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The Window of Tolerance in Trauma Focused Animal Assisted Therapy

What is the window of tolerance?

Our window of tolerance describes a level of emotional and physiological arousal in which we feel 'ok' and regulated. Outside of our window of tolerance, we have a state of hyperarousal (red area) and hypoarousal (blue area).

When we are in our window of tolerance (the green area), we generally feel grounded and safer. We are often more able to connect with others, and be able to think, problem solve, learn and regulate our emotions.

So what happens when we aren’t in our window of tolerance?

Hyperarousal - Often this is when our fight/flight/freeze response kicks in, our nervous system has alerted us to danger, and tells our bodies that we need to take action. This can of course be helpful, and is our nervous system trying to keep us safe. But prolonged time spent in this state is exhausting, makes it almost impossible to think and learn, and hard for us to feel able to connect to others.

Hypoarousal - At other times, our evolutionary response to perceived threat is to protect itself by attempting to shut down, as it feels no longer able to cope with, or escape threat and stress. In this state we can feel flat, tired, spaced out, disconnected and numb. Again, there can be times when this is a helpful response to let us know that we need time to recover. However, being in this area for too long can leave us feeling checked out and disconnected.

Often people who have experienced trauma feel stuck between feeling on edge and on high alert, then feeling flat, spaced out and numb. The window of tolerance becomes very small, leaving very small periods of time feeling safe and connected. It’s important to remember that this is our body’s natural and protective response to threat, and this is often out of conscious awareness.

A key aim of therapy is then to help expand our window of tolerance, and help us recognise this process.

Horses that feel safe and in their window of tolerance can be a big part of this process, creating a sense of safety to develop grounding techniques and resources.

How do you get back into your window?

If you would like to hear more about Animal Assisted Therapies offered by Clinical Psychologist, Dr Charis Green at Beyond the Clinic Room in Kent, please contact us here.


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