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Co-regulation Is a Game Changer


One reason psychotherapy vastly improves clients’ emotional health is due to the implicit process of co-regulation or, simply put, someone helping you regulate your emotions. Many people miss out on this crucial childhood experience due to parents or care-givers who weren’t around enough to comfort their children when they were in distress. Or parents themselves had difficulty with emotional regulation, making them poor role models for their progeny and unable to provide them with the consistent safety, comfort, nurturance, modulation, and guidance they needed.

According to Complex Trauma Resources, co-regulation is “The process through which children develop the ability to soothe and manage distressing emotions and sensations from the beginning of life through connection with nurturing and reliable primary caregivers. [It] involves various types of responses, including but not limited to: a warm, calming presence and tone of voice, verbal acknowledgement of distress, modeling of behaviors that can modulate arousal, and the provision of a structured environment that supports emotional and physical safety. Responsive caregivers pay close attention to the shifting emotional and physiological cues of their children, while also regulating their own emotional state. When caregivers are able to demonstrate attunement and provide supportive, consistent responses in the midst of arousal, children develop a growing capacity for self-regulation. The human need for co-regulation evolves throughout childhood and adolescence and remains throughout the lifespan, although for those with healthy early development it decreases incrementally as youths internalize the skills supported in relationship and learn to self-soothe.”

Most dysregulated eaters missed out on consistent co-regulation in childhood which is at the root of their dysregulated emotional and eating behaviors. Care-givers did the best they could, but many couldn’t give what they didn’t receive. This is where healthy therapeutic relationships come in handy from paid co-regulators who are (hopefully) also skilled at professionally regulating themselves and therefore can help teach and support clients in the critical goal of emotional self-regulation.

Acquiring skills for self-regulation is why people heal and grow in the supportive relationship of therapy and why therapy is so different than friendship. You can expect (and insist on) your therapist being fairly self-regulated, whereas friends might get as upset as you do when you’re distressed and only fuel your dysregulation. They may not have the skills to comfort themselves, never mind another person. Talk to your therapist and intimates about co-regulation and ask them for whatever help they can give you.