Can Regulation Become a Detriment to Mental Health?

Lakeside strongly advocates emotional regulation techniques but warns that they can't replace deeper therapeutic approaches for severe mental health conditions and trauma.
teen girl with dimple fidget

Lakeside is very committed in our work with students and professionals to help them utilize many different methods for regulating their emotions. We know there are many reasons why students and adults struggle with brain dysregulation and can find some relief if they learn to find ways to calm those dysregulated brain states.

However, there are some therapists that are suggesting that brain regulation techniques can contribute to worsening some mental health conditions. To be clear I think the neurological discoveries about regulation have helped our students, our staff, our schools, and communities that experience emotional dysregulation. It also can substitute healthy practices for unhealthy ones, such as drugs and other destructive ways individuals have chosen to regulate.

Yet when regulation has to be so regular that it’s a full-time pursuit, there may be something deeper happening that requires a different set of strategies. In other words, regulation techniques cannot be a substitute for issues that may need processing at a deeper level. If there has been serious trauma and someone is reliving an experience where they are severely triggered to the point of debilitation (inability to function), some regulation techniques, such as breathing or body movement, may alleviate part of the symptoms but would not be a substitute for systematic therapeutic processing.

Individuals who need that deeper level of processing need to be in the presence of a trauma-informed therapist who can help them discover what the impact of their trauma has created in their current life. What’s problematic is how few therapists there are available to provide that level of intense therapy. This is why our professionals at Lakeside Global Institute serve trauma-impacted individuals to be trauma-competent through training and certification.

The notion of using regulation techniques for someone who is struggling with a serious mental condition can alleviate the immediate brain reaction, but it can’t replace that longer and much-needed process of therapy. Short-changing that process is when regulation could have a negative impact. This kind of thinking can lead to a misguided sense that if regulation techniques have been employed and don’t work, there is no hope for a normal life. I can imagine someone working diligently to regulate continually and still wonder why the conditions still reoccur. The discouragement can be overwhelming.

That’s why, at Lakeside, it’s imperative we teach and help students and adults regulate their emotions. It’s an incredible gift to give those who are struggling with brain regulation.  Like any intervention, it’s not a substitute for a longer and more intense therapeutic process and discovery that can lead to restorative healing. Both can be used in sync to help someone cope and receive the long-standing help they need to recover from traumatic events in their lives.

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