In her virtual sessions with clients, Kehinde struck a “delicate balance, because the body can be the scariest place to be present,” and she worried that on Zoom she might miss signs that “someone was far past their threshold.” She taught clients that, on waking, they should scan their bodies for regions of sanctuary. She taught supportive S.E. self-holds, like the one Price described, with hands to the forehead and the back of neck, or hands layered on the upper chest. She advised lying under a weighted blanket. For herself, she did much the same, with the scans and the holds, and by having her roommate lie like dead weight on top of her. Floyd’s killing, Kehinde says, left many Black people feeling devoid of agency and profoundly endangered, “dysregulated” and “hypervigilant.” With her somatic work, she says, she could infuse a measure of internal control.
The span of troubles being treated by S.E. is wide, from utter devastation to ordinary obsessiveness. Alyssa Petersel is a social worker and the founding owner of a website that matches clients to its long roster of therapists, so she is well acquainted with a range of practices. For herself, she chose a practitioner with S.E. in her repertoire, because, she says, her “anxiety, perfectionism and workaholism” can lead to “activated states of panic” and “cognitive loops” that can’t reliably be quieted by asking “the mind to reorient.”
Last year, as her wedding neared, she was overwhelmed by the question of whether or not to take her husband’s last name. Night after night, unable to sleep, she made lists of pros and cons. “I spiraled into rabbit holes of ‘What does it mean?’ If I keep my name, I’m a feminist; if I don’t, I’m letting down all the women who —.” She went on, “My maiden name was rational, boss bitch, concrete. The other side was more woo-woo: You’re vowing to be each other’s person, and you can’t change your name? What’s wrong with you?” With her therapist, she learned to focus on “superhelpful data” from her body, as Petersel put it, to “trust the visceral. It was clarifying.”
On the spectrum of suffering, Lauren (she asked that I use only her first name to protect her privacy) is far from Petersel. Lauren stepped into Emily Price’s office in 2016, three years after being raped and strangled unconscious and almost to death on a path leading to her door in her home city, Indianapolis. She woke in the hospital with no memory of the assault. The whites of her eyes were bright red from all the popped blood vessels. A talk with a sex-crimes detective brought home the magnitude of what had happened, yet she still couldn’t access the memory. No one was ever caught. Lauren had some counseling and tried to return to her previous life. And outwardly, she was successful. Three months after the assault, she was promoted at her company. Less than a year later, she moved to New York City, where she had long wanted to live. She traveled widely for her job.
In New York, Lauren started working with a therapist. At their first session, Lauren raised a number of issues she wanted to address, not mentioning the rape and strangling until the last few minutes and seeing nothing strange in that. “I was completely numb,” she told me. “It was shocking, for such a self-aware person as I believe I am, how disconnected I was, how dissociated.”