MGU 464 | Suffering


TRIGGER WARNING: sexual assault, domestic violence, gun violence, suicide, racism

Get ready to delve into the profound world of social work and the unflinching exploration of human suffering in this thought-provoking episode. EMDR expert Rebecca Kase sheds light on what it truly means to be a compassionate social worker, dedicated to serving the underserved and underprivileged. Drawing from strengths-based theory and a comprehensive systems approach, Rebecca guides us through the multifaceted factors that shape an individual’s experience, encompassing their environment, culture, family, education, healthcare, and social life. Unveiling the intricacies of the neurobiological response to stress and trauma, she shares invaluable insights into trauma-informed care and the wear and tear it inflicts on the nervous system. Prepare to explore the transformative power of healing modalities such as EMDR therapy and tapping, as Rebecca illuminates the path to healing the nervous system and fostering resilience. Discover how we can employ our own privilege to advocate for equity and open doors for others, fostering a more inclusive society. With profound wisdom and inspiring quotes, Rebecca reminds us that within ourselves lies the potential to heal and find solace, while challenging the societal norms that perpetuate suffering. Don’t miss this conversation as we unlock the keys to understanding human suffering, empowering ourselves to be present and compassionate in the face of adversity. 


Quotes from Guest:

Something about psychology just made me light up inside.

Everyone has something traumatic that they’ve lived through.

What tends to be more hurtful to us are multiple small events that cause us a lot of stress.

Our societal view of trauma is so narrow, it’s no wonder we are behind the curve with healing.

Yoga has physically and emotionally saved my life.

There’s so much suffering because of stress.

We are not born to just live in Zen mode.

When we learn to constantly look away, we learn to disassociate.

Unchecked corporate capitalism is what’s really dangerous.

All of the resources you need are already within your body.

Listen to the podcast here


Learning To Not Look Away From Suffering With Rebecca Kase

I’ve been having a wonderful introduction to our guest in this episode through our conversation. Her name is Rebecca. She is a licensed clinical social worker. I was asking her to explain to me exactly what that is because I’m not very familiar. The term is familiar to me, but I realized through our conversation that I don’t understand exactly what a social worker does and how that might differ from a coach like myself or a therapist or a psychologist.

There are all of these different roles in which somebody can help others and address things like trauma, which will be part of our conversation. Rebecca, I’d love to begin with a better understanding of what it means to be a licensed clinical social worker. As part of that, I’d like to hear what led you to this work. How did you become one, and what does that entail in your professional life?

I love this question because I love being a social worker. I love talking about social work. Social work is a profession that was born out of a desire to be of service to others. It was born out of volunteer work and working with the underserved, underprivileged, and those who held a lot of risk because of social variables like poverty, lack of access to care, and education.

Social work is a profession that was born out of a desire to be of service to others. Share on X

Social work has evolved over many decades and is a very robust degree. I have a Master’s in Social Work. I have a Bachelor’s in Psychology. I pursued Psychology because when I went to my first Psych class in my freshman year of undergrad, something about Psychology made me light up inside. I grew up with a wonderful family. My sister was very talented and gifted at many things. She was always coming home with awards and medals. She was in all these gifted programs. I never excelled at a whole lot when I was a kid.

I wasn’t great at any sports. I was okay at music. I found that I was good at partying in high school, doing drugs, and staying out late, the three things I shouldn’t have been doing. I got to undergrad. I took this Psych class and I was like, “This is it. This is magic. This makes sense to me.” My great-grandfather was a psychiatrist. Psychiatrists prescribe meds. They don’t typically offer psychotherapy, though some are highly trained and also offer therapy but typically, they’re just prescribing.

My great-grandfather was a psychiatrist. Supposedly, he was pen pals with Freud. We’ve never found evidence of that, but that’s the story. I grew up in his home, and when he passed away, he left to my mom. I grew up in this house with all of these journals and old weird books on psychology about hysteria, syphilis, ticks, carbon monoxide poisoning, and just very strange things.

I was always bewildered by it. I don’t think my great-grandfather was a very good psychiatrist. I understand he was grumpy and a very unpleasant crotchety man. He is not what I would consider to be a real healer. Maybe his passion and his work inspired me a bit, and I carry that in my DNA. I go to undergrad. I go to this first Psych class, and I’m like, “This is it. This is what I want to do.” I pursued that degree, and then I knew I had to go on to get a Master’s in something because you can’t do much with a Bachelor’s in Psychology. There aren’t many jobs available.

I was looking at some of my options, and social work stood out to me because as a social worker, there are so many things I can do. I can be a psychotherapist. I provide counseling. That’s my big focus. My specialty is trauma work and EMDR. If I got sick of that, I could also work as a lobbyist, or I could work with a group, a community, or a grassroots organizing group. I could work with kids. I could work with adults. I could work for community-based programs. I can do macro or micro jobs with my degree. There’s a lot of diversity.

Social workers are also very much focused on strengths. All social workers are trained in strengths-based theory, which focuses on what’s working well even when there are so many things that are going wrong. In our field of counseling, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual or DSM is very much focused on what’s not working. It’s very much focused on pathology. Social work is going to look at what’s not working, but it’s also going to look at what is working.

MGU 464 | Suffering

Suffering: All social workers are trained in strengths-based theory, which focuses on what’s working well even when there’s so many things that are going wrong.


We also take a systems approach. We don’t just look at the individual, but we look at their environment. We look at their cultural background. We look at their family history. We look at their access to fair education, healthcare, what their social circles look like, and who their friends are. We look at the entire individual. Those were things that drew me to social work. The diversity of the degree, the focus on strengths, and learning to look at the big picture, as well as the very zoomed-in picture.

I appreciate that perspective and that approach. It makes me wonder how many systems are not guided by that type of approach. We talked a little bit about the DSM and some of the limitations. I was sharing with you how it feels a little strange to me that in 2023, there may still be some domination of traditional ways of viewing, or even outdated might be better terminology.

