An introduction to Ana do Valle
I was fortunate enough to meet Ana shortly after she discovered iLs. Over the years, and more so recently, my colleague, Karen Onderko, and I have had the opportunity to sit with Ana to learn about her approach incorporating the SSP into her practice. Right away, there is something remarkable about Ana. Her first task at hand is to make her visitors comfortable. She is generous with a variety of healthy, nurturing snacks to nibble on throughout our time together. And, because she doesn’t have to jump into ball pits and hang from zip lines, Ana doesn’t dress like most occupational therapists I know. She wears soft, flowing clothes that match the warmth in her eyes and caring in her voice.
Ana has a distinctive flavor to her practice. She trained as an occupational therapist in Brazil and was granted a scholarship to intern at the University Hospital for one year, which included time in clinic and schools. Here her interest in mental health had a place to expand, and over the years she continually looked to the history, patterns, cycles and stressors behind the patient’s illness to guide them to health and to restore natural resiliency in their lives. Gradually, her work took a trauma-informed approach, which is the focus of her private practice in Boulder, Colorado. As a teacher, she is gaining international recognition for her unique protocol for therapists working with clients who have experienced trauma.
Integrated Listening Systems, Co-Founder & President
Ana do Valle: Therapeutic Background
I’ve worked since the early 80’s with clients recovering from very serious conditions such as open-heart surgery, various psychiatric conditions, birth trauma, and wounds of attachment. I soon realized that all the different diagnoses I was treating were related to trauma. They all directly or indirectly represented fragmentation in the client’s history and, therefore, informed the development of an incoherent narrative of the SELF. I learned that the body remembers and keeps the score of our life experiences. That in a Somatic-based approach the therapist becomes the catalyzer to help the body release the imprinting created in these experiences. Restoring the wisdom of the body and kindling its natural resilience has become my work. A work of dedication and love!
My journey in searching for the path to heal traumatic experiences includes, and is also rooted in, my personal experience and narrative. At the age of 42 years, halfway through my professional career, I decided to collect pictures and stories about my birth and early childhood experiences. I created my personal timeline by utilizing pictures in an attempt to have a deeper understanding of my own attachment style and preferences in the world. This was a very insightful activity, and one I have adopted and continued to utilize with my clients at their intake session. Developing a coherent narrative of the SELF has continued to be my goal in healing trauma.
Self-Regulation and Trauma
My desire to understand and relate to my clients continues to lead me to various trainings in sensory processing, Anthroposophical Counseling (psychology that emphasizes the wisdom of the human being), Somatic Experiencing, Brain Spotting, iLs’ Focus System and Safe and Sound Protocol and various forms of manual therapies.
I have come to understand that difficulties with self-regulation are a predominant theme among those who exhibit symptoms of trauma. Further, the inability to self regulate isolates the human being and one loses their natural capacity to heal in connection with each other, the most natural and powerful gift available for one that has been traumatized.
My understanding of trauma has been highly influenced by my studies in Somatic Experiencing, work developed by Dr. Peter Levine, whom I was able to directly assist, continuing now to offer supervision for his graduate students/professionals world wide.
In working with Dr. Levine I was able to travel and study diverse cultural approaches working with trauma. I was able to learn the direct relationship between trauma and mental illness. I witnessed the importance of acceptance, inclusion and warmth in the healing process.
My passion for treating trauma has also been blessed with the opportunity to co-teach multiple workshops with Dr. Scaer, who has many publications regarding trauma and its dissociative nature. We were able to link his fascinating theory to my client’s clinical studies. In the trainings, we navigated a complex realm of diagnoses from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) to Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy, fibromyalgia, and depression. We covered medical trauma, disembarkment syndrome, and many other unusual syndromes and symptoms that were related to early trauma and autonomic dysregulation. It was intriguing – absolutely astounding – to be able to link the theory, treatment, and recovery through images, movies and interviews while teaching. We covered the continuum of Fight/Flight/Freeze and the Autonomic Nervous System dysregulation by utilizing Dr. Porges’ theory of the Polyvagal System.
