Self Regulation for Guides
What it is and why it’s important
Self-regulation is the ability to monitor and stabilize one’s own nervous system in order to maintain equilibrium and presence. When guides work with people who are having an expanded state experience, either from psychedelic-assisted therapy or other consciousness expanding modalities, it is especially important that the guide be able to self-regulate. This is for the guide’s own wellbeing, and perhaps most importantly for the wellbeing of the client.
In working with expanded states of consciousness, especially those induced by substances, the exchange on the limbic nervous system level is amplified. This provides both great healing potential and also greater potential for negative impact for the client. We hold the belief that the healing approach that we teach is intrinsically relational, meaning the guide is not a blank slate. In fact, the relationship formed between guide and client has incredible healing potential on several levels. For the purposes of this topic, we are exploring the level of the nervous system which can be felt by the client in nuanced and often subconscious ways, touching on themes of safety, trust, the ability to relax, past traumas, and more. The guide’s ability to self-regulate often directly impacts the sense of safety and trust with the client. It can also impact the guide’s capacity to make decisions that are centered on the wellbeing of the client.
Part of the beauty and positive impact of this kind of work is that it allows the client access to deep parts of themselves. The guide is someone who has their own stories of pain, hurt, resilience and triumph and it is natural for the expression of a client to touch these places within a guide which can at times, cause the guide’s nervous system to become activated. However, it is important and central to the agreement between guide and client that the way a session is held and conducted is for the benefit of the client. Thus, when a guide is impacted by the psychological material or expression of the client, it is the moral and ethical duty of the guide to self regulate in order to be of service to the client.
Developing self regulation practices
For guide work to be therapeutic, it is helpful to to think of a session as three parts: before (preparation), during, and after (integration). Including all three phases is essential to good client care. Self-regulation practices are an invitation for creativity, personal expression and communion with Spirit and have a place in each of the three phases of work. Guidework in many ways, requires the development and maintenance of self-care practices in order to serve clients well. It might be argued that guides must maintain an ethical commitment to client care and to developing their ability to self regulate.
Before a session:
Coming to a session self-regulated is crucial. Practices maintained throughout one’s daily life help the guide arrive for a session in a regulated state as well as provide many tools with which to regulate oneself during a session. Exercises like meditation, prayer, singing, dancing, breath awareness, writing, spending time in nature, all strengthen the guide’s ability to remain grounded and regulated. Seeking community support, mentorship and making sure we are nourished by human connections also goes a long way toward promoting self-regulation and soothing nervous system activation. In addition to that, staying devotional to one’s own healing and personal exploration keeps the guide self-reflective and humble. Humility itself is a potent self-regulation tool; remembering we’re never really finished, the work is never done. The more the guide holds that awareness, the more they can be in service to the client.
Further and equally important before a session is really knowing the client. The more thorough information and details are gathered, the better situated the guide is for traversing the landscape and the less surprises may arise that can cause dysregulation in a guide which in turn impacts the clients experience itself. It can be thought of much like preparing for a physical journey; understanding the terrain, the weather, the distance, what factors might be unpredictable, and what to bring along. Getting to know a client well, in advance of a session, their biography, their relationship patterns, personal habits, family dynamics, medical history, traumas and important life events lays the groundwork for the guide to be fully present to what emerges and also helps ensure client safety. Additionally, having a clear understanding of a client’s intention is paramount to fruitful guide work and to some degree, informs the material that may arise during a session. In turn, the guide can do self regulation practices tailored to their own personal psychological material as it may relate to the psychological material or potential expression of the client.
During a session:
Being aware of the breath and sometimes using the breath to calm the system, taking supportive postures, taking in replenishment in the form of food, water, or tea, stretching and movement to keep energy flowing are ways to self regulate while guiding an expanded states session. If indoors and there is a window, allowing the eyes to make contact with nature, even gazing at the sky for a few moments, can be a helpful grounding tool. It can be supportive to have a journal present for writing if there is a quiet moment to write down some reflections. Ensuring guide comfort throughout a session allows for a greater capacity for them to show up for the client grounded and vitalized within themselves. Having a support person available should the need arise can also be helpful in some instances.
In this work, it can be extremely helpful to call in (through song, prayer, invocation) ancestral guides, teachers and lineage. In addition to that, staying connected to why one is doing this work can be a lodestar for a sustainable practice. What is it that the guide is longing to see, create, support in others and in the world? Holding their own intention for being a guide with awareness can be deeply nourishing both in and out of a session.
After a session:
The integration period is an invaluable time for clients to reap the benefits of realizations, and internal shifts that were made during consciousness expanding work. The client will need to integrate what they have learned, but the guide too, will need a period of gentleness post-session to recalibrate, to land, to replenish. Many of the same practices we mentioned with the preparation are useful afterwards, things that promotes somatic awareness and/or continuing whatever normal self-care routines are already established. Taking good care of the body post session is important. Engaging in a writing practice, and or talking to a mentor or supervisor about the experience both help with self-regulation. Good overall psychic or energetic hygiene, of which there are a variety of practices, can be restorative and self-regulatory. Each guide must find and commit to the practices that are restorative to them.
What are the dangers of avoiding self-regulation?
For the guide, the danger is about losing sight of the client and their process as their central focus Generally, when a guide becomes dysregulated as a result of a client’s experience they can either lean towards enmeshment and transferring their own experience onto the clients experience or it can result in rejection of the client or their psychological material. Certainly there are subtle expressions of these dynamics that land on a spectrum. In these instances the guide may lose their seat and their focus on the client and their experience which is counter to their ethical commitment as a guide. This is not only potentially harmful for the client, but it can be destabilizing for the guide. It is often wounded people who are most called to work with other wounded people. The degree to which a guide’s wounding has not been adequately healed will make them more susceptible to becoming dysregulated. The quality of care the guide is able to provide is affected and in more extreme cases, harm to the client can occur. On a practical level, the guide may experience burnout and exhaustion.
What are some of the benefits of self-regulation practices?
The benefits of creating good self-regulation practices are multitudinous.
As has been made clear here, the degree to which a guide develops and maintains self-care and self-regulation practices directly impacts the quality of client care. Aside from a guide’s commitment to client care, any practice that feels like it might be nourishing for one’s own nervous system, will be in service to one’s guiding practice and very likely, in service to improving the quality of one’s life. The practices themselves can, and often are, enjoyable. They create more space for intuition and presence (and less room for fear based thought or action). They help us reduce stress, maintain equanimity and somatic awareness. If done in conjunction with creative and personalized self-regulation practices, guide work can be a source of nourishment and joy.