Using Relationship therapy at Solstice East

Longstanding research on therapeutic effectiveness and outcomes has repeatedly identified the relationship between client and caregiver to be the most highly contributing factor to therapeutic success. This is no different for trauma treatment—in fact, research on the treatment of trauma suggests that relationship therapy in general outweighs all other factors when it comes to trauma recovery.

Unfortunately, very little research has isolated the specific elements a relationship needs to exhibit in order to be a healing agent for trauma. While this may be the case, we at Solstice East feel we can speak confidently to the key relational elements that facilitate healing with different types of relationship therapy.

Cutting-edge neuroscientific research has identified regulation as the key element found in healthy, healing relationships. When regulated, our neurological functions can be centralized in the pre-frontal cortex–the part of the brain involved in rational decision-making.  When dysregulated, our neurological functions are more likely found in the limbic system, the midbrain, or even all the way back in the brain stem.

When stuck in these less rational parts of the brain we tend to display poor emotional boundaries, higher levels of emotional reactivity, and are unable to attune to our own needs—let alone the needs of others. Moments of relational interaction that lack attunement are much more likely to cause damage in a relationship. We work on this through our relationship therapy tactics.

A well-known and empirically supported approach to regulation is mindfulness—one of the core elements of Dialectical Behavior Therapy.  Mindfulness involves an awareness of our thoughts, feelings, body sensations and environment. It requires our attention (or attunement) to these experiences and a non-judgmental acceptance of them. Mindfulness has been shown to be an effective way to regulate our thoughts and emotions, and therefore our behaviors. We practice and teach mindfulness to our students as part of our relationship therapy.

One of the most common ways that humans regulate takes place in relationship with other people. It’s called co-regulation. This phenomenon is manifest in the first moments of life as an infant relies upon her mother to regulate uncomfortable situations due to her inability to self-regulate.  While different in form, the same act of co-regulation may be applied in the same parent-child relationship twenty years later when the now young adult feels inclined to call her mom when she is sick, or goes through a bad break-up in college.  The very aspect of relational connection can ease some of the discomfort of these negative sensations.

Because trauma leads to dysregulation within every system in the body, it is imperative that we as staff, parents, and loved ones develop the skill to regulate ourselves in order to provide a safe base for co-regulation with your daughter. In relationship therapy, having somebody to co-regulate with can provide a sense of safety when the rest of the world around her feels scary and out of control.

At Solstice East, we help our students and families learn to regulate their emotions through the modalities of mindfulness, relationship therapy, equine-assisted psychotherapy, adventure therapies and art-based therapies. We emphasize this teaching by training every member of our staff how to self-regulate, and how to help a teenager develop her own self-regulation skills. We provide our team with opportunities to implement regulation skills in real-life settings to increase their ability to provide attunement, safety and predictability while in-relationship with your daughter.

It is important for us to highlight that while your daughter is at Solstice East her healing work is not simply limited to the time she spends with her therapist.  She is engaged in life-changing therapeutic work every minute of her day as she engages in relationship with each and every member of our talented team.

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During my time at Solstice East I was able to let my guard down and trust people. I was able to build strong…

Allison, 16, on her struggles with relationships