The founder of Somatic Experiencing (SE), Peter Levine, adapted the term titration to describe the slow and careful approach to trauma healing in order to prevent unnecessary flooding and overwhelm of the nervous system.
When a person’s nervous system is overwhelmed, they tend to experience acting out (fight or flight) or shutting down (freeze), reactions that reinforce the somatic experience, and corresponding cognitive narratives, of powerlessness which keep the person unable to release, integrate, resolve and move forwards.
Titration is not only important in therapy and trauma healing of the past, but also in coaching and personal growth in the present.
The concept of titration is largely discussed in relation to therapy, in particular trauma healing. Through my coaching work with clients, I have come to realise that titration very much applies in the realm of coaching and personal development as well.
In coaching work, we support clients to make nourishing, adaptive and generative changes in their lives in the now, both on the macro and micro scales.
The focus in coaching is on personal growth and evolution towards a self-defined personality ideal.
In contrast, the focus in therapy is on release, resolution and integration of past wounds, traumas and schemas, that impact our ability to move forwards in the present.
What I have come to realise in my coaching work with clients is that personal growth in the present, like personal healing of the past, needs to be titrated as well. Strange as it may sound, too much and too fast “good and new” can flood and overwhelm the nervous system too!
For the seemingly obvious reason that it is new! It is unknown to the person’s nervous system, and anything unknown can be perceived as a threat to our nervous system. It is a completely normal and needed response of our nervous system, yet when we do not consciously work with this response, we can unintentionally shock our nervous systems into fight, flight or freeze again.
Titration in coaching asks, “What is my capacity now?”
The term capacity is yet another term from SE that describes a person’s present window of tolerance, where they are able maintain a state of nervous system state of self-regulation without flooding or overwhelm.
In coaching, when we say we support clients to practice being in and responding to life’s challenges from where they are now, we are referring to their present capacity—What their window of tolerance is now.
The reasons are twofold:
Titration in coaching focuses on growing into the new from a resourced space of wholeness.
They believe, thanks to popular culture conditioning, that the only way to grow into a better person, or to do the things that they want to do, they need to push themselves outside of their comfort zones.
They are not wrong, in a sense. Growth can be, and often is, uncomfortable. However, where it can be helpful at times to step outside our comfort zones, it is actually harmful to our nervous systems to push ourselves outside our present capacity in pursuit of growth.
To push ourselves outside of our capacity is to risk pushing our nervous systems into dysregulation, which will only compromise our ability to make decisions and respond to challenges, big or small, from our best self, as described above.
It is not only totally possible, but highly recommended, for clients to learn how to welcome and grow into new experiences from within their present capacity, by learning how to carefully titrate their invitation and experience of the new into their lives.
This then supports the nervous system to integrate the experience of newness and growth from a state of embodied safety, rather than fear and stress, which risks the nervous system actually rejecting the experience as dangerous. When this happens, the client then often experiences what looks on the surface to outside observers, including themselves, as self-sabotaging behaviours.
Titration in coaching honours the reality of your here and now, from which all your futures are born.
I totally understand why working, choosing and creating from this space is difficult for many clients. They feel the mismatch between where they are and where they hope to be intensely. Yet, as the overused as this trope is, it remains fact that we cannot force a butterfly to emerge from its chrysalis before its time. Likewise for ourselves, as much as we wish or want for it to be the case, we cannot force ourselves to grow or move into something different before our nervous system is ready. In pushing ourselves to do so, we simply keep ourselves stuck in a cycle of overwhelm and setbacks from the resulting fight, flight and freeze responses.
It doesn’t help that our culture constantly reinforces the message that if we really want something, we just need to push, force and struggle hard enough, for long enough, and we will be rewarded.
This is unfortunately reinforced by gifted, twice- and multi-exceptional traumas of being out-of-sync with the neuromajority. Hence, many clients have experienced being too fast, too slow or both at the same time. While they feel they're doing exceedingly well in some areas, they have the sense they're failing in others, and when this mismatch are judged by others around them, they can feel they have failed to become successful or even well adjusted. So there is this overwhelming need from this wounded space to compensate, catch up and, something I often hear, “make up for lost time.”
