Grounding techniques help someone to come back into their body and the present moment when they are feeling overwhelmed with distress. I recently heard it described as helping your brain get “back online” after it’s been overwhelmed. When clients have trauma memories, have panic attacks, or feel overcome by strong emotions, I find that grounding can be an essential tool for helping them to take control of their mind and emotions.
There are a few things that can help grounding be more successful. Grounding techniques can seem very simple to do, but are not always easy to do in the moment, so practicing often can be helpful. Making grounding a regular part of your therapy sessions with clients will help it feel more easy for them to do, as well as give them many chances to experience how it helps. I find that it helps to give clients a handout so that they can easily remember what to do on their own. Some of my clients have also shared the handouts with friends and loved ones so that someone else can talk them through it when they are in need.
You can teach clients that they may need to do grounding for quite a while if they are very distressed. Each grounding exercise is quick by itself, but you can do many back-to-back or repeat one for as long as needed. When you stop grounding, you should feel more calm and in-control. If you don’t then try again.
Remind clients that grounding is different than relaxation techniques or meditation. Grounding does not try to empty the mind or try to get you in a relaxed state – those approaches might lead someone who is in distress to actually feel more overwhelmed as negative emotions continue to flood back in. Instead, grounding is an active technique – you keep your eyes open and actively focus your mind on things in your environment.
Are you wondering what grounding has to do with creativity? I am sharing my favorite grounding techniques today because I think that it’s an essential tool for every therapist to be able to teach their clients. As creative therapists, we can draw from all approaches that will best help our clients. In addition, in meeting our client where they are, we sometimes need to give them some help to get to a place where they can access their creativity. If a client comes in to session in high-distress, grounding can help them to be more present in the room and their body and regulate their emotions before entering in to therapeutic conversation or art.
Here are 10 of my favorite grounding techniques to teach my clients:
Find the Rainbow – Look around you and find each color of the rainbow in order (Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Purple).
Five Senses or 54321 – Describe 5 things you can see right now. Name 4 things you can feel or touch. Name 3 things you can hear. Name 2 things you can smell. Notice 1 thing you can taste.
Body Scan – Focus your attention on your body. Start at your feet and work your way up your body, noticing how each part of your body feels and what it is touching.
Circles and Square – Look around you and find 5 circles. Look around you again and find 5 squares.
Categories – Name a category and list as many things in it as you can think of (Cities, Bands, Animals, TV Shows, Books, etc.)
Read backwards – Find something around you to read. Working backwards, say each letter to yourself.
Describe your environment – Look around you and describe what you are seeing, without any judgment, just observing. Describe the objects, colors, shapes, numbers of things, etc.
Repeat a safety statement and affirmation to yourself – For example, “I am in my room and today is Monday, March 6th. I am safe right now. I am in the present. I can take care of myself and this feeling will pass.”
Use a strong sensation to focus on the moment – Put ice on wrist or face, splash cold water on your face, grip the edge of the chair or your arms, push your palms together, pinch the skin between thumb and pointer finger, suck on a sour candy or strong mint, etc.
Recite a favorite poem or song to yourself, repeat coping statements and affirmations, or talk yourself gently through the situation.
(This list is a compilation from different sources. Many of them come from the “Grounding” module of Seeking Safety. Others come from a recent CEU presentation that I attended with art therapists Deann Acton, LMFT, ATR-BC and Bess Green, LPC-AT/S, ATR-BC.)
Let me know what you think! Is grounding helpful for your clients? Do you have another favorite grounding activity to share?
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Carolyn Mehlomakulu, LMFT-S, ATR is an art therapist in Austin, Texas who works with children, teens, and families. For more information about individual therapy, teen and child counseling, family therapy, teen group therapy, and art therapy services, please visit: www.therapywithcarolyn.com.
This blog is not intended to diagnose or treat any mental health conditions. All directives, interventions, and ideas should be used by qualified individuals within the appropriate bounds of their education, training, and scope of practice. Information presented in this blog does not replace professional training in child and family therapy, art therapy, or play therapy. Art therapy requires a trained art therapist.
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