What is a Highly Sensitive Person?
First, a story: Two deer, with two very different survival strategies, stand at the edge of a grassy field. The first deer boldly enters into the clearing to eat the best grass, but it’s seen by a predator and killed. The second deer paused to check before stepping into the clearing, and it lived to see another day. Being habitually prone to hesitation, however, this deer rarely has access to the best nutrition, which has long-term consequences requiring clever adaptations. The first deer’s survival strategy is used by roughly 80% of the deer population, whereas the second deer’s strategy is used by roughly 20%. The second deer has a genetic, temperament (or personality) trait called Sensory Processing Sensitivity and is described as being “highly sensitive.” This is an adaptive survival strategy not a disorder.
Sensory Processing Sensitivity has been observed in 15-20% of the population, in over 200 species, from fruit flies to humans. Being highly sensitive is therefore a minority experience, but within the human species, some cultures highly value sensitivity whereas others do not. This makes a world of difference when it comes to lived experience of the trait.
Let’s reiterate and expand on these ideas, for humans specifically: A Highly Sensitive Person (HSP) has a genetic, temperament trait called Sensory Processing Sensitivity. The key feature of this trait is having a strong “pause-to-check” (or inhibitory) system in the brain. It’s a trait HSPs are born with, and it’s present across the lifespan, everywhere they go –– from school, to work, to relationships –– with or without a personal trauma history. HSPs also experience something called Differential Susceptibility, meaning they suffer more than less-sensitive temperaments in negative environments; however, they also thrive more than less-sensitive temperaments in positive environments!
How do I know if I'm a Highly Sensitive Person?
The acronym DOES helps us identify the trait:
D – Depth of Processing. Your brain processes your internal and external worlds more deeply than others, making connections between the present moment, your bodily sensations, and past memories. This heightens your intuition, and makes you a careful decision maker. You are a deep thinker or feeler – someone who pauses to reflect before speaking, acting, or making decisions in order to make the best choice.
O – Overstimulation. Your depth of processing makes you susceptible to fatigue and stress in all aspects of your life. You feel stressed, anxious, or afraid of failure, especially during major life transitions or moments when you must perform under pressure. You avoid environments and activities that are overstimulating for you. You need quiet, peaceful environments, and lots of downtime to reflect on your experiences and recover from overstimulation. Acquaintances may have labeled you as "shy" or "aloof." You may be an introvert or an extrovert.
E – Emotional Reactivity & Empathy. You have big feelings (both the comfortable and uncomfortable ones) that can be difficult to regulate when you’re overstimulated. When you’re not overstimulated, you are empathic, often feeling others' feelings, understanding their intentions, and mobilizing to help them. You are passionate, wise, a good student of life, and an emotional leader. On the other hand, when you are overstimulated you may behave in more protective/defensive ways. This can look impulsive and perhaps even a little narcissistic to others, who often believe you are overreacting.
S – Sensing Subtleties. You process sensory information in a very detailed manner, paying attention to others' body language, reading between the lines, and picking up on subtleties others may not even realize they're broadcasting.You may also be sensitive to things like: light, noise, smells, flavors, textures, hormones, allergies, pain, drugs, art, healing, nature, or extrasensory perceptions.
Lastly, here are some shared experiences among many HSPs: 1) feeling “different,” 2) being unable to sustain a “normal” lifestyle without overstimulation and burnout, 3) fearing something is wrong with you.
If this sounds like you, take heart: you’re not broken. You’re the sensitive minority in an insensitive world.
What is Somatic Therapy?
This modality includes breath work, body awareness, movement, and sometimes touch. The field was established in the 1930s. It is evidence-based, neuroscience-approved, and trauma-informed. Sensitive people benefit from this approach because they have sensitive nervous systems and strong awareness of the mind-body connection.
What is Energy Psychology?
Sensitive people sense subtleties in their environment, and no therapeutic approach is more subtle than energy healing. When combined with psychotherapy, this modality helps prevent overwhelm, heightens emotional intelligence and intuition, improves self-esteem, clarifies boundaries between self and other, and helps solidify deep and lasting change. I use multiple forms of Energy Psychology, including Emotional Freedom Technique (or "tapping"), which is evidenced-based and trauma-informed.
Do you take insurance?
No. I can provide superbills for you to submit to your insurance company; however, there is no guarantee that you will be reimbursed.
What are your rates?
My full rate is $140/hr.*
My sliding scale rate ranges from $85-$130/hr, and is calculated based on the payer’s annual household income and household size. This scale is for clients who cannot afford to pay current market rates of psychotherapy or clients who have inadequate health insurance coverage.
*The Colorado 2023 market rates for working with a Highly Sensitive Person Knowledgeable Therapist top out around $210/hr, with most therapists charging $150/hr. These rates have been carefully calculated to ensure your Highly Sensitive Therapist is not overworked in a career with a high rate of professional burnout. These rates help your therapist pay down student loan debt associated with their advanced degree(s), afford continuing education and clinical supervision/case consultation on your behalf, counter lost wages associated with taking vacation and sick leave, and meet household living expenses like rent/mortgage, healthcare costs, etc.
What forms of payment do you accept?
All major credit cards, as well as FSA/HSA. Superbills are available upon request.
How long are appointments?
Intake appointments are 80-90 minutes. Return appointments are usually 50-60 minutes.
How often do I need to attend therapy?
New clients agree to attend weekly sessions for a minimum of 12 weeks. This helps establish a strong therapeutic relationship where you are most likely to meet your goals. Once your goals have been met, you are welcome to schedule 1-2x/month in order to maintain optimal wellbeing.
How long can I expect to be in therapy?
This varies widely, depending on your specific treatment goals. Some goals can be achieved in as few as 12 weeks, while other goals take 1-2 years. I like to have a treatment plan finalized by the end of our third appointment. Creating a treatment plan together helps us predict how long services will be needed. It also ensures we are actively progressing towards your stated goals.
I'm not a Colorado resident. Can we work together?
Unfortunately no. I am only licensed to practice psychotherapy in the state of Colorado.
Do you have/allow Emotional Support Animals in session?
I work out of my home office, and I have a Highly Sensitive Cat who is not an ESA. Mel is a Devon Rex –– one of the best breeds for people with cat allergies. He is a prematurely retired breeding cat with Feline Irritable Bowel Disease. In order to maximize his health, he needed to be placed in a home without the stress of other animals. This unfortunately means I cannot have ESAs in my home office.
As you might expect of a Highly Sensitive Cat, Mel is slow to greet clients but rather affectionate and playful over time. He’s unlikely to be present during sessions, and of course we can proactively shut him out of the office if desired.
Do you work with minors?
I do not work with minors at this time. If you’re looking for a local, Highly Sensitive Person Knowledgeable Therapist for your child/adolescent, I recommend:
*Becky Howie, MA, LPC | Naturewise Counseling (Boulder)
*Andy Yang, MA, LPC | Andy Yang Counseling (Boulder)
*Jessica Savage, MA, LPC | Savage Counseling Services (Denver)
I also recommend reading The Highly Sensitive Child and The Highly Sensitive Parent (if applicable), both by Elaine N. Aron, PhD.
Do you work with couples?
I do not offer couples counseling services, though I do work with individuals concerning relationship issues they are experiencing. If you’re looking for a local, Highly Sensitive Person Knowledgeable Couples Therapist, please reference Dr. Elaine N. Aron’s directory at hsperson.com
I also recommend reading The Highly Sensitive Person in Love, by Elaine N. Aron, PhD.
What's your availability?
I see clients Monday-Thursday, 9AM-5PM. Please ask me about current availability, as most clients have reoccurring appointments to protect their desired days/times.