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6 Ways to Stay Grounded If You Experience Dissociation in Therapy

A couple of weeks ago, I came out of therapy wondering what happened. I had this sense that I hadn’t even had my session. I couldn’t recall anything about it. It felt like I was completely checked out, an observer of my own body from some planet in outer space. I have had enough therapy to recognize what was happening… I was dissociated. But why?

What is dissociation?

Dr. Bruce Perry, co-author of the book “What Happened to You?” describes dissociation as a stress response that occurs “when there is inescapable, unavoidable distress and pain. Your mind and body protect you. Because you cannot physically flee, and fighting is futile, you psychologically flee to your inner world.” It’s a powerful coping strategy for trauma and something that can become programmed into our bodies whenever we feel overwhelmed.

For myself, I had been feeling increasingly overwhelmed by not just daily stressors in life, like finances and car problems, but more increasingly a sense of hopelessness over world events that appear to be a nonstop barrage of stress. After over two years of COVID, the war in Ukraine, mass shootings, global warming, the reversal of Roe v. Wade, etc. my brain simply couldn’t take any more. And my well-honed coping strategy to dissociate kicked in. Better to not feel at all than to feel helpless and out of control. So I messaged my therapist telling her what was happening and we agreed to discuss it at my next session.

The first order of business was to establish why I was dissociated. I had already identified that sense of overwhelm, but like any good therapist, she wanted to make sure that therapy itself wasn’t contributing to my dissociation. Often, particularly in trauma therapy, a patient can get overwhelmed if

liking feelings stress

Bruce Perry

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