Have you ever had a session where you froze?

It may have started well but all of a sudden, you become stuck, unable to get out of your head and you don’t know what to do?

Maybe the session hasn’t gone to plan.

Or you were asked a question you weren’t expecting.

Or the client does something that you don’t know how to handle. 

When this happens, it means your nervous system has gone into distress. It has sensed danger and gone into freeze

You can’t run. You’re not fighting. You are completely stuck. 

I know this has happened to me. 

It has happened to the therapists I mentor. 

It has happened to every one of the staff I have had. 

I feel at some point, it has happened to every therapist. 

Our nervous system is designed to keep us protected. It’s constantly looking out for danger. It has learnt from the time we were born, what danger looks like. Some of us have higher thresholds. We were raised in families with good boundaries, where we felt safe and trying wasn’t scary. Others of us grew up in very different households and situations. Danger whether real, imagined or perceived was more present. 

Either way, this is what is getting triggered when we go into freeze. We are triggered. Our body is being told we are unsafe. Our brain is flipping out. 

So what do we do?

The easiest and hardest thing is to breathe. Big deep breaths. 

We can’t think when we are frozen so we have to bring down the adrenaline and help our body to get its bearings. 

Then we need to assess, is there a threat?

Often there isn’t. It’s perceived because we have been triggered. 

So what can we we do?

One thing we can try is to acknowledge what’s happened by saying “Wow, I didn’t expect that / your question / this result / this reaction”

By acknowledging it out loud, it not only puts you back in your body but also lets everyone else in the room understand that something surprising has happened. This puts everyone on the same page. Working together to analyse the cause of the surprise. 

Before you were alone, stuck in freeze. Now you are collaborating, unstuck and moving forward. 

From there, you can make a decision – answer the unexpected question, tune into your client’s unexpected action/response or go with the flow rather than try to get your session back on track. 

Whatever you decide to do, you are unstuck. Later, when you are feeling regulated and calm, you can unpack what happened. You can decide what you will do next time. No matter what conclusions you draw, you can be really proud that you moved through it. It happened, you reacted, you learnt from it. 

Because freezing happens to all of us. 

It happens when we least expect it. 

The aim is not to prevent the freeze but to help our nervous system move through it so that next time, it’s not triggered so easily and it feels safe. 

So next time you freeze, know that it’s completely normal. It happens to the best of us. You will get through it and most importantly, be kind to yourself.