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Hi, pod fam! 

We’ve done a lot of talking about gut health lately, and even though there’s SOOOOO much more we could get into there, we’re switching to a totally new topic for this week’s ep—and I have a feeling this one is gonna resonate with ALL of you.

We’re unpacking trauma, talking codependency, and diving into the world of psychedelic-assisted therapy in this ep. This week’s guest is José F. Mata, MA, LMFT: a psychotherapist and national somatic coach, online graduate course facilitator at Boston University’s School of Social Work and a sub-investigator for the phase 3 clinical trials for MDMA-Assisted Psychotherapy for PTSD.

Get ready for a mind-expanding, soul-awakening ride in the SAFEST space. Seriously—José, who prefers to say he holds space for people rather than call himself a therapist, will instantly make you feel comfortable, heard, and capable of healing. In the ep, he tells us, “this calling chose me,” and I 100000% agree.

José is the perfect person to have had this conversation with—a much-needed conversation that will open eyes and hearts to a world of other tools that are out there and different styles of therapy and moving through trauma. I hope you’re ready for this.

With that being said, let’s get juicy! 

A Lesson for All of Us

You might have noticed that I’ve been starting all episodes this season with the same question: What is the greatest lesson that you learned from the madness that was 2020? José learned a lesson that I think we could all probably use in our day-to-day lives: STOP

“Create a pause, a moment for stillness, an opportunity for reflection,” he says.

We all know that the universe can send subtle signs at first, but when we’re ignoring them or totally absorbed in our own chaos, sometimes we need anything but subtlety. José and I both had moments like that in the past year: rushing to get somewhere or get ready for something as quickly as possible and being hit with roadblocks that forced us to slow down.

Why go slow?

“When we are going at a pace that is fast,” says José, “what we are really missing out on is the opportunity to increase intimacy with whatever the experience is in the moment. And so when we slow down, what we’re really doing is building the capacity to be intimate with the present experience.” 

Wow. 

I mean, wow. Building the capacity to be intimate with the present experience. How powerful is that?

And with that being said, I’m challenging you all to challenge yourselves to go slow with me this week! Let’s try to go through our days at a pace that allows us to truly see everything and to truly see each other

As one who creates a safe environment to hold space for others each day, José is well-versed in truly seeing people and helping them to see themselves—their whole selves. And the tool he’s found most useful in doing so—the thing that has revolutionized his approach to providing space for people—is to incorporate body/somatic interventions into his practice. Let’s get into what that means. 

We know trauma can leave lasting emotional scars, but how about physical ones?

The question we’ve all been wondering: does trauma get stuck in the body? YES. Yes, it does. Okay, but how? The answer lies in how we react to and process (or don’t) trauma—”big” trauma, “small” trauma, and everything in between.

What José noticed when he started leaning into his calling of holding space for people is that traditional psychotherapy focuses in on two aspects of experience: the “meaning-making” channel, or cognition and affect. What happened, and how does that make you feel? 

But what José soon learned (or maybe already intuitively knew) is that our experiences are much more vast. From the perspective of somatic experiencing, we process experiences (both good and bad) via five channels instead of two:

  • Sensation
  • Image
  • Behavior
  • Affect
  • Meaning-making

When addressing trauma in the body through somatic experiencing, José tracks the footprints of the physiology in relation to a traumatic event. We go into more detail in the ep about this, but essentially, what happens when you experience trauma is this:

  • There’s an arrest startle—like a loud noise, for example 
  • We begin to orient or scan: where did that come from? Am I in danger?
  • Our body’s defensive protective response begins: we might vocalize something (Who’s there?)
  • From there, it’s fight, flight, freeze, or fawn: do we address the threat head on, run away, freeze up in shock, or immediately try to please the threatening person to avoid conflict 

Once the threat is out of sight, our bodies should recognize that, discharge the extra adrenaline and constricted muscles and negative energy, and return to normal. But that doesn’t always happen. Because, as many of us know allllll too well: we have a tendency to want to rationalize everything, which can prevent our body from releasing the trauma.

“Our thinking brain often overrides our body’s natural ability to complete the threat response cycle,” says José. So the answer to whether trauma gets stored in the body is still yes—it absolutely can—but it all depends on whether or not the body had the opportunity to “complete the cycle” of the threat (or perceived threat) and discharge that energy.