You mentioned your grandfather who was a psychiatrist. So much has changed, at least since my grandfather was around. He passed in 2016. He would’ve been well over 100 at this point. I was thinking about how much has changed in his lifetime, and how much has changed in my lifetime. Yet it seems like healthcare, including mental health, our societal perspectives on physical and mental health, and the whole holistic viewpoint is not always taking into consideration somebody’s background.

We have a tendency to lump things together. We have a tendency to use biases. We can benefit as individuals taking a more systems-based approach like you do to understand people, and maybe to be more curious and put less assumptions, especially when it comes to being trauma-informed. I would love to hear from you what it means to be trauma-informed, and not just a systems-based approach to things. When you incorporate the fact that many people have experienced some trauma, I assume most perhaps, or maybe everyone has experienced trauma because it is a little relative to each of our lives.

We could say that everyone does have something traumatic that they’ve lived through. Our Western approach to understanding trauma is often defined by the event rather than the response, and that has flipped. We should be looking at what was that individual’s neurobiological response to the event, and whether it was a response in which the nervous system is expressing extreme stress, fear, or terror. That would be considered traumatic then.

It’s more about the response than the event. You and I could go through the same exact thing that maybe an average person would consider to be traumatic, but one of us might go on to develop PTSD and the other one doesn’t. That’s due to a lot of different factors of nature and nurture. Maybe one of us went through the experience, and we didn’t have a huge reaction. We didn’t feel overwhelming terror or fear, and the other one of us did.

When we try and put a label on something as “That is traumatic,” there are very evident things that most of us would agree that is acute trauma, like combat, sexual assault, physical assault, surviving a horrific natural disaster, and seeing something traumatic happened to someone else. Those are all very traumatic experiences that all of us would probably have a significant response to in our nervous system. What we know from the research is that what tends to be more hurtful and disastrous to us are multiple small events that cause us a lot of stress, versus surviving one catastrophic event and the rest of our life being fine. It’s like the effect of a thousand paper cuts.

What tends to be more hurtful and disastrous to us are multiple small events that cause us a lot of stress versus surviving just one catastrophic event and the rest of your life being fine. Share on X

It feels like it’s such an important perspective to have. I wish that more individuals were trauma-informed. My hope is that as a society, we can become more aware. Maybe we are slowly getting there. It feels to me that we’re becoming more mindful of factors like racism. Certainly, I’ve had an awakening in the past three years that I had the privilege of ignorance in my life being a White woman. I didn’t realize the context in which many people were suffering. My personal interest in psychology, mental health, and well-being has given me opportunities to learn these things.

I wonder if people outside of those spaces are growing their own awareness. I would hope for that, but it feels like it’s still a bit of a barrier because if you don’t have the personal interest or the experience, you may also have the privilege of not understanding something like trauma. The way that you described it is likely that most if not all people have had their own version of trauma or these multiple small traumatic events as you said. It surprises me that there seem to be some big gaps in compassion towards one another.

There definitely are. Trauma-informed care is essentially recognizing that everybody’s got their own sh*t and being nice. If I could synthesize what trauma-informed care is, that’s it. We’ve all got our own sh*t and just be nice to each other because you have no idea what the other person is bringing. We live in a patriarchal society that is founded on White supremacy so our definitions of trauma are going to be limited.

Racism is a traumatic experience, as well as sexism and feeling like you’re not safe to live in this country or your life because of your body, who you love, the color of your skin, or who you worship throughout the day. To continuously get these messages that you are unworthy because of your body, you are undeserving because of who you love, or something is wrong with you, I would argue that those experiences are way more disastrously impactful on a person.

That’s a long lifetime of toxic messages that you are soaking up at a cellular level from what you see in movies to TV shows to what you read in books and magazines. What you see is this is what’s right and if you don’t fit this mold, then you are wrong. We can understand those forms of trauma to contribute to the presentation of what we refer to in the field of traumatology as complex trauma. Complex trauma is the outcome of a lot of wear and tear on your nervous system over a very long period of time. It’s typically starting in childhood.

MGU 464 | Suffering

Suffering: Complex trauma is really the outcome of a lot of wear and tear on your nervous system over a very long period of time, typically starting in childhood.


Even when we talk about complex trauma, we’re often thinking of you growing up in an abusive household. You grew up with continuous sexual abuse, or around a lot of domestic violence, drug, or alcohol abuse. We fail to consider growing up in poverty, growing up in a society, an environment, or a community where you continuously feel unsafe because of gang violence, or it’s an unsafe community that doesn’t have its needs provided for. That’s traumatic. We then add on the generational trauma component to that of if that’s how you grew up, how did your parents grow up? How did your great-grandparents grow up? How did your great-great-grandparents grow up?

When we get into the study of how generational trauma can impact us, generational trauma can stay with us for a very long time. That’s getting into a deep level of trauma conversations. Our societal view of trauma is so narrow. It’s no wonder that we are behind the curve in advancing our techniques and approaches to helping people heal.

Gun violence is traumatic. The number one killer of children in the United States is guns. To live in a country where that’s accepted as that’s okay, I’m worried about how that is going to impact kids throughout their lifetime. You’re growing up with these messages of it’s not safe to learn. It’s not safe to go to school. I need to constantly be hypervigilant of this very real threat to my life.

It’s heavy, but it feels incredibly important to understand and explore. I’m grateful for your awareness of these things. I find myself wanting to seek them out more. As dark as it can feel, I don’t want to stay in that place of privileged ignorance. I feel that sometimes, opening my eyes to it can be very horrific and uncomfortable. There are a lot of things that are easy to turn a blind eye to if they don’t affect us directly.

