My first spiritual teacher, Laurel Keyes, used to say that teaching was like “offering cookies on a plate.” She said you put together the very best ingredients you can find, bake up a batch and offer them generously. Folks could pick out the ones they liked and leave the rest behind. This was not just a lesson in non-attachment.
While recounting Laurel’s stories to a friend recently, I realized that Laurel – long gone now – was referencing a true story from her childhood spent on the Colorado plains in the very early 1900s. She wrote the story in her book, “Dust Thou Art” about an upper-class woman, Emma Whitman, who was from St. Louis and married a man setting his sights on staking a claim in frontier Colorado. She agreed to come with him on the one condition, that she could bring her beloved piano along – even though it would be an odd addition to the dirt-floored sod house they would live in.
Off they went, and a few years later they were blessed with a baby girl, Stella. One afternoon, Emma was alone with her two-year-old when her husband had gone to mend fences far away from the little ranch house.  She put her daughter, Stella, down for a nap and decided to bake cookies. Just as they were ready to come out of the oven, the wind changed, causing the chimney not to draw properly, and the room filled with smoke. Emma opened the window to create a draft and redirect the smoke up the chimney, waving her apron around the room to chase the smoke out. As she turned to the window again, she saw a war-painted Indian there, appearing to have menace on his mind.
Trying not to panic AND not to alert her sleeping daughter (can you imagine? It gives me chills!) and as calmly as she could…Emma took out the trays of cookies, walked up to the Indian and set them on the ledge wordlessly. She then sat down at the piano and began to play beautiful classical music. When she turned her head, trying to compose her face in a smile, the Indian was staring at her with a look of fear, and soon after that, she watched him ride away in a rising cloud of dust with three other Indian warriors on their ponies.
This is a great story about staying calm under pressure, regulating oneself in a very activating, potentially, life-threatening situation, staying active versus falling into freeze and about a mother protecting her child… and a great cookie recipe to follow – just kidding.
How does this relate to being a therapist?
THERAPIST’S SELF-REGULATION: In a way, we do this every day when we learn to self-regulate and to “keep our seat” when working with severe trauma to help our clients with high activation histories and/or attachment injuries. I would like to send you some ideas that have been helpful to myself and others in regulating ourselves when we are, as professionals, on the receiving end of “activation injections” from our clients. How do we stay connected and able to offer a safe container, no matter what comes up?  Sometimes a client offers material very close to home and it might be difficult not to react personally.
Here are a few self-regulation suggestions:
1)   WIGGLE YOUR TOES!    The reason shifting your joints even slightly works is that any joint movement sends thousands of little announcements to your brain via neurons and synapses to tell you where your body is, which naturally increases proprioception/body awareness. This enables you to stay embodied so that you don’t dissociate with your clients.
2)   “KEEP YOUR SEAT” is a Buddhist phrase reminding us to stay grounded and may refer to knowing where the saddle is while riding a horse. Sometimes when clients are recounting hair-raising stories, it can raise another part of us too! We can literally start lifting out of our chairs. At times like these, I remind myself to push my feet into the floor slightly and to land my seat in the seat again. It IS a practice.
3)    RESOURCE YOURSELF AS WELL AS YOUR CLIENT: It is most important that you stay regulated, as this is a powerful invitation for your client’s perhaps dysregulated nervous system to find its easier rhythm again. When you feel your regulation slip – we are HUMAN after all – try switching your focus to your own resources. I suggest filling your office with reminders, pictures, or symbols of what resources you. Wear your favorite jewelry. I have a misty photo of a forest with a tire swing hanging from a tree in my office, as it reminds me to relax and settle – “Life is just a tire swing…”
4)    HEALING IN TRIBE: None of us heals in isolation. Try this: imagine your mentors or friendly supporters as your special tribe surrounding you, to support you and your valuable work with your clients. Suggest to your clients to imagine, identify, describe and invite their special tribe into the session too.
In the trainings, we often use what I call, the “Greek Chorus” to amplify support for the client who is working in a demo with me. If they are having difficulty saying something to someone who hurt them – like, “Back off” or “NO!” – I may ask them if it is okay for the whole group to say it with them. Sometimes we could wake up the dead, but it sure feels good and sends a powerful message that we are all in this together!



