When I was training to be a psychotherapist, I was not taught about co-regulation. I was taught about theories, CBT, existential practice, narrative therapy, person-centred therapy. I mainly was taught to listen deeply. To become aware of the parts of me that might block my listening.
It wasn’t until I was in supervision, and my supervisor watched an entire 40-minute session I did with a client (yes, a bit scary) and then said: “What a wonderful example of co-regulation”.
I was doing a ‘Focusing’ style practice with the client, guiding the client to listen to her body. I have been doing this practice for about 20 years … I can’t believe it has been that long. I have been doing energy healing and meditation for over 16 years. It is so natural for me to breathe slowly and deeply into painful places. To walk with my clients as they step into the tender spots. I used to call it ‘holding space’, and I guess it is. I am holding space for whatever wants to emerge to come.
So, it was a new name for me. Co-regulation. It is essentially being the safe, secure home base for someone while they experience intense emotions, memories or thoughts. My autonomic nervous system is interacting with my clients to bring about emotional stability. It is being the mother who lovingly holds her child who is distressed because he fell over.
I make soothing sounds; I acknowledge the hurt physically and emotionally. Slowly, he realises he is okay; physically, he is safe, he has cried, and there has been an emotional discharge of the stress. He has been held by someone who cares for him. He goes off to play again.
This is co-regulation, one person stays regulated while the other is dysregulated, and the child or client uses the regulated system to calm themselves down. In a healthy environment, over time, the child learns to self-soothe.
If you didn’t have these experiences, therapy is one way to have the corrective experiences we need to change our attachment style and heal childhood wounds. I talk about this in greater depth in my signature 6-week course, Relationship Cycle Breaker. Click the link in the bio to learn more.
Did you have experiences of co-regulation as a child?