To me, well-being is not just about ourselves as the individual. It’s the ripple effect that all of us have on one another. It doesn’t feel fair or just for me to feel well, and for somebody who might live across the street from me to be in a completely different situation based on these circumstances. They might not be within my control, but if I can at least be aware of them, maybe there can be some shifts that I can take that could have a ripple effect on them. Sometimes, I wonder what the starting place is. I’m curious for you, Rebecca. There are certainly all these different angles that we can come at it. What are some of the places where we can begin to do this healing work for ourselves and also for others? What do you see being effective starting points?

That’s a tricky question. What was coming to my mind is I’m also a yogi. I’ve been practicing yoga since I was fifteen years old. Yoga has physically and emotionally saved my life a couple of times. I’ve also taken a number of Buddhism classes. I regularly attend Buddhism courses with this wonderful meditation training center. One of the things that I’ve learned through those practices that’s easier said than done is learning to not look away from suffering. That doesn’t mean that you’re on the highway passing a car accident so everybody slows down and causes a traffic jam because everybody wants to be voyeuristic and see what happened.

Learning not to look away from suffering is easier said than done. Share on X

As human beings, it’s our natural tendency to want to look away and avoid that which hurts. When we see someone else or a group of people suffering and we feel powerless against it, on some level, it is our way to cope with it, “I don’t feel like I can do anything about this.” There are a lot of existential crises that we face as human beings from climate change to gun violence to political unrest that we do feel very powerless around.

One of our tactics is to avoid. It’s like you probably try to avoid putting your hand on a hot stove because it’s going to burn you. We avoid it and it keeps us alive. You’re still here because you’ve avoided things that have hurt or that could potentially significantly harm you. Sometimes, we default to that avoidance response and what it does is it isolates groups of people who are being harmed. Now we’re not speaking up because we’re so stuck in our powerlessness. We’re turning away rather than turning toward even if there isn’t something that you individually can do to end racism or climate change.

How can we still be present in a compassionate way with our suffering and with the suffering of others? That’s hard to do. It’s not easy to do. I also don’t want to say, “Don’t ever get out of the pool and catch your breath.” It’s okay to take breaks sometimes. We all have to get out of the pool of sh*t to stay afloat. Are you turning away in a manner that abandons your fellow humans and leaves them to the wolves? That would be the thing not to do, as I would argue.

Thank you for that. It’s resonating with me. I am preparing a talk. I feel called to speak about diversity, equity, and inclusion. I feel a lot of ignorance around it, but ignorance is a keyword. I’m trying to learn. There’s so much to learn and so much to do and yet, I have this deep desire to contribute in some way. One thing that came up for me is this question, “Who am I to speak about something that I am feeling ignorant about? Who am I to speak about the experiences of others that I don’t have?” Because of my privilege, I don’t feel like I have a lot of experience or perspective, but I still have the desire to do something about it.

Maybe privilege is exactly why I should be speaking about something, This book that I’ve been reading pointed out that it’s less risky for somebody with the privilege to talk about some of these hard subjects because they’re often in a place of not fearing for their own safety. The book I’m reading is called Inclusion on Purpose. It’s specifically about inclusion in the workplace. The author points out that when someone such as a White person with that privilege speaks out about racism, they are probably not at risk of being fired, versus statistically someone who’s not White or a person of color could be at a much greater risk for being fired or penalized in some way just for asking for accommodations or inclusivity.

The privilege gives you the opportunity to speak for someone who might not or might not be willing to do something because it’s too risky for them. I was very grateful for that perspective because the question is, “Who am I?” We can examine that from different angles and how we can contribute. I’m curious if that resonates with you. I don’t want to make assumptions but you’re White presenting. You are a woman appearance-wise. I would love for you to verbalize your identity instead of me making assumptions about that. Does that question ever come up for you? How do you navigate through that?

MGU 464 | Suffering

Suffering: Your privilege actually gives you the opportunity to speak for someone who might not or might not be willing to do something because it’s too risky for them.


I am a White woman. I am married to a male. I identify as bisexual. We all have to be mindful of what our lanes are, what experiences we can speak from or cannot speak from, and how we can use our privileges to create equity for others. In one of my businesses, Kase & CO, our training business, we offer scholarships to BIPOC clinicians. Our scholarships are only available to BIPOC clinicians.

I care what hardships you’re experiencing but it’s only for BIPOC clinicians. Why? It’s because the field of education has not offered equal opportunities for people of color and BIPOC identities to pursue advanced degrees and advanced training with those degrees. It’s one way that I can offer some equity to a field that has been incredibly unfair. We can each look at if you have privilege, and how you can use your privilege to open doors for others, to offer your stage to others, and to offer income to others.

That’s how we can explore the concept of equity because it’s not a fair playing field. It hasn’t been a fair playing field. It’s not like the government is going to come in and say, “We’re going to make it all fair.” That’s up to each and every one of us to look at the ways that we can do that individually with the privilege that we do hold.

It’s beautifully said. You have quite a way with words. That’s very clarifying and helpful for me to navigate this challenging territory. Inclusion on Purpose has some frameworks for navigating equity. One of the first pieces of advice and at least, the framework I’ve gotten to so far since I haven’t finished the book was to get uncomfortable or to be uncomfortable. I’m very much in alignment with that terminology due to this show.

Essentially, it was saying, “This is uncomfortable. This is hard.” That’s the first step in approaching this. It then goes into things like raising your awareness, and on and on. I’m grateful for people like you, Rebecca, who are willing to sit in that discomfort, acknowledge the discomfort, and do it anyways. Also, do it with so much grace. As you’re approaching this, it isn’t something new for you. This is something it seems like you’ve spent a lot of time reflecting on. This is integrated into your work and your way of operating. You mentioned I believe the CPTSD or maybe it was the complex trauma. Is there a difference between complex trauma and CPTSD?

They’re one and the same.

Could you describe more of what that is exactly? We’ve touched upon a lot of traumas. PTSD is a post-traumatic stress disorder. With the C being complex, what makes it complex if somebody is new or if they’ve experienced that, or if somebody else has experienced it?

