Dr. Sharon Stanley arrived in my life serendipitously. Perhaps that’s not the right word since life keeps showing me that people never arrive in our lives by accident. Sharon arrived at a time when the shock and grief of my beloved Dad’s unexpected death compounded with deep layers of PTSD to drive me into paralyzing panic attacks, debilitating anxiety, hallucinations, difficulty sleeping, and severe suicidal thoughts.
I had met Sharon and learned of what she did only the day before my Dad passed away. She had visited my practice to receive Counterstrain therapy and we both hit it off as we talked about healing. But the thought of seeing her as a mental health therapist never crossed my mind. After all, I had completed nearly sixteen months of PTSD therapy seven years before and I thought I was fully healed.
Life, however, has a way of reminding us that we are not in control and that the stability we embrace is but an illusion that crumbles in the face of unknown adversity. The wrenching agony of grief and the numbness of the shock took me to dark places I had only read about. When I reached out for help, Sharon came to rescue, and I started a journey of healing and discovery that enriched my personal and professional lives.
The Wisdom of Sharon Stanley
Through Sharon, I learned that healing cannot be accomplished through the linearity of the analytical mind, that the wounded perception requires exploration and acknowledgement of feelings—something I had considered irrelevant and ambiguous. I learned that my torments were only manifestations of my old pains as my body attempted to purge them, and that trying to understand them at a logical level only added to the misery.
Sharon taught me that to find peace with those sensations I had to first experience them in their full brutality but at the same time, I could control them and prevent them from recreating trauma by directing their energy to different actions or areas of my body.
Thanks to her strategies, I tamed the terror, anxiety, and panic attacks to the point I realized I could actually heal. It was mainly Sharon’s strategies and teachings that allowed me to find calmness without taking the antidepressants my concerned physicians prescribed. To say that I owe her my sanity, and even my life, is not enough.
But the lesson that’s helped me most is the realization that, as a therapist, I had to protect my psychological boundaries. It was evident from my early days as a pain therapist that to fully understand and help my patients, I had to embody their experience, that is, I had to feel what they were feeling. For me, there is no other way. Little did I know that by doing so, I often took on their burdens, which compounded to my own and compromised my health.
While I had learned about the importance of setting boundaries from my friend and colleague Chris Michaels, and I was able to apply the principles, I had a hard time rationalizing it. Sharon took care of that problem. Not only was I able to fully understand what Chris taught me, but I also learned to make my boundaries even stronger. Through diligent practice I’ve learned to go deep into the patient’s pain without making it mine at all.
On Somatic Transformation and Counterstrain
As Sharon and I continued working together, we realized that each of us addressed a different component of the trauma loop and that collaboration could only enhance the healing. As a Counterstrain therapist, I believe there are two components in the loop of trauma/anxiety/grief that create physical pain:
- The physical – as a result of the biochemical/physiological reactions elicited by the survival/freeze response, which manifest as chronic pain, inflammation, and autoimmune conditions.
- The perceptual – which is the interpretation of the environment based on previous survival experiences (trauma) which elicits behaviors and habits that subconsciously perpetuate this perception.
To achieve full healing, one must break both components of the loop. While Counterstrain does an unparalleled job eliminating the physical components, thus bringing calmness and relief, the patient won’t be fully healed until they neutralize the old experience and learn to find safety within themselves. Failure to do so leads to relapsing—and this is where Somatic Transformation shows its power.
Make no mistake, though. Sharon is not an esoteric mystic, but rather, a scientist who is helping us understand that ancient wisdom—though marred by quackery—has true scientific foundations, and it’s as powerful now as it was back then.
Enjoy this conversation with the amazing Sharon Stanley. To learn more about her, please check the links below my signature.
Until next time, may you enjoy a fit, happy, and pain-free life.
Links to Dr. Sharon Stanley
Sharon's amazing book - One of my favorite Trauma Science resources,