Working with schizoid clients – building a safe foundation

This is aimed mostly at those who use characterology or body-centred methods in their healing/therapy practice. But it might be useful for those wanting to heal and have support for their own schizoid wounding :-). Of course, many people are aware of the schizoid wound, or the deeper aspects of ungroundedness, without calling it that.
First – what is the schizoid wound?

For a good description, read here. And for a brief intro to characterology, read here.

‘Schizoid’ is a classification in characterology. ‘Characterology’ is a type of mind-body-spirit classification that looks at how trauma shapes an individual (both mentally, emotionally, spiritually, energetically and physically) based on how old they are when they experience a trauma, and at what stage of childhood they’re in, developmentally speaking. A trauma in the womb is experienced (and emotionally/energetically defended against) very differently than a trauma during potty training, for example, or in early adolescence. In this system, there are said to be 5 major developmental stages, that correspond to 5 major ways of protecting oneself against perceived harm and injury, both physical and emotional, real and imagined. The responses to and defences against trauma become major subconscious driving forces in our life, as well as our favoured reaction for dealing with challenging or threatening situations. Working with characterology is a fabulous way of dismantling deeply held defence mechanisms, and of fulfilling unmet needs and giving room for inner growth, although care must be given not to see a client (or anyone!) through the lens of their characterological makeup, or to see them as their defence, or their trauma, or their wound. Characterology and characterological defences is something we do, it isn’t who we are.

Schizoid is the name given to the earliest stage of development, from conception (and even before) through to early infancy. It overlaps somewhat with the next stage, called the Oral stage for being associated with breastfeeding, but the real heart of the schizoid developmental stage is the time spent in the womb and the impressions received there, and the reception received soon after birth.

The schizoid wound is the traumas that happen to us whilst in the womb or in early infancy that then become embedded in consciousness, and the schizoid defence is the habituated reaction to those traumas, which is the defence mechanism of not being present in our bodies (but instead to be in the mental or spiritual spheres, where we are ‘safe’). It’s the wound that ungrounds us, or rather gets in the way of a grounded relationship to the earth forming.

As a helpless infant, without any physical defences or emotional filtering/egoic armouring, it’s totally appropriate and healthy. As are all defence mechanisms, at their heart. It’s often said of such protective mechanisms, armouring, and defences, that “we need them until we don’t”.

 

And a simplified version of the above?

It’s what makes people not very grounded, a direct result of the wounding and trauma they received in the womb and soon after birth. Tiny infants can only pop out of their bodies and return to spirit when they’re threatened. It’s the only recourse they have, and it’s healthy for them, less healthy for us as adults. But the habit of not being very fully in the body remains, even when there isn’t a threat any more. It’s what makes it difficult for ungrounded people to ground and become well grounded.
How do therapists usually treat the schizoid wound?

To ‘treat the schizoid wound’, the objectives are:

  • help the person feel safe
  • help them be in their body more
  • help them resolve their terror of being alive
  • help them express the deep rage at their core
  • help them charge up their systems

This is classically done with bioenergetics exercises (variations of squatting, ankle rotation, using a golf ball to massage the feet, heel bounces, pelvic thrusts, pelvic opening exercises, etc) and cathartic techniques designed to raise energy.

When viewed in terms of ‘energy’, a person with a lot of schizoid wounding would be said to have an undercharged field, to not have much energetic charge going, to have a weak or weakly charged aura. The physical and cathartic exercises are designed to try to remedy that.

And does it help?

Body centred therapy helped me a lot, and I do draw on it in my own practice. But I have been blessed to have worked with excellent therapists, who were able to track my process energetically, and had a sense of what my limits are and were. With strong methods, there’s a risk of overloading a sensitive person. In either a group setting (where not everyone receives individual attention), or with a therapist who employs cathartic or primal or other quite ‘potent’ methods to raise energy or elicit emotion, if the therapist doesn’t have a solid sense of schizoid boundaries, the therapeutic intervention may be not so effective, and might even be re-wounding, further proving to the psyche that the world is indeed unsafe, rather than allowing the fear to dissipate and to create a new experience.