We like all these acronyms in the field of counseling and psychotherapy. CPTSD is another acronym. Complex PTSD is like PTSD on steroids. It mimics all of the symptoms of PTSD but the level of functional impairment is much more pronounced. Complex PTSD also often comes with pretty significant disturbances in interpersonal relationships.

There’s a lot of dysregulation in the nervous system. People tend to struggle with a lot of distorted self-talk and cognition, poor self-esteem, and believing they’re not worthy, “I’m not lovable, I’m broken, I’m deficient, or I don’t deserve good things.” There are higher correlations between the emergence of addictions and high-risk behaviors like truancy and involvement in the legal system. Complex PTSD is much more challenging to treat than PTSD because it’s more complex, but it’s very much possible.

This is in the field of psychotherapy. We were chatting about the DSM before we jumped on. What insurance companies require psychotherapists to use to diagnose and bill sessions for is based on what looks normal for White men. The DSM is not diagnosed in that manual. It’s not based on research. They look at specific symptoms and put symptoms into boxes and then say, “Based on these symptoms that you check off, this is your diagnosis. Here’s the prescribed treatment.” It’s a very colonized and Westernized approach to healing that doesn’t necessarily look at how we involve community, family, and things outside of strict psychotherapy and medications to treat symptoms.

The DSM does not include complex PTSD. It’s been on the table for years now with multiple trauma gurus and experts advocating for the addition of a diagnosis of complex PTSD. Developmental trauma disorder has also been offered in place, which is more to encompass the severe impacts of trauma in childhood during the prime years of development. It has continuously gotten kicked out of being included in the DSM, although research supports that while complex PTSD mirrors PTSD, it is a specific and unique diagnosis of PTSD. It’s a little bit messed up. The DSM is not very accurate.

It is messed up. It leads me back to these ideas that we have a lot of outdated perspectives, not just on others but perhaps even ourselves. It depends on the care that you’re receiving. I’ve certainly experienced a taste of that trying to get to the bottom of a number of things medically for myself. The insurance that I have feels pretty comprehensive, even in Los Angeles where I could walk down the street to one of the most renowned hospitals in maybe the country, if not the world. There are so many great practitioners in this city, and yet it either feels incredibly hard to figure out who to see. It also can be expensive even when you do have insurance. There are all the obstacles.

The barriers to care are hard. Within those systems, there are still may be obstacles and barriers. A doctor might not even be able to diagnose, prescribe or give you a direction because of the constraints of their role and the systems that they’re operating. To me, it’s amazing for somebody to be healthy and feel well. The more I learn about all of this, I’m like it is a blessing and perhaps a minority of people are in a well state. That’s something that I’m looking at from a new lens. Do you share that perspective? What does your work shift within you, whether that’s something recent or over the course of your career, on how you view the whole healthcare system in general?

That our healthcare system is in shambles. I just had surgery on my foot and it was a very mild minor surgery. It was outpatient, but the little pieces I had to navigate with that are laughable. It’s absurd. The treatment I got and the lack of information I received. I got out of surgery. My doctor didn’t even come to talk to me to tell me what happened. I had no idea what he did exactly for two weeks until I saw him and got my cast off. The whole time, I was thinking, “This is not trauma-informed,” especially from the perspective of I’m a woman. I am a sexual assault survivor. You put me to sleep, I woke up, and you did something to my body. I have no idea what you did.

Our healthcare system is in shambles. It is not trauma informed. Share on X

That didn’t activate my trauma history. I’ve done a whole lot of healing throughout the years. I’ve done a lot of EMDR. I’ve done a lot of therapy, reiki, yoga, woo-woo, medications, you name it. If I hadn’t done all that work, this would’ve been a prime trigger for me because it would’ve mimicked some of my trauma. I was asleep and unconscious. I woke up recognizing that somebody has done something to my body. That’s literally what happened to me in my sexual assault.

I think that our healthcare system is very much based on fixing the problem as quickly as possible with as little intervention time. When you go to the doctor and they’re in and out in five minutes, and they hardly talk to you, how could you get the information you need to prescribe me this or to offer this intervention? So much of what we struggle with as human beings, there’s so much suffering because of stress. It’s all about stress. Most of the diagnoses of the DSM can go back to dysregulation that’s held in the autonomic nervous system. This is one of the reasons I love the Polyvagal Theory because it gives us this very robust user manual almost for understanding how our autonomic nervous system functions.

You can think of your autonomic nervous system as your automatic nervous system. It just responds. It reacts without your conscious awareness. It’s your autonomic nervous system that’s responsible for those key stress responses that we all know, the fight, flight, freeze, and I’ll add on collapse. When we’re constantly inundated with these messages of what we should look like from social media, and the world is about to implode again with whatever news cycle we’re in.

Also, rush hour traffic, noisy environments, shootings, inflation, and all of the societal unrest. You add, “I’m arguing with my partner, and I’m not sure how I’m going to pay the mortgage at the end of the month.” That’s a lot of stress for your nervous system to have to constantly be managing. We are not born to live in Zen mode. If we were, we wouldn’t have this nervous system that was designed to respond to stress. Stress isn’t bad. When you go to the gym, you stress yourself out. You do it to get fitter, toner, and healthier. When you learned to drive, wasn’t that stressful? It was so stressful learning to drive, but you do it for autonomy and independence.

Going to grad school is super stressful, but you do it because you want that degree and you want to be of service to people. Not all stress is bad. A lot of stress is adaptive. It’s about the dose and the length of time. How big of a dose was that stressor and how long did it go on? We were not necessarily designed to live in constant toxic stress, which is what a lot of us are experiencing. We have no ability to get out of the sh*t hole. There’s no opportunity to reset and recalibrate.

MGU 464 | Suffering

Suffering: We’re not designed to live in constant toxic stress, which is what a lot of us are experiencing. We have no ability to get out of the cesspool. There’s no opportunity to reset and recalibrate.


