Academic journal article Journal of Prenatal & Perinatal Psychology & Health

The Stress Matrix: Implications for Prenatal and Birth Therapy

Academic journal article Journal of Prenatal & Perinatal Psychology & Health

The Stress Matrix: Implications for Prenatal and Birth Therapy

Article excerpt


More and more evidence suggests that most people experience shock one or more times prenatally, during, or shortly after birth. For this reason it is imperative that prenatal and birth therapists have an understanding of the mechanisms by which the psyche, nervous system, and body imprint shock and later recapitulate the experience with a series of 'shock affect' behaviors. In this article we will explore how an understanding of the Stress Matrix, and knowledge of the human nervous system, can support effective therapy for infants, children and adults who have experienced shock during these early formative months of life. The Stress Matrix is a conceptual model that I find among the more useful therapeutic tools for assessing the degree of trauma and shock imprinting clients have experienced (Figure 1).

Why Understand the Stress Matrix?

As practitioners, we have all had experiences with clients where the information we are receiving does not add up. Sometimes a flag goes up while we are doing an intake or working with a new client. The energy of the situation may feel elusive, erratic, jumbled and fast. The information that we are receiving may not stack up in a way that allows our system to resonate with our client with a sense of knowingness. Such a feeling might raise any one of the following thoughts or feelings:

What is going on here?

I feel confusion.

I'm not sure what I am looking at.

Something does not feel right here.

I am not trusting the signals I'm getting from the client.

This client is presenting in a way that seems just too smooth to be true.

In these situations, if we ignore our feelings, our safety may be at stake. Our own safety is paramount, more important even than the safety of the client. This may sound strange. However, if we are not safe, the client will not be safe in our presence. If we attend to our own safety first, we create an environment in which our clients can also be safe. It is therefore imperative to have a structure that helps us create a safe environment.

During my years of practice, I have found the Stress Matrix to be one of the most useful conceptual models to refer to when the above kind of flags appear. The Stress Matrix supports me in making choices that allow me to err on the side of caution, to proceed slowly, and to come to a sense of rightness or congruency within myself about the relationship I am forming with the client.

Even if you have an excellent, trusting, working relationship with a client who carries significant shock affect trauma, the Stress Matrix is a useful tool with which to re-evaluate the direction of the therapeutic process. By using the Stress Matrix as a conceptual model to assess trauma imprinting and present affect behaviors, you, as a practitioner, support yourself by setting boundaries and creating a therapeutic structure that meets your client's needs. This may include not accepting the client into your practice, providing appropriate referral to other able practitioners, or getting supervision therapy for yourself. Or, it may be that the client's situation necessitates a team of therapists and/or allied health practitioners.

The Stress Matrix is designed to give practitioners an effective way to assess the degree of shock affect or shock imprinting a client is carrying. Moreover, the Stress Matrix helps us to assess the client's "leading edge" or "therapeutic edge." The "leading edge" is that area of challenge that allows the person to face his or her traumatic and/ or shock memories while maintaining access to his or her resources and the ability to be consciously aware.

The Stress Matrix is left brain knowledge. Used in conjunction with congruent perceptions of our client's process, with intuitive knowing, and with a personal 'felt sense' of the situation, the Stress Matrix affords us a level of discrimination that helps us make solid decisions about the therapeutic interventions we make with our patients/clients. …

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