So, we’ve got trauma stored in our bodies. How do we start to release it?

We store trauma because we felt unsafe—at one moment or over a period of time. So the key to starting to unpack and release that trauma is to “get the body to a place where we feel safe again,” says José.

Creating a safe, judgment-free environment and holding space for someone to begin to heal is the first part of the process. Using tools and methods to allow others to connect with themselves fully is the second. And that leads us into the meat of the episode: what alternative healing modalities are available to us to support us in our healing journeys?

EMDR: Reprocessing Trauma & Its Hold on You

One of the tools José uses most is a technique called EMDR: eye movement desensitization reprocessing—a healing intervention that works with the theory of adaptive information processing. It works by addressing the components of memory:

  • What triggered a trauma response?
  • What image represents the worst part of that experience?
  • What thought came as a result of that experience?
  • How does that experience make me feel, physically? 

The goal of EMDR is to help someone identify all parts of a memory and then reprocess it. “As a result of EMDR,” says José, “you’re able to have more of a bird’s eye view, and you’re not so attached to the experience or  the images.” He continues: “The belief, the emotion, and the sensation no longer has the same power over you because it isn’t in your body, so to speak. So the relationship that you have with that thought dissolves.”

EMDR and other somatic practices are a huge part of José’s everyday practice. But José also is involved and passionate about some VERY promising and VERY juicy healing modalities. José is a sub-investigator for the phase 3 clinical trials for MDMA-Assisted Psychotherapy for PTSD. Yep—MDMA, as in the psychedelic drug known as ecstasy (and many other names).

He shared with us what we’ve learned about this drug (and other psychedelics) and what this means for the future of therapy, healing, and legal drug use. Here’s a taste of that convo.

How do psychedelics work in the context of trauma healing?

The short answer, according to José? We don’t know.

But—experts have a lot of theories. With MDMA, José notes that it decreases activity in the amygdala, which is the brain’s threat response system. It also increases the release of serotonin, dopamine, & oxytocin (happy hormones) and increases blood flow to the prefrontal cortex.

So, while it might not be any one of these things individually—or a factor yet recognized—the combination kind of balances things out perfectly to allow someone who has been administered MDMA to be more open to talking about or exploring trauma that might be too painful or scary without medication. 

Simply put, it “allows people to be with their trauma,” says José. And this feeling of safety, of being able to access the parts of ourselves that scare us, allows for a higher quality of consciousness.* Psychedelics—like MDMA and psilocybin (“magic mushrooms”) “are simply a tool or resource,” says José. They’re a “catalyst to help us access parts that we may not have otherwise had access to.” In other words, “the medicine gives you what you need, when you need it.”

*Note: Drugs aren’t necessarily needed for this. Both José and I recalled moments of accessing a higher part of ourselves without mind-expanding or spirit-expanding substances. 

IMPORTANT: The therapy part of MDMA-assisted psychotherapy is 100000% crucial. While MDMA is likely to be legalized for use in clinical settings, it’s never going to be a prescription drug. And that’s because these studies have shown that the drugs are only half of the healing recipe. 

“The therapist’s role in the context of this work is really to bear witness, to create a safe and therapeutic environment to provide reassurance during the moments of fear or anxiety, to be a grounding presence, and to orient the person who is being cared for to the here and now,” says José. AND THEN there’s one more component: the post-therapy work. Once you have the insights from the psychedelics and the therapy, how will you integrate that knowledge into your day-to-day life?

I don’t know about you all, but I am SO excited to see what the future of healing looks like with more and more access to powerful tools like EMDR, MDMA, psilocybin, and whatever else is out there! I’m so grateful to José for holding space for this episode (which truly felt like a therapy session—in the best possible way—while recording), and I can’t wait for you all to listen!

As always, tune into the episode for allll the juicy goodness in this ep! And please share your thoughts with me on our NEW IG, @shoporganicolivia

xoxo,

Olivia

Connect with José:

Visit The Held Space® website

Follow @theheldspace on Instagram

Learn more about MDMA-assisted therapy

Find a somatic experiencing practitioner

Recommended Reading:

Consciousness Medicine

The Body Keeps the Score

Waking the Tiger: Healing Trauma

Braiding Sweetgrass

Grandmothers Counsel the World

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