on a moment-by-moment basis.

“ I did a lot of therapy before and it did help me at that time in my life. I never knew that I could work this different way with you and achieve results that never imagined possible.”

Sample Client Scenarios

The following are composites of real people and situations. All identifying information has been altered to protect the identity of my clients.

Robert became mindful of his shallow breathing and tense muscles. He learned to track what happened in his body if he simply observed sensation and did not try to do anything different. His body naturally returned to a calmer and safer feeling. Breathing became slower and deeper and muscles relaxed.  He requested support from his partner to be an ally in his healing. They would simply lie close to each other while Robert mindfully tracked his body sensations. They were both encouraged by the resulting relaxation that occurred. Robert’s body was ‘updating the files’ on who he was with and why. As Robert became closer and less guarded physically, more intimacy developed over time. This in turn brought forward hurt and traumatized parts of himself that were worked on within the therapy. Each of the parts needed something specific. One needed to feel boundaries and an ability to say ‘no’. Another needed to strike out. Legs needed to run. Another part needed to take in the message that he always had a choice for what touch he wants to give or receive. At the end of therapy Robert knew he wanted to stay with his partner and they were enjoying loving intimacy together.

Jane became aware of her automatic patterns of withdrawal that had been her unconscious protection against being overwhelmed.  She was reassured to learn that she had better ways of protecting herself from being overwhelmed. She came to understand that her body was replaying the trauma of the man who had broken into her apartment so many years ago even though she barely thought about it. Something that needed her attention in the present used to ignite a feeling of anxiety that then acted as a trauma trigger.  Now she had the skills to ‘be in present time’ in relation to her finances, her household and her relationships.

Mary had been living with a lifetime of fear and retreat from life. She had been managing her anxiety with alcohol and secret affairs. It was critically important that she refrain from complying with my ideas simply out of habit, but actively chose what felt and seemed right as we worked together. Her body had been locked in a posture of pulling in. It took a long time for her to relax in the therapy and then to discover the feeling of being centered, grounded and aligned. Over a lengthy therapy, she was able to tap into the parts of her that were wise, creative and knowledgeable. She chose different work and changed her relationship with her partner so that communication was clearer and free flowing.

Rose had the benefits of a great career and a loving partner. She began a fearless discovery of all the parts of herself that had been created through the attacks and through the emotionally deprived childhood that preceded them. Always with her own pacing and choosing what to work on, she became familiar with how each of these parts of self felt in her body, and what they needed or wanted for themselves. Often another part of her could provide the information or help that was needed. Intimacy with her husband gradually improved. Disconnections that are automatic in trauma and necessary for survival were resolved piece by piece. Each step along the way in her therapy, Rose experienced more peace and happiness.

Bob discovered that his anger and depression were directly related to the abuse by his father.  He became mindful of his body patterns that preceded an anger outburst. He learned to observe himself with a compassionate, non-judgmental attitude. This, in itself, was a powerful inoculation against the hate and violence his father set upon him. Bob was a kind and spiritual man. The cessation of his angry outbursts was a relief to him and to his many friends. From childhood, he had learned to withdraw if he had any difficult feelings inside. Gradually, he learned that people could be a source of comfort and reassurance.

Sandra learned to slow down and be mindful.  Her whole life she had been racing at top speed to cover her many responsibilities. In the therapy, she was able to feel in her body what it was like to be with the people in her life. She did a number of boundary exercises in the therapy to get in touch with a breadth of boundary indicators from within. Gradually she was able to choose the people, activities, and work that better served her creative and vibrant self. She developed the containment and thoughtfulness needed to limit and nurture her children so that their behaviour improved.

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Nancy Christie BFA, CYW
Suite 404
170 The Donway West
North York Ontario
M3C 2J2

Certified Sensory Motor Psychotherapist Advanced Practitioner
Member Canadian Association for Psychodynamic Therapy
Member of the College of Registered Psychotherapists of Ontario
Clinical Member of the Ontario Society of Psychotherapists
"When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change."
—Max Planck