Brandi Ducote is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in the state of California and the owner of Somatic Psychotherapy San Diego. As a highly sensitive person (HSP) who has struggled with chronic anxiety and associated somatic symptoms throughout her life, she has learned what it takes to break free of deeply engrained, destructive patterns of coping and how to build a life full of meaning and joy. In her practice today, she passes on this valuable knowledge to help others live in a way that is more congruent with who they are at their core.
Brandi Ducote, Somatic Psychotherapist
Can you tell us about your background and how you started your business?
When I was young, my single mother and I would turn to each other during difficult times and say, “More content for our book!”. We developed the fantasy of becoming co-autobiographical authors of a book that would one day provide meaning to our struggles. I now recognize that this was a way to zoom out, gain perspective, and lessen the torment of navigating the intergenerational traumas that burdened us, and it helped us to keep going.
Once I was old enough to establish a sense of autonomy, everything I did was an attempt to escape emotional and physical pain. I left home at age 17 for college to pursue a degree in psychology. I had a deep need to learn and understand so that I could move on and heal. It didn’t feel like a choice, it was something I had to do.
After completing my bachelor’s in psychology and master's in marital and family therapy, my personal connection to substance addiction and its harmful effects drew me toward treatment in this field. For several years, I worked in substance use disorder treatment programs. I quickly rose through the ranks from pre-licensed associate to licensed therapist, licensed therapist to clinical supervisor, clinical supervisor to clinical director. As a highly anxious perfectionist, I was rewarded by society for sacrificing my own needs and desires to fit into the expectations that others had for me. This took a toll. I was constantly stressed and had unexplained physical injuries, chronic pain, and gut issues. It wasn’t until I began learning about somatic forms of healing that I discovered the connection between these mental and physical symptoms and finally found the relief I was looking for. I was eager to share this knowledge with others so that they too could experience this relief.
After completing my Somatic Experiencing Practitioner (SEP) certificate in 2021, I opened my practice, Somatic Psychotherapy San Diego, and I exited the addiction treatment realm.
What is Somatic Experiencing®?
Developed by Dr. Peter Levine in the 1970s, SE™ trauma resolution is a “bottom-up”, or body-focused, approach to healing the effects of trauma that can become stuck or stored in our physiology. In short, Dr. Levine learned by observing animals in the wild that there are basic, biological survival mechanisms that naturally occur within these wild animals and that this innate wisdom prevents these animals from becoming traumatized. We, as human animals, also have these same natural capabilities, although, for many reasons, we have become disconnected from ourselves in a way that can be described as a body/mind split. SE™ trauma resolution provides a set of tools for slowing down and returning to the natural wisdom that exists within each one of us.
Why slow down and do less?
Our nervous system’s main priority is survival. If you have a history of trauma like I do, your body has developed strategies for keeping you safe. Whether these strategies are adaptive or maladaptive, they’ve worked! You’re still alive! However, maybe some of these strategies are no longer serving their intended purpose.
Trauma can be defined as anything distressing that happens in a manner that is too much, too fast. For this reason, it is important to slow down and create the necessary conditions of safety to allow your nervous system to recognize that it no longer needs to protect you in the same ways it has up until now. Additionally, because familiarity feels like safety to the body, anything new, even good things like feelings of relaxation, can be perceived as a threat to your nervous system. Slowing down can build our body’s capacity for change.
Additionally, our nervous systems developed in a world much different than the one we live in today. The rapid evolution of technology, which allows us access to endless amounts of information, and the societally driven expectations to always be busy, and always be striving for more, places our nervous system under constant stress. It is when we slow down and do less that we truly can listen to our body’s needs and recognize what we have the capacity for at any given moment in time.
What would you like to see more of happening in the mental health field?
I would love to see a shift away from focusing on diagnostic labels and treating symptoms, and toward a greater understanding of how natural survival responses are at play in relation to everything that happens around and within us. The body is doing what it naturally knows how to do to keep us alive. Once we recognize that, we can begin to create more coherence by listening to what the body has to say.
What brings you joy and makes your life meaningful?
I truly enjoy the work that I do. I am continuously amazed when I look at my schedule for the day and do not feel the sense of dread that was once a regular part of my workday. Quality time with quality humans, nature, and animals is what fills me up most. I have a wonderful community of family and friends that I enjoy spending time with and I’m an avid outdoors enthusiast. I get outside as much as possible, whether that is a walk around the neighborhood with my partner and our dog, backpacking/camping at a local mountain range, or soaking in the San Diego sun by the pool or at the beach.
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