Your stress responses are meant to be short and temporary to get you through the stressor, and then you return to homeostasis, and everything is working again in your body. If you’re constantly living in stress, your digestion gets all screwed up, your immune system gets all messed up, your heart rate is irregular, your breathing is irregular, your blood flow is irregular, and your endocrine system isn’t working right.

Those things can be out of whack temporarily to respond to a stressor, but they need to be able to reset. When they don’t get to do that, that’s where we develop these chronic diseases. There was this wonderful study called the ACE Study, the Adverse Childhood Experiences Study. It was started in the early 2000s and late 1990s. It identified the correlation between adverse experiences in childhood and the development of degenerative chronic health conditions like COPD, cancer, stroke, fibromyalgia, IBS, immunodeficiency diseases, and arthritis.

All kinds of things are the outcome of your body living in a constant state of stress. Eventually, what all that leads to is an early death. We know from the research that too much stress for too long kills. It literally does, but yet we have a healthcare system that, because it’s founded in capitalism and it’s not focused on preventative medicine, still focuses on, “Let me provide an intervention as quick and as cheaply as possible, and move on to the next person,” and never addressing the issue or the root cause. If we did do that, we would probably save a lot of money in the healthcare system because people wouldn’t be coming in with these chronic diseases. They would’ve gotten interventions and preventative care before things turned into a five-alarm fire.

We have a healthcare system that still focuses on providing an intervention as quickly and as cheaply as possible, never really addressing the issue at the root cause. Share on X

I’m very grateful that you’re speaking from many important angles. The capitalist side of it is something I’m also awakening to. Through this podcast and thanks to guests like yourself, I’ve learned so much about capitalism that I was blissfully ignorant of. It doesn’t make sense to me because I have this belief that in order for an individual to be well, the society and community need to be well.

I don’t understand stand how or who’s benefiting from the capitalist mentality. When I think of capitalism, I often think of older White men that tend to be the “people benefiting,” and yet some of these powerful figures don’t seem to be the most well mentally. They’re struggling. Some of them have a lot of health conditions too.

One of the books I was reading is Saving Time, which is a delightful read about the capitalistic viewpoint on time, productivity, and all this stuff. I think it was the author who pointed out how Donald Trump had this mindset that it wasn’t even worth his time to exercise because he thought it was taking away the limited time he had in life or however it was. I’m not phrasing it well, but I thought, “That’s so odd.” Exercise has been proven to benefit your health and thus probably extend your time on Earth. By not exercising, you might be shortening your life. That time wasted exercising is time investing in yourself.

There are all these outdated viewpoints. When it comes to the healthcare system, whoever is benefiting financially from it, I’m sure, would benefit more from better care because they would be impacted by the better care too. Their family members are suffering, and their extended family is suffering. It all is interconnected in my viewpoint. No one is benefiting from these systems in the grand scheme of things. Why is it that we still operate that way? It doesn’t make any sense to me, but I guess I’m so far removed from it. It might be impossible to understand why things are set up that way.

I don’t know that I could fully tell you the why either. I think it’s due to generations and generations and many years of embodied violence and dissociation. I agree that there are many individuals that are part of the 1% that make big decisions that affect many people that are not healthy and well. There are plenty of rich people that we see in the news who I would not necessarily want their life, even though they may have a huge bank account because they do not look like they’re very happy or healthy.

I’m thinking, early in our conversation, talking about that practice of not looking away from pain and suffering. When we learn to constantly look away, we learn to dissociate. I think that there’s a real level of dissociation that can happen amongst individuals who get so focused on shareholders, the bottom line, and profits over people. We can lose some of our humanity in that. I would argue from a compassionate stance that that’s probably an outcome of things that have happened to those individuals as well.

MGU 464 | Suffering

Suffering: There is a real level of dissociation that can happen among individuals who get so focused on profits over people, and we can lose some of our humanity in that.


I am doubtful that those individuals grew up with these incredibly nurturing, healthy, loving, and emotionally attuned parents and caregivers in their childhood, and they learn to embody these values of it’s about striving for X, Y, and Z, versus looking at striving for peace, happiness, and contentment. I don’t innately believe that capitalism is bad. I am grateful that I can run a business and I can make choices to bring income into my business.

Unchecked corporate capitalism is what’s dangerous because then it becomes very exploitative, and it’s about power and control, which are all core principles at the heart of traumatic experiences. A loss of power, a loss of control, feelings of helplessness, and feelings of hopelessness and terror are all the core components of what trauma is like. We have a very dissociated society, and to heal, we have to each focus on just healing ourselves. It’s like when you’re on the airplane and they say, “If these things pop out of the ceiling, put on your mask first so that you don’t pass out.”

You have to put your own mask on first because if you can’t develop enough resiliency in your nervous system to stay buoyant, you’re going to succumb to all of the crap that’s out there. It feels like a constant struggle. It’s a constant battle to build health and wellness in your nervous system, but it’s not impossible because we have these amazing nervous systems that can rewire and that can heal. We are adaptive creatures. We’re incredibly resilient. We are incredibly intelligent.

All of the resources you need are already within your body. When we look within at how I can befriend my nervous system as my best friend, and my nervous system is my superpower instead of looking out towards, “I need to buy this thing that social media recommended,” or, “I need to spend a bazillion dollars on this awesome therapist that I’ve gotten,” that can all be helpful but don’t diminish that the greatest healer you will ever have in your life is within you.

The greatest healer you will ever have in your life is within you. Share on X

It’s another wonderful gem of wisdom that leads me to want to learn more. You mentioned polyvagal therapy and I’d love to know more about that. I assume there’s a difference between that and EMDR, which I have some ignorance about. I’ve heard of EMDR. I think I’ve heard of Polyvagal Theory, but I would struggle to define either, and I’d love to understand how they’re used when they’re used, and who benefits from them. How do you navigate that journey of deciding, “Is this for me? Do I want to try it? How do you find someone?” I have a bunch of questions in there, but first, what are they, and how does someone benefit from each of them?

