Coaching Techniques: The Power of a Bottom-Up Approach in  Trauma Therapy

When it comes to coaching and therapy, there are a lot of different approaches & techniques out there. Many coaches and therapists tend to focus on a top-down approach coaching technique, which involves focusing on the mindset and beliefs of their clients. However, this type can be limiting.

Maybe you’ve tried this approach with mindset work or talk therapy, but you’ve noticed that your clients aren’t getting the lasting results they desire. Or maybe you have a client who is showing signs of trauma, and you’re looking for a more effective way to support them in their healing journey. Whatever your reason for being here, you’re exactly where you need to be.

A bottom-up approach is a powerful and effective alternative coaching technique for those seeking lasting results for their clients. In this article, I’m gonna share with you some of the key differences between a top-down approach vs. a bottom-up approach and some of the most effective techniques for utilizing a bottom-up approach for a trauma-informed approach to coaching and therapy.

Ready to get to it? Then, let’s dive right in!

What Does Top-Down and Bottom-Up Therapy Refer To?

At its core, a bottom-up approach refers to the tendency of our bodies and sensory experience to have an impact on our thoughts and emotions. In contrast, a top-down approach refers to more of a cognitive and mental focus when trying to make a change in our lives.

Basically, we’re talking about which part of the brain is driving the approach. With a bottom-up approach, we are paying more attention to the physical and emotional experiences of our clients. We are working with the parts of the brain that are more likely to control automatic functions and retain memories and emotional reactions. This includes the brainstem, or “reptilian brain,” and the limbic system. Which are developed much earlier and thus more primitive.

With a top-down approach, we are looking at the conscious thought processes of our clients, focusing on the neocortex and prefrontal cortex. These parts of the brain are responsible for higher-level cognitive functions such as language, planning, reasoning, and abstract thought. This part of the brain develops later in life, which means it is less reactive and more controlled.

So in a nutshell, bottom-up methods are generally more focused on the body and physical sensations, while top-down approaches focus more on our thoughts and beliefs.

What is a Top-Down Approach to Coaching & Therapy?

A top-down approach to coaching and therapy is the more conventional or traditional approach to these fields. It involves working with the client’s thoughts, beliefs, and mental processes to address their issues.

In this type of approach, the therapist or coach will focus on helping their client identify and change their thought patterns in order to shift their beliefs, emotions, and behaviors. This can be done through direct questioning and guidance or by helping clients to reframe the negative thought patterns that may be holding them back.

Some examples of top-down approaches are:

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
  • Talk therapy
  • Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT)
  • Mindset Work
  • Neuro Linguistic programming (NLP)
  • Other forms of psychotherapy

Limits of the Top-Down Approach in Coaching & Therapy

While some people swear by the top-down approach and have had great success with it, there are certain limitations to this approach that should be considered, especially if we are working with clients who have experienced some level of trauma (which let’s be real, is basically everyone!)

For one, top-down approaches are often focused on dealing with the mental and cognitive aspects of an issue or problem. This means that they may overlook the actual physical symptoms that a person is experiencing like uncomfortable body sensations, emotions, and biological responses. It also means people can get stuck trying to “think” their way into feeling better. Which honestly makes no sense and doesn’t work. This way of approaching things may reinforce the idea that our problems are rooted in our thoughts and beliefs when really there may be other underlying issues like trauma or unprocessed emotions.

In addition, top-down approaches often rely on a client’s ability to articulate or verbalize their thoughts and feelings. This can be extremely difficult for people who have experienced trauma or emotional wounds. They may not have the words or concepts to describe what they’re feeling or experiencing or may struggle with being in touch with their feelings and emotions.

Another limitation of top-down approaches is that they often rely on the client’s willpower and motivation to make real change. In other words, it is up to the individual to put in the time and effort needed to change their thoughts and beliefs, which can be an incredibly challenging task for someone who is not feeling emotionally or mentally well. This can also look like overly focusing on goals, which can be a mismatch for some clients who may benefit from a more open and exploratory approach.

Finally, the “top” part of our brain, the cerebral cortex, is the last part to develop. And the vast majority of our trauma happens to us before the age of 25, so it’s possible that, in some cases, these top-down methods may not be able to reach the deeper levels of the brain and body where the imprint or rupture first occurred, that are now driving a person’s behavior.  Not only that, but when someone is experiencing a trauma response, their prefrontal cortex actually goes offline, and the fight, flight, or freeze response takes over. This can make it difficult for them to access the more rational parts of their brain and stir up unwanted memories and emotions. This is why having bottom-up tools, like somatic approaches, can be much more effective in helping clients work through and heal from trauma.

So, while top-down approaches can be very useful for certain types of issues and clients, there are A LOT of situations where a bottom-up approach is a more effective or appropriate option.

What is a Bottom-Up Approach to Coaching & Therapy?

A bottom-up approach to coaching and therapy is focused on working directly with a person’s physical experiences, sensations, and emotions.

This often involves working with the client’s body and sensations to address their issues’ underlying causes. For example, a therapist may use techniques like body-based grounding exercises or somatic exercises to help the client release trauma, reduce stress, and reconnect with their body.

Examples of bottom-up approaches include:

  • Breathwork
  • Somatic Coaching
  • Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing (EMDR)
  • Yoga
  • Sounding
  • Sensorimotor Psychotherapy
  • Accelerated Experiential Dynamic Psychotherapy (AEDP)
  • Art Therapy
  • Drama Therapy
  • Dance/Movement Therapy
  • Play Therapy

The Benefits of a Bottom-Up Approach to Coaching & Therapy

There are many benefits to using a bottom-up approach in coaching and therapy. Some of the key advantages include:

– By working directly with the physical sensations and emotions that are driving a person’s behaviors, therapists and coaches can help their clients reach deeper levels of healing and transformation.

– This approach can be especially helpful for clients who are struggling with trauma, stress, or emotional blocks that are unconscious or difficult to express with words.

– Unlike top-down approaches, which can sometimes be more directive or rigid in their approach, a bottom-up approach often involves a more open, client-centered, and gentle exploratory style.

– This approach can also help clients develop greater body awareness and self-compassion, two important skills for healing and creating lasting change.

Overall, a bottom-up approach to coaching and therapy is a powerful tool for helping people overcome their challenges and create the lives they want. If you want to learn more about this approach and how it benefits your clients, check out our Somatic Coaching Certification program!

This program is perfect for you if you want to learn how to use a bottom-up approach to help your clients heal from trauma, reduce stress, and deepen their self-awareness and self-compassion.

Whether you’re a life coach, mindset coach, counselor, therapist, or another mental health professional, this program can help you build the skills and techniques you need to help your clients achieve lasting results. So if you’re ready to take your coaching practice to the next level, then book a call with our team to learn more!

We look forward to connecting if it feels aligned!

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