So – yes but with caveats :-)

Here’s what I recommend

Here’s what I’ve found to help a lot, from my own experience as a schizoid client, my experiences as a healer, and my observations of therapy and process groups:

  • Building a good foundation is so vital. At the heart of that is an approach, or an attitude, which is very gentle, and doesn’t force, and doesn’t require anything; not even participation, beyond the initial ‘showing up’. It is the essence of gentle, kind and caring neutrality. Allow that inner quality to unfold from you and permeate into the work, and you’re off to a very good start :-).
  • Put that foundation into action: be clear that you’re there as a healing support and guide, and even though you may be doing exercises or work together, it’s not like stereotypical Personal Training in the gym where you as healer are encouraging them to move ever beyond their normal limits. Make it clear that you will absolutely respect their limits, and will go very gently and slowly, as slowly as is necessary. (and you have to mean it, of course. It can’t just be lip service. Be fully prepared to follow the client’s wave, rather than conforming to what you’d usually expect a session outline to look like)
  • Energy raising or cathartic exercises won’t help much if the client is only tentatively present (extra energy raised can leak out of the joints, back of the neck and crown, reinforcing the ‘escape’ pathways, or can even trigger the schizoid withdrawal) so spend as much time as is necessary helping them to feel their body. I encourage people to massage their own feet and lower legs with some light massage oil (such as almond oil) with usually a soothing essential oil such as lavender or chamomile or ylang ylang. This massage – aside from helping releasing energetic blocks in the feet and legs – helps people feel their bodies from the inside out, and the awareness of sensation draws consciousness and energy into the body, into the site of touch and massage. Self massage is a way of pouring oneself back into one’s body. This is a gentle and safe and effective way of helping folks to slowly ‘wake up’ to their own bodies. Maybe self-massage won’t be right for the work you do, there are surely many ways of helping your clients come more into their bodies before starting energetically intense work – discover what works for you as therapist and for your clients :-).
  • Similarly, before doing anything intense, bring in gentle movement. I usually play some lightly rhythmic music that feels flowy without being too expansive, sometimes with a light percussive rhythm. I encourage my clients or students to play with movement, to stretch their bodies like a cat, and bring in movements that move and stretch their bodies in ways that they do not usually move. I encourage them to breathe fully whilst they’re doing this, and to keep their eyes open, to help them stay grounded in the present moment.

Because the schizoid wound is a very delicate, young, tender emotional space, it’s so important not to go through exercises, methods or techniques for the sake of it, or as if running through a scripted cycle. What’s of absolute importance is to follow the flow and waves of the client. This creates safety, by honouring them and their pace and needs. It may be necessary to spend a long time just building up to the preparation for the foundational work. I’ve done whole 6 session series with folks without doing any classical grounding bioenergetic exercises, just staying with gentle movement and self-massage. If we’d skipped ahead to those exercises, it would have been too much too soon, and they would have felt unsafe in their own bodies, which entirely defeats the point of any exercise (and may have even been counterproductive, reinforcing the schizoid defence).

Although I have not had much opportunity to observe it (either in the moment, or after sessions) I also believe that other therapeutic modalities such as EFT can benefit greatly by first attending to this foundation building work. Even if these steps and practices aren’t formally part of the therapy, it’s so valuable to spend the time necessary to help a client to feel safe and settled in their bodies; it means they can “show up” to the therapy, rather than be only partly present for it. If you practice a modality or gear your practice around providing “quick results”, meaning that it would be very difficult for you to dedicate multiple sessions to this slow embodying and calming process before the ‘real’ therapy can begin, I’ll offer two practical suggestions, and one philosophical one.

Practical suggestion no. 1: it might be worth making available a free set of instructions (written, audio or video) that gives a regime or protocol or series of steps that present and future clients can follow on their own time, to practice ideally many times before having a session, so that they can do some of this preparatory work on their own before the session (in the days and weeks leading up to it, as well as on the day of the session itself). This is not unlike a personal trainer or yoga teacher suggesting their students/clients do a ‘warm up’ before the start of their paid session, and also for them to do some basic exercising on their own, so that the paid session can address some intermediate challenges rather than the starting hurdles.
(of course, it’s ideal for a person to be supported at every step of their journey, but if that’s not possible, then it’s definitely helpful for them to give themselves some support in the run up to doing work that enhances grounding by healing and releasing trauma, or helps heal early wounding)

The other practical suggestion is to start each session with a few minutes of what some might call “attunement”; except instead of (or as well as) attuning to spiritual support, you guide the client to attune to their bodies and the present moment. This could be as simple as sitting with their hands on their knees, following their breath. Spending a few minutes doing that will help create the space, presence and safety needed to facilitate the techniquesy work.

