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"Is there a timeframe for coming out of the freeze state?"

Updated: Mar 27, 2020

I don't think so. At least, not that I can pinpoint. Peter Levine does some damn near miraculous work by my account. He's able to assist his clients with discharging their freeze energy in what seems like a rapid fashion. I don't know how applicable that is to anyone besides Peter Levine.

But here's my thoughts on what might affect someone's timeline:

Context Matters

One factor in considering this question is the context of treatment. I work in a school setting. The likelihood of a teen I'm working with going through the freeze energy discharge process - in school - is going to be lower than an outpatient or private private practice setting, I would assume. However, the kids I work with are doing this. I've seen a few times now the energy discharge that Levine describes and has in his videos. So it's very much possible. It's not every client. And it's not in the first session.

But we have to acknowledge that going through a huge energy release like that, while surrounded by the danger cues of school; and having to return to class right after, is going to impact that individual's timeline. So consider your context of treatment or just in your individual life.

Readiness for Change Matters

Another factor is the client's readiness for change. And of course this applies to any modality or goal. But if someone is deeply entrenched in their defensive state, they might want help but not actually be ready for that type of help. I'm not blaming the client here, it's simply the truth, especially if they're just starting out. When someone first comes in, all of this is potentially very new. So the understanding of the process isn't there. The normalization of the process isn't there. Getting reacquainted with their bodies below their neck may not be there.

So the issue isn't if the client wants change. The issue is being ready for it. And that energy discharge stuff is no joke. If you don't know what's happening, it can feel like a panic or anxiety attack and be filled with fear. If you know what's up, you'll be better equipped to handle it when it comes.

Fundamental Needs Matter

And this is a major one. If you don't have your basic needs being taken care of, your timeline might be a lot longer. Specifically, I'm talking about environmental safety. And more specifically, I'm talking about within your home. Our homes need to be actually safe, with safe individuals that reside within it.

I work with teens, so that means their parents/caretakers. If I have parents who are invested in their children's safety and well-being, things become a lot easier. Change happens faster and is more consistent. If I don't have that, which I usually don't, things take longer. Because my client is going from the safety of our session, to the relative safety of the school environment, but then ends up in a home that is filled with danger cues: anger, betrayal, blame, judgment, yelling, grudges and more.

Building Resiliency

One goal then becomes to build resiliency. To increase the strength of the social engagement system (the "vagal brake"), which will keep the defensive responses more in our conscious control. We build this through co-regulation within the therapy session. All those fundamental therapy skills are hugely important here: normalizing, validation, unconditional positive regard, non-judgment, empathy and compassion and all the rest. You get the idea.

Building therapeutic rapport and relationship is absolutely instrumental in the process of building the strength of the social engagement system. Through this, you'll notice things like spontaneous increased eye contact, the color returning to their face, laughter, smiles and eye crinkles. These things simply return on their own as the social engagement system comes back online. And the more it does, the more strength builds in it.

And as I say in the video above, life just becomes easier. Dealing with typical triggers becomes easier. The flight/fight energy isn't as intense. This doesn't fix the problems at home, but it makes like a little more manageable and provides more hope.

A Little at a Time

Levine describes the process of "titration" in his books. Of doing a little bit at a time. When discharging the freeze energy, it doesn't need to be done all at once. We can do so a little at a time.

This can be done in therapy by holding onto those painful feelings in small bursts. Not all at once, just as a client is ready. In doing so, it's important to notice the bodily sensations of the defensive energy. When it becomes too much, it's okay to stop and tap into a safety resource. Then come back to the stuck energy and back again to the safety ("pendulation").

This can also be done outside of therapy, pretty much anywhere. But it's more about noticing what brings you joy or calm or peace. I know, these things might be rare or nonexistent. But it's possible. The task then is to notice what happens within you throughout the day. Feelings of being pushed or pulled away from something represent possibly an unsafe trigger for your system.

But a feeling of being pulled toward something might be a cue of safety and a safe way to mindfully release some energy. All those bottom up techniques might be great for this: art, dance, yoga, breathwork, theater, writing. It can even be small things like cleaning or organizing. As we do these things, even the small ones, it's imperative that we're mindful of the experience. Really notice what it's like to do these things. How they affect your breathing. What your muscles are feeling. What's happening in your fingertips, in your temperature and even what pops into your mind.

These are opportunities to release bits of energy, but also to orient to the environment and feel the safety of it. And also to learn about yourself. Become curious, experiment a little too. How does it feel to change your breathing? Or to paint in a different way?


As you can see, the timeline is going to look a lot different for every person.

I'm finding in my client work that the moment of big energy release may happen eventually, but after there is a solid therapeutic rapport. And after the client has had some re-acquaintance with their bodies. And this has been with clients who don't have the safety at home. But they've built the resilience necessary to get to the energy release.

This doesn't mean their problems are all solved and there's no residual energy left in there. And it doesn't mean the sympathetic energy doesn't build back up, since they're returning to the same environment. But it does seem as though the energy that got stuck from the trauma(s) does discharge noticeably and make their day to day lives more manageable.

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