Simple Items Help SEED Staff Connect with Some Clients

SEED Foundation’s approach to mental health care is trauma-focused and survivor centered. Almost all mental health clients served by SEED have been exposed to traumatic experiences and show trauma-related symptoms. Trauma is deeply connected to the body, and the body plays a key role in healing. 

In the mental health  profession, most clients who have experienced single or multiple traumas lose the connection between their body and mind. This is a natural human survival mechanism: when people are in danger, our internal system activates automatic responses to survive. The usual pathways of processing a situation and putting in place a response are paused. 

As part of this process, a very strong self-defense mechanism — dissociation — often happens. The mind “switches off” to protect ourselves from reality. But the body is there: the body experiences, the body keeps the memory. 

When our clients arrive at their sessions with SEED psychologists they are often hyperactivated or hypoactivated, meaning the body is either too agitated or flat. The first goal as a mental health service provider is to help people “arrive” in the session — to be present and to stay connected with their body — all in a safe place.

To aid this process, our psychologists are making use of our new SEED Grounding Kits.

The Grounding Kit is a toolkit to help clients ‘ground’ — that is to arrive in their bodies and in the session —by using items which awaken their senses. The kits contain scented candles, a stress ball, essential oils, visual “Awesome” cards, a set of small, differently-textured stones, a fidget cube, vanilla incense. The “Awesome” cards are illustrated cards that reflect situations and feelings, which can help clients to express how they feel or how they want to feel without having to find words for it. 

The other items awake the senses — sight, smell, touch (including temperature) — which increases embodiment. Embodiment means being at home in your body, being able to feel the emotional and physical sensations present. Some items can also be used as a reminder to arrive. For example, always lighting a candle at the opening of the session, or asking the client to pull a card, or doing a small hand massage with the ball. 

At first, most clients are not comfortable with any physical sensations because the simulation can remind them of previous unsafe situations. The items in the Grounding Kits give them a chance to notice the safe sensations in their body and stimulate the clients’ “interoceptive awareness” — the person actively and consciously focuses on their physical feelings and sensory information.

Bodily awareness can help clients to overcome fear and learn how to be, stay present, and return to feeling comfortable and safe, by learning to regulate feelings and sensations again. Being able to recognize physical sensations when they arise, can help clients take action earlier and prevent further pain and discomfort. In addition, people with high levels of arousal can often focus better if they have the option of playing with something while in a session with SEED staff.