Let me start with one, and then I’ll go to the other. The first one is Polyvagal Theory. Polyvagal Theory is not a therapy, specifically. It’s a model. It’s like trauma-informed care. It’s a model of, “This is how we can understand this concept, and this is what you do with it.” Polyvagal Theory was developed by Stephen Porges over many decades of his research.

Polyvagal Theory describes how your automatic nervous system functions, and what your autonomic nervous system needs to feel safe and to be healthy and well. Your autonomic nervous system is governed by your vagus nerve. Your vagus nerve is the second longest nerve in your body, second to your sciatic nerve. Vagus stands for the wanderer because this nerve is wanderlust. It gets around. It goes to so many places in your body.

Your vagus nerve connects to your eyes and your face. It connects to your inner ear. It connects to your throat. It connects to your heart and your lungs, and all of the viscera within your abdominal cavity. When your vagus nerve gets activated in response to danger or your nervous system perceives something to be dangerous, it will activate your autonomic nervous system into a fight response, a flee response, a freeze response, or a shut it down and collapse response.

Based on what your autonomic nervous system perceives, “This is what is most likely going to help me survive this situation.” For example, let’s say you were out for a walk in the woods. All of a sudden, there’s this rustling next to you and your nervous system kicks up. It’s like, “What’s that?” You look over. You look for this rustling, “Is that a bear? Is it a rabid raccoon?” Your nervous system will immediately activate, hopefully, giving you a lot of energy to maybe flee or fight. You might freeze for a moment as you’re like, “What is that?”

All of a sudden, this adorable little kitten prances out of the bushes, comes up to you, and meows. Your nervous system is like, “That’s not dangerous.” All of a sudden, you calm down inside. You pick up this little kitty, and now, you have a new pet. All of those responses from the moment you were startled, “What is that rustling sound,” to “Now, I’m ready to run or I’m frozen. What is that?” to “There’s no danger. I’m going to calm down.” That was all responsible for your vagus nerve. Your vagus nerve was driving all of those pieces as it activated your autonomic nervous system to respond in certain ways.

Polyvagal Theory is called Polyvagal because there are three branches of the autonomic nervous system that the vagus nerve helps to mediate and manage. That is a Polyvagal Theory in a nutshell. The more we understand Polyvagal Theory, you make sense to yourself. You start to understand, “This is why I feel activated right now. I perceive something to be scary” or “This is what I need to feel safe and calm.”

The Polyvagal Theory is something you can do some research on and learn on your own. There’s a ton of information out there about Polyvagal Theory and a lot of therapists are now trained or pursuing training in Polyvagal Theory because it’s such a helpful framework for understanding trauma and trauma responses.

EMDR is an actual therapy. EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. It’s a long name so we just call it EMDR. It’s another acronym. EMDR was discovered by a psychologist named Francine Shapiro in the late ’80s. She was walking through the park one day. She was thinking about something that was upsetting to her. As she was thinking about this thing that was bothering her, her eyes started moving back and forth. I think she was watching some squirrels, or she was looking around. Her eyes started moving back and forth quickly. She paused, and she was like, “I feel better about that thing I was thinking about. Is that because my eyes were going back and forth when I was thinking about this thing?”

She was an incredibly observant woman. She was a psychologist, so she had all these therapist friends. She was like, “Come here, friends. Think about something that bothers you and follow my fingers.” She started testing this out on her friends. They all reported, “Francine, I feel better about that thing as you waved your fingers in front of me.” I know many readers are like, “What? That sounds absurd. This is ridiculous. You’re going to wave your fingers in front of me. What is this magic?”

Francine went on to do a whole lot of research, and she developed a whole therapeutic model. EMDR is evidence-based for trauma and PTSD. It means there’s a lot of research that supports its effectiveness in reducing or completely eliminating symptoms associated with PTSD and trauma. We know what eye movements are doing, or we call it bilateral stimulation because we don’t always use eye movement. Sometimes it’s about tapping back and forth on your shoulders or your legs. There are also these little buzzers that buzz back and forth in your hands bilaterally. We can also listen to alternating tones or bilateral tones.

When we think about a traumatic or upsetting experience that is still haunting us in the present day, that’s the basis of EMDR. We look for experiences that are stuck and causing yuck. This experience was super stressful. It was scary. It was upsetting, and it was stuck in my nervous system. I’m constantly having these reactive symptoms associated with it. This memory is stuck and causing yuck.

We add bilateral stimulation when a client is with their therapist receiving this therapy. People need to be trained in it. You can’t do EMDR on yourself. Bilateral stimulation is a natural way that the nervous system processes information. We are bilateral beings. When you walk into a new room, you look around bilaterally. Most cultures read bilaterally. Think about if you’ve ever had a problem you were stuck on and you went for a walk, and all of a sudden you felt better, or you went for a run. You’re getting bilateral then.

Bilateral stimulation helps to break an upsetting memory. Break means it loses its emotionality, and it helps your nervous system to reappraise or reassess the experience from the present day. Let’s say you were thinking about a sexual assault and you were receiving EMDR for that. Your nervous system may be stuck in, “I’m not safe. This is dangerous. I’m dirty. I’m bad. I’m not worthy.” If you’re safe with your therapist and you’re safe in the present day, when your nervous system reassesses that experience, you may instead walk away with, “That was then, and this is now, and I survived. It is over. Do you know what? I did try and fight back. I am a good and deserving person. It’s my perpetrator that’s the piece of crap.”

It helps your nervous system to create a new narrative to heal from that experience in a natural way that your biology already works. I love blending Polyvagal Theory and EMDR. That’s what my new book is focused on because both of those therapies are what I call neuro-informed approaches to healing. We’re focused on the nervous system and not the diagnosis or the DSM or what White-bodied people say is the way to do or how to heal. It’s about, “How does this person’s unique neurobiology work and how can I understand their symptoms and forms of suffering through the perspective of understanding their nervous system?”