And philosophically, I’ll say this: it’s my observation that no matter what the apparent difficulty is, or where and how a “healing” is called for, absolutely the most healing there is, is to welcome a fellow human being as they are, to see them in their fullness (even in the midst of their difficulties), and to help them feel happy, welcome and safe as they are now. Without anything to heal. Even though we all have a shopping list of things to work on, and our clients are probably coming to us with particular issues or challenges, it is in the being seen for who they truly are that deeply heals. Methods and techniques and professional modalities are just the icing on the cake. The actual cake of healing is this simple process of being with and seeing the other, and embracing them in their fullness. Methods can come later. For now, just be with them. You’ll be surprised at what does happen when you do nothing :-).

… And related to that, do challenge the idea (in your own thinking) that sitting around ‘doing nothing’ or stretching or whatever it is that you do to help your clients feel safe and gently embodied, is not ‘real’ work. It may not be what you trained in or normally practice,  but it is the first step of healing, and cannot be rushed or skipped. Well – of course it can be rushed or skipped, but at the cost of the efficacy of the therapy, the intimacy of the therapeutic relationship, and the ‘permanence’ of the healing shifts (the more embodied a person is during their sessions, the easier it is for them to embody and integrate change).

And some tools that can support the work

I always love recommending vibrational remedies to supplement and support any healing work, but they’re particularly apt for working with wounding and trauma, and especially schizoid and young/early wounding, because of their gentleness and inherent groundedness and groundingness.

In the world of flower essences, I recommend a kit that I put together to support the healing of the schizoid wound. It uses 44 different essences (flower, crystal, environmental, animal) in 10 different combinations that address 10 different aspects or steps/stages of healing for the schizoid wound, from centring through to establishing a new and healthy relationship with the spirit of the earth.

Click here to read more about the grounding essences kit.

For a simple/single recommendation, Rescue Remedy is fabulous for helping diffuse shock out of the system, and that’s a big piece of support right there. Different flower essence companies may have different names for their Rescue Remedy (which is originally a Bach Flower combination for emergencies) such as Emergency Essence, First Aid, Soul Support, etc. There are many out there – get what’s available near you, or whatever you feel most drawn to.

For homeopathy, arnica and ignatia are two remedies of choice. They both help deal with shock and trauma, especially of the physical kind (but because of the nature of the mind-body inter-involvement, they’re suitable for shocks and traumas that are purely psychological).

Aromatherapy oils (essential oils) can be used with similar effect, whether used in self massage, or in other ways, such as being added to bath water, steam diffused into a room, or added to a spray bottle for misting oneself and one’s environment, etc. There are so many wonderful oils that can be helpful, and although it’s always good to choose oils on an individual basis, there are some oils which are generally fabulous for helping to calm, soothe, release stress, and to help ‘disarm’ the fight-or-flight response, to unwind from nervous excitation or sympathetic arousal (which is the condition of the body being stimulated and on guard). Some of those generally helpful oils are lavender, chamomile, ylang ylang, sandalwood, vetivert and jasmine. (That’s not a comprehensive list, but those are popular oils that are easy to get hold of, so they’re a good place to start).

To summarise

In summary – when working with ungrounded clients, or those who are being affected by early wounding, or people who do not feel very safe in their bodies or on earth, bear in mind the following:

  • work first to create safety and comfort, both within the professional relationship, and for the client directly. Whether you practice slow paced therapies or quick ones, this foundation of trust and safety is important for all healing, but especially so for this kind of healing, of early wounding, trauma, ungroundedness.
  • be mindful not to overload, overstimulate, or flood the client, either as a result of your interventions (the placement of acupuncture needles, the stimulation of a chakra with energy, etc…) or as a result of the exercises you’re doing together. The analogy of having a workout is a good one here, because treatments and exercises help build up energetic and emotional ‘fitness’ and strength and flexibility. Just be aware that, especially in the beginning, your client might be very fragile and delicate, and need to go slowly with a soft touch. And that beginning phase takes as long as it needs to. Honouring that phase is fundamental for creating trust and safety, and it paves the way for other work (that may be more directly related to ‘the shopping list’, or the presenting issue that they initially book sessions for).
  • let yourself be extra gentle, soft, and kind.
  • go at the pace of the client, that’s very important.
  • avail yourself of whatever you find helpful, in helping the client be present for the session, and in preparing them for the deeper work you do. I recommend nature’s healers – aromatherapy oils, essences and so on, because they are gentle but powerful, and help connect with the natural world when taken. What might work for you and your clients?

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I think that’s all for now..  I welcome you to join my mailing list, I send emails out infrequently with updates about new articles about grounding, events, and so on. And feel free to say hello :-)

With blessings, Justin

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