For gifted adults in particular, pushing and forcing effort, especially effort that uses cognitive will to override somatic and intuitive feedback, causes them to fragment from their whole and authentic state of being, resulting in multiple conflicting states that create more confusion and distress in the long-term.
When I observe clients repeatedly struggle to be in and respond to life from a present and resourced state of being—for example being driven by compulsions beyond their conscious control to push themselves out of their present capacity in their striving for their goals—this indicates to me that their bodies and nervous systems are still carrying much residue charge from past woundings, traumas and schemas. I usually then recommend for us to pause coaching work for a while and discuss referral to and work with a gifted somatic therapist to help them release this residue emotional and somatic charge and move from dysregulation to regulation and resource, from which they can then better engage with coaching work.
This way they can come into coaching sessions imbued with a compassionate acceptance of where they are at, rather than struggling against it in futility. Working from this space of authentic and somatically grounded self-acceptance empowers clients to set realistic goals and next steps for growth with compassion and joy, rather than the stress of fear and impatience. It allows them to develop naturally with their emerging and increasing capacity, so things don’t feel like a forced stretch or strain. Rather, they will feel like things fall into place organically, and sometimes almost magically, and their process makes complete sense to them as they go along step-by-step. Goals and dreams become flexible and achievable and this becomes a positive self-reinforcing cycle of increasing confidence in their capability to grow and self-determine.
This is the most sustainable and self-loving approach to growth. Clients have asked me, “What is self-love? What does it look or feel like in daily life?” This is how I have experienced self-love to look and feel like in daily life. Self-love accepts and honours your reality and capacity in every moment. Self-love does not demand for you to be or do anything that is not within your present sphere of capacity and joy in any moment.
Titration in coaching asks clients to safeguard their nervous system and be mindful of what they bring into session.
Of course we cannot completely excise the past from our discussions, however titration in coaching encourages clients to learn to be aware of where the past starts to bleed into, impact or overwhelm the present.
In my coaching work, I strongly encourage and teach clients how to start and maintain coaching journals where they get to process the explicit details of the content they wish to discuss in coaching, before and after sessions.
Many clients have the idea that coaching only takes place during coaching sessions. Though we do important work together in session, some of the most important work of coaching takes place in between sessions. This is the time where clients take the content from previous coaching sessions and apply it in their daily lives, learning from the experience, documenting and reflecting on the process in their coaching journal, noting where they progressed and where they struggled and contemplating why, then distilling all of that into key meta points and themes that they can then bring into their next coaching session for discussion with their coach.
An hour isn’t a lot of time and when it comes to gifted clients, even three hours can be just a warm up! Coming into coaching sessions without processing and distilling the content of your past week, or weeks, of experience into key points and themes for discussion means that you could come into your coaching session feeling overwhelmed by all the details that you feel you need to process just to find out what you are wanting to work on!
Processing the details in between sessions is also essential practice to becoming aware of where past woundings, traumas and schemas have shown up in your experience or may show up in session. This allows you to isolate and save the details of this important content for your gifted somatic therapist, who is qualified to support you in processing this past experience and its impacts. This then frees you to be able to bring it up only as a meta point during your coaching session as it relates to your overarching personal development journey, rather than getting lost and risking overwhelm in the detail.
In my coaching work, I usually strongly recommend for clients to have ongoing support with a gifted somatic therapist in tandem with coaching with me, as the reality is that trauma is a reality for many of us, and in the course of personal development work, past woundings, traumas and schemas will naturally arise to be resolved.
Titration is a fundamental nervous system skill we all need!
Titration affirms safety to your nervous system, and supports the emergence of increase capacity and resilience via positive feedback. In other words, giving yourself permission to slow down actually speeds you up!
Titration supports self-determination, as it protects you and your nervous system from overwhelm and the resulting fight, flight or freeze responses. You are able to make decisions with clarity, rather than from reactivity, and as you take one step at a time, you gain confidence in your capability to chart and effect your own course in life.
- 1Payne, P., Levine, P. A., & Crane-Godreau, M. A. (2015). Somatic experiencing: using interoception and proprioception as core elements of trauma therapy. Frontiers in psychology, 6, 93.