I continue to feel so impressed with how you articulate all of this complexity because it makes so much sense to me. Since I heard of EMDR, I think I started paying more attention to it. My therapist expressed that it could be something worth trying. I haven’t tried it yet. However, I have tried tapping and I’m curious since you mentioned the tapping. You said with EMDR, you can’t do it to yourself, but with tapping, you can do it to yourself. What is the difference? Is tapping based on EMDR or is it something completely separate?

I think you’re referring to EFT. There are two EFT therapies out there. There’s emotionally-focused therapy, and then there’s EFT, which is the tapping piece. Tapping, you tend to tap on key acupressure points on the top of your head, your face, and underneath your chin. EFT and EMDR share some similarities in their conceptual framework, but they are different. You can use EFT as a self-help technique. One of my very good friends’ friend is an EFT therapist. She has done some EFT with me and taught me a couple of things, but they’re not one and the same.

In EMDR, you’re tapping or you’re receiving bilateral stimulation in a bit of a different framework than EFT. EFT is typically you’re tapping and you’re repeating these kinds of positive mantras to yourself or positive statements. In EMDR, you’re not adding necessarily those positive statements. You’re allowing your nervous system to digest the experience. When you receive EMDR and you add bilateral stimulation, you might experience other memories. You might experience other frames of the same memory.

You might experience thoughts and feelings or body sensations, some of that or all of that. It’s different for each individual. At some point in EMDR, it might take one session. It might take multiple sessions to work through an experience. There is this real resolution where all of a sudden, the memory loses its emotionality. It’s distressing emotions, and you’re left with either positive-adaptive emotions and experiences and insights, or it feels neutral.

People say sometimes, “I can’t see it and I don’t feel it anymore. It’s done.” Sometimes people say, “I did fight back. I am so strong. I am so proud of myself.” The process of how we deliver the therapy is a bit different between EMDR and EFT. The reason I don’t recommend doing EMDR on yourself, there are apps and books out there that are like, “Do EMDR on yourself.” I highly discourage it. You need a trained therapist. EMDR training is 50 hours of training.

My business is to train psychotherapists and EMDRs, and it’s 50 hours. Imagine you can supplement an app for 50 hours of training on top of what a therapist already goes through to become a therapist. There’s a lot of depth to it. It either doesn’t work or sometimes some big stuff can get activated if you do it on your own and then you’re like, “I need some help. I’m having a big reaction to this.”

Thank you for clarifying that. It’s helping me understand it. It piqued my interest. I believe my therapist said that through our therapy, he has come to the current conclusion that I don’t have a major traumatic event at the moment, luckily. Essentially, it sounded like I’d worked enough through my most recent traumatic event, and he didn’t feel like I needed to do an EMDR. As you were talking about it, I still experience some of the fight-or-flight responses. The current thing that I’m still trying to get to the bottom of is a sleep issue in which I have a tendency to sleepwalk. It feels like my nervous system gets activated, but I don’t know what’s activating it.

I’m curious, can EMDR work if you don’t have knowledge of the root of that response? What if there’s trauma? My big question is, “Did something traumatic happen to me, or was it passed down through the generation somehow through epigenetics?” Essentially, can you do EMDR without knowing the specific event or trauma or what’s going on?

Yes. EMDR is symptom-based. It’s not necessarily event-based or diagnosis-based. Sometimes I find therapists who are EMDR-trained looking for, “Do you have trauma?” I just defined what trauma is earlier, so everybody does. “Do you have toxic stress in your life?” That is a different way to look at it. Some of us go to therapy very clearly knowing, “I had this huge event. That’s what seems to be driving my symptoms. This is what we want to work on.”

MGU 464 | Suffering

Suffering: EMDR is symptom-based, not necessarily event-based or diagnosis based.


That is a very small portion of people who come to therapy. The way that adverse experiences and toxic stressors are stored in our brains is implicit. Implicit memories are like your felt sense of an experience. You don’t necessarily have explicit declarative memory of it. An example of implicit memory is the smell of cut grass. It’s something that you know, but it’s hard for you to explain to me. You could probably try to, or when a song comes on that you’re like, “I haven’t heard this song in a decade,” but you know all of the words. That’s an implicit memory. It’s out of your conscious awareness, but it’s still there.

If I said, “Give me directions to your nearest grocery store.” That’s explicit declarative memory. You could actually tell me that. Trauma memories are toxic stress stored implicitly. For most of us, when we’re suffering from toxic stress, it can be like a mind f*ck. We’re like, “I don’t know exactly why I feel the way I do, but I feel terrible. What’s wrong with me? I didn’t go through combat, and I haven’t been sexually assaulted. I didn’t have a terrible childhood. What is wrong with me?”

What’s more useful is to focus on the symptoms. If you were my client, I would work with you to explore your symptoms and use your symptoms to trace back to the experience that seems to be driving them. There are ways that we do that in EMDR therapy, which is another reason you want to go to a therapist who’s highly trained. There are ways that we can be a detective with your nervous system using your symptoms as the little crumbles on the path to find what that memory is about, or what is the memory that we need to target.

You can use EMDR if you were anesthetized or if you were unconscious. We can use EMDR for pre-verbal memories. We can use EMDR for generational trauma. I’ve done EMDR many times in my life. I was trained in EMDR in 2006. I have had lots of EMDR throughout my life for many different things like huge traumas from my father ending his life by suicide a couple of years ago to sexual assault to a domestic violence relationship. Also smaller things like a toxic work environment that I was trying to figure out how to leave.