  1. Senicourt, Icki April 30, 2014 at 6:10 am

    Thank you Diane,
    i loved your webinar, and since i followed it i see very clearly all my clients “attachments” in another light:-) ..

    I saw you for the first time and felt that you are a real warm personality, so , to give us your “free” good advices” like this confirms my opinion 🙂 thank you so much
    here comes another one
    Whenever i start feeling uneasy i imagine my client in a big soapbubble (and me too,) , each bubble contains each ones own history, between the bubbles flows the understanding and the kindness and all the good energy, but the bubbles stay separated; It helps me .

    and i have great french patisserie recipes.. i noticed that one of your beloved words is .. yummi!!! 🙂
    be my guest
    hugs from Paris
    Icki (i knooow its a strange name in english;-)

  2. Tamara Pellant April 29, 2014 at 5:45 pm

    Hi Diane,

    I have used – to my best effort and knowledge – the self-regulation of my own fears last night – thank you for teaching me how to do that! Living in Madison – Alabama – those scary tornadoes were approaching my home last evening – still having vivid memories of the huge tornadoes of 3 years ago – on April 27 – I was safe in my home and my neighborhood at that time, but there was a total devastation all around – and we all got together to get ice, food, and support, and companionship, as we lived in the dark for 5 days – with no power, not hot water, no gas to fill you car, and very limited cell phone reception. There is a lot to be said about keeping yourself self-regulated in a time of crisis. As I am writing this – yet another powerful storm is hitting us – hopefully – no tornadoes for us this evening. I am staying calm and hopefull for the very best – thanks to to you!

    • Diane Heller May 1, 2014 at 12:22 am

      oh YIKES Tamara! That si so scary. Are you ok? Did the storm pass? Very frightening and your regulation – SELF and INTERACTIVE is so needed. You have been through so much with these tornadoes. Sending you giant vibrant hugs! Warmly Diane

  3. Elena April 29, 2014 at 2:08 pm

    Hi Diane,
    This story comes at a time when I’m challenged to self-regulate around a client’s denial and justification to continue his unconscious repertoire. I have to self-regulate my anger and frustration. Sometimes I want to sent the deniers away…tell them I cannot help them and be done with it.

  4. Janet April 29, 2014 at 1:08 pm

    I’ve often wondered about my therapist wiggling her toes. I thought it might be anxiety, but now I can reframe it.

  5. Gabriella April 29, 2014 at 12:00 pm

    Hi Diane,
    how many times I have been part of the tribe on your demos! I can say that the “Greek Chorus” has always been very useful, as well as your self-regulation suggestions I learned from you and I usually practice as Therapist.
    Thank you Diane for your teaching. Love,

    • Diane Heller May 1, 2014 at 12:20 am

      Dear Gabriella, I LOVE “Greek Chorus” too and we just did a training in Denmark – Our Greek Chorus was saying some intense reverberating words! helps so much to feel supported in the tribe – especially with what has been so difficult to say on one’s own! Warmly diane

  6. Gabriella April 29, 2014 at 11:44 am

    Hi Diane,
    how many times I was part of the tribe during your demos in Italy! I can say that the “Greek Chorous” has always been very useful, as well as your self-regulation suggestions I learned from you and I usually practice as Terapist.
    Thank you Diane and love,

  7. Karen Caffrey April 29, 2014 at 7:52 am

    Hi Diane,

    Great reminders and I LOVE the story!

    We can never have too many reminders of the importance of staying regulated, especially since our work brings us so many people who are struggling with dys-regulation.

    I’ll add another strategy I use: I will glance out the window (I am fortunate enough to see a tree and some sky) and take a belly breath or two. Sometimes I’ll invite the client to do this with me and we will take a “window break” together. I bet we all have strategies like this to keep ourselves regulated, whether we are doing it consciously or not.

    Thanks for the reminder!
    Karen Caffrey

    • Diane Heller May 1, 2014 at 12:18 am

      Yes, Karen, It is a favorite of mine too!
      Oh I love you window break to gaze onto the sky and the beautiful tree! great share! Warmly diane

  8. Reta Goldman April 29, 2014 at 7:40 am

    Thank you Dianne for a great story – even without the cookie recipe! I feel I am part of your tribe and these are just a few MORE things I am adding to my therapy (and personal) toolbox due to your generous and wholehearted sharing of your skills. Awesome!

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