Most recently I have adopted in my practice, the Safe and Sound Protocol (SSP) developed by Dr. Stephen Porges, the “father” of the Polyvagal Theory. I waited 12 years for this protocol to be available as a treatment modality. By incorporating Dr. Porges’ Protocol followed by the use of the Focus System Home Program, I have been able to make a significant impact on the physical, emotional, and social life of my clients. I have seen faster and more tangible results with clients’ presentations of pain, mood disorders, sensory processing differences, etc.
Since I have been using the SSP I have developed a trauma-informed program that supports the five-day intervention that makes it possible for the client to create their own narrative about their healing process. The program is called Mosaic of Healing: A Portal into Transformation.
Mosaic of Healing: A Portal into Transformation
I utilize the SEGAC (Sensation, Emotion, Gesture in colors, Affect and Concept) to track the nuances of the process. The sensory, emotional and behavioral response that emerges during the intervention are carefully recognized, organized and shared with the client in order to support the “concept” and meaning of the experience. Similar to what happens in Somatic Experiencing (developed by Dr. Peter Levine) but here emphasizing color gesture (Anthroposophy) as the main tracking tool for the experience. Through the art, nuances of the nervous system are revealed and tracked through the colors and shapes chosen by the client during the five-day period they participate in listening to the SSP.
I have used the SSP with individuals, couples, and with parents/children. By increasing the resilience of the nervous system and bringing an intrinsic sense of calmness to the client, I often witness the capacity to listen to each other without being overwhelmed. In addition, the client feels more empathic and aware.
In this process I have seen couples come together after years of distance. Children become more expressive and connected to their bodies and families. Relationships become stronger and more flexible. There is more of a “reserve” to negotiate disappointment and frustration in day-to-day of life. The smart physiology of the body supported by the “vagal brake“, now stronger, allows for the individual to be more available to handle uncertainty and unpredictability in life.
Reflection and Illustrating Changes to Clients
As part of this integrated approach to therapy, I collect images (artwork, videos, writings) to help the client reflect and have insight on their personal process. It is helpful to have a vehicle of reflection. It is important to allow the client to become the present observer of their own transformation and repair. This process establishes coherence and a deeper understanding of their journey.
The Dreampad is another iLs tool that is very helpful in supporting a shift from being fearful to a pathway of safety. From my perspective, the gentle bone conduction and oscillation creates an inner vibration of the outer world as described by Steiner, allowing the client to have a more intimate relationship with the world that is not threatening. The Dreampad is a potent transitional tool to be used at bedtime for children and adults who tend to have a loud inner voice and rapid thoughts when the body needs to slow down and surrender to a restorative cycle. It is also great for restful daytime naps.
How to Combine Tools for Therapeutic Success
Utilizing the SSP, the Focus System, and the Dreampad in my practice has supported and accelerated my clients’ healing process. My clients are reaching a state of regulation and coherence much more quickly. My practice is growing through word-of-mouth referral, and I now have a Fellowship Program to mentor therapists in learning the process I name “The Mosaic of Healing”.
After using the Focus System for 10 years and the Dreampad since it was developed, I see these tools as complementary and at times essential for the benefits of the SSP to be carried over time and generalized across settings. The Focus System creates a “stabilizing force” that allows the client to continue to remain calm, grounded and embodied after completion of the SSP. The therapist-client relationship provides the lifeline for the process.
When combining the SSP with a Focus System program, we create a synergetic interaction that allows new pathways to form in relationship to self and others. Establishing new pathways in the nervous system requires repetition and time for the “access” to be granted across a variety of experiences. The timing of the participation on the SSP (seven days with my extended program protocol) and the Focus System program is critical to create and reinforce new behaviors and emotional responses that can be carried out more independently and become the new way of relating.
The metaphor I use to describe this process is that you (the therapist) become a gardener who waters the roots of a new plant (the client). The tools are the water (your therapy, the SSP, Focus System, Dreampad). The plant grows strong and later provides shade, a resource for the SELF (resilience). Another metaphor I use is, “You cannot change the ice by hammering it; you need to give it time to melt.” This is a process that when in the hands of a skilled therapist can bloom and kindle healing. As the therapist you assist the client to construct a synergetic mosaic of their own personal journey, a portal of transformation.
To learn more about Ana’s trainings, both in the US and international, visit her website for updates. Her next training, The Mosaic of Healing, is in Denver, Colorado, November 10 – 11, 2018.