When my husband and I first started dating, my husband was a big climber and a big mountaineer. He likes to do all the hard stuff and wake up at 2:00 in the morning to get on a trail. I’m like, “Let’s go to the yoga festival.” When we first started dating, he likes to go to the gym and climb, and he wanted me to become a climber. He wanted me to go to the gym with him. I’m okay going to the climbing gym every now and then, but I don’t love it.

He’d go to the climbing gym and as I was in the climbing gym, I would notice I would shrink inside. I was noticing I was having this stress response to being in the climbing gym, where all of a sudden, I would feel little. I’d feel insecure, self-conscious, and incapable. There was one day we were in the gym, and I was like, “What is this about? I don’t feel small and insecure otherwise in my life. I’m getting triggered in the climbing gym. What’s happening?” I thought, “I think EMDR could help with this. I don’t know what this is about, but let me go get some.”

I went and got some EMDR on it. What it went back to or what those symptoms connected to were my memories of being a gymnast. My sister and I were both gymnasts growing up. My sister was good at gymnastics, and I was not very good. She came home with all the medals and all the trophies. I just did it as a hobby, and she kicked butt at it. It was during a time in my life when I hadn’t found what I was good at, so it left me feeling that wasn’t good enough. I did not have aggressive parents who were like, “You must be the best gymnast.” My parents were like, “Do you or whatever makes you happy.”

That wasn’t traumatic, but when I was thirteen years old, it was stressful. When I was in the gym, a climbing gym feels very similar to an actual gymnasium. It’s very similar structures and spaces. The sounds and smells are similar. The sensation of chalk on your hands was a big trigger for me. All of the ropes and holds are rough, just like the balance beam, the bars, and the vault.

My nervous system was perceiving these similar sensory experiences that reminded it like, “We’re thirteen years old again, and you’re in gymnastics.” What happened inside is all of a sudden, I felt thirteen years old. I felt all that stuff from when I was thirteen years old, even though at that time, I was in my 30s and I was in a climbing gym. Because that memory was stored implicitly, even as a therapist at the time, I didn’t put that together. I didn’t know what that was about.

I processed through that. I went back to the climbing gym. I never fell in love with climbing. I’m still like, “Let’s just go to the yoga festival,” but I didn’t have this visceral reaction going to the climbing gym. I didn’t go dreading it and getting triggered. I could be like, “I don’t love this but I’m okay.” That’s the power of EMDR and how sneaky implicit memory can be.

What a great story. I felt like I was right there with you. I’ve never been in a climbing gym, but I too had my own set of stress as a kid trying to do gymnastics. You started bringing up all these memories for me, and that’s the power of stories. It’s a beautiful example. Even the cut grass, there’s a nice way of connecting to these experiences, even if they’re just similar. It piqued my interest in EMDR. Thanks to you, I want to try it. I can’t wait to talk to my therapist about it, explore it more, and figure out the next steps for me.

Speaking of the next steps, Rebecca, as we begin to wrap up the episode, I’d love for you to talk a little bit more about your book and/or the next steps for somebody who’s been reading this episode and they’re interested in you. They want to get in touch and learn more from you. What are the next steps, and where could somebody begin after tuning in to this episode?

You can connect with me on my website at The book I just wrote is a very technical book. Unless you’re a psychotherapist, it might not be a great read for you. It’s focused on how to integrate Polyvagal Theory into EMDR. The name of the book is Polyvagal-Informed EMDR: A Neuro-Informed Approach to Healing. If you’re interested in it and you love to read therapy books, even if you’re not a therapist, half of the book will be very fitting for you. You’ll probably still love it because it’s about Polyvagal Theory.

MGU 464 | Suffering

Polyvagal-Informed EMDR: A Neuro-Informed Approach to Healing

I am working on another book called The Polyvagal Solution, which is a self-help book that will be available to anyone. That will be coming out in 2024. That will be full of information for understanding Polyvagal Theory and how you embrace it in your own life. If you are a therapist and you’re interested in getting EMDR trained and also learning Polyvagal Theory at the same time, you can catch me at Kase & CO, which is my training business.

We offer EMDR training, basic training, and advanced training on specialty topics like EMDR with disordered eating, EMDR and dissociation, or EMDR and addictions. We have a lot of courses and we offer a lot of consultation for therapists who are looking to understand how to integrate all of these techniques into their practice. We value creating inclusive learning environments. Our mantra is shame-free spaces for learning.

As we’ve talked so much about patriarchy, capitalism, and White supremacy, all of those values are embedded in our field of academia. Too often, the world of academic training is riddled with shame and, “This is how you must do this. This is the intervention. You must provide it like this.” We believe in embracing the flexibility of the nervous system and how everyone is unique, and how to harness our client’s strengths as the greatest powers and tools in their healing process.

It’s such wonderful important work that you do. For the audience, I’ll make it easy on you to take that next step. Rebecca, you’re so eloquent, and you’ve done such a beautiful job covering complex topics and helping me understand, broadening my awareness, and building upon ideas, thoughts, and theories I have. It has been a rich and nourishing conversation for me. Thank you so much for spending the time together and sharing this with the audience too.

Thank you so much for having me. This was a great conversation. I appreciate going deep. Thank you.

You’re welcome.


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About Rebecca Kase

MGU 464 | SufferingRebecca Kase is an extraordinary force of nature – nurturing, warm, authentic, and inspirational. She is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, yoga instructor, and trauma expert who owns her own training and consulting business, Kase & CO. With a deep understanding of polyvagal theory, mind-body techniques, and EMDR therapy, she is an expert in trauma therapy and healing. As someone who has survived trauma herself, Rebecca knows first-hand how it feels to walk in the dark. Her personal approach to sharing her knowledge – endearing, relatable, and humorous – has earned her the status of thought leader in the healing field. Rebecca’s strength of spirit is evident in her inspirational talks, writings, and professional trainings. Her guiding mantra is “be humble, be brave”, and she is a wealth of wisdom when it comes to unlocking the power of the nervous system to heal and become more resilient. She lives in Washington state with her husband and four fur babies.