Therapy with Nima Saalabi, LMFT

Nima Saalabi is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT) in Santa Rosa, CA passionate about bringing holistic, mind-body oriented therapy to individuals of all backgrounds and ages, particularly those who identify as part of the Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC), South West Asian & North African (SWANA), immigrant, and 2SLGBTQIA+ communities. Nima helps his clients overcome past traumas and injustices while also navigating ongoing stressors, anxiety, relationships, and race/cultural identity concerns. Regardless of presenting concern, however, Nima strives to equip all of his clients with the tools they need to make more authentic, confident, and resilient steps toward their long-term goals.

We asked Nima more about his work with clients and his guiding philosophies on therapy.

Nima’s background and personal life

What was your previous work before going into private practice?

I worked as a therapist in a variety of community mental health settings. I provided trauma therapy to at-risk youth in foster care & juvenile hall settings, substance use therapy to adults in dual diagnosis residential treatment, and play therapy with children in an elementary school setting.

What do you enjoy doing in your free time?

I love improvisation, conscious dance (ecstatic dance, authentic movement), hiking, nature, and being near the ocean.

Nima’s specialties and therapy philosophies

What guiding principles inform your work?

I believe in the healing properties of the body-mind connection, creativity, dance, community, ritual, and movement. I believe we know in our flesh what healing feels like, and I view therapy as a modern version of traditional healing. I believe in connection to ancestry, community, earth, spirit, heart, and body.

What clientele do you work with most frequently?

I work primarily with BIPOC and multi-generational immigrant populations. Many of my clients are interested in the intersection of the body-mind connection and social justice. I work with many educators, healers, activists, artists, performers, creatives, and mental health professionals.

Can you tell us more about your specialty in treating trauma?

Trauma lives in our collective nervous systems, in our bodies. Part of our collective conditioning is that we are taught we can just bootstrap, think, and will-power our way through things. Trauma does not respond to that. Trauma is a vortex that spirals us down and can be an inheritance that shapes us from birth. Working with trauma means finding ways you can feel at home in your body and learn to trust what your body is telling you in a visceral way. I help clients slow down and listen closely to the language of their body—the language of sensation, impulse, pulsation, breath, muscle, flesh, movement, and energy.

We take the smallest of sensations you may feel and really deepen into them. Deepening in the present moment into the tiniest aspect of your experience is worth so much more than the information we can get from the intellect. By listening closely to bodily cues, you can develop islands of safety, ease, vitality, and empowerment. When this work happens in the context of a supportive, attuned, authentic, and truth-telling relationship in which we get to show up as we are, the masks that trauma has forced people to don slowly come off, and folks start to connect to deeper, more resourced parts of themselves.

This work often involves unlearning toxic and oppressive ideas about who we are that we have internalized from the oppressive structures around us. By helping people slow down, notice what is being taken in, and listen to what the body is telling them, people gradually start to trust themselves more. They begin to trust the information they are getting from their body about who they really are, and they learn what feels good to take in and what does not feel good to take in and what does not belong to them.

Can you tell us more about your specialty in working with clients on race and cultural identity topics?

Part of the trauma of colonization is disconnection from body, earth, community, and spirit. Race, culture, gender, sexuality, all these rich intersectional aspects of our lives get flattened and erased by colonization. Part of listening to the body is listening to the cultural bodies, the gendered body, the non-binary bodies, the decolonized body. Our bodies are sites of possibilities for both oppression and social justice. We cannot liberate each other, ourselves, and our communities if we do not liberate our bodies. We cannot liberate our bodies unless we listen to our social bodies.

What I offer is a space where you can explore what colonization and oppression feel like in your body, as well as what empowerment, decolonization, and liberation feel like in your body. So much of trauma is an enforced stillness that forces us into our minds. My passion is helping people unlearn that, to reconnect through the body to a sense of culture, ancestry, earth, and community.

Who are you? Who are we? How do we connect? How do we disconnect? Who are we allowed to be? What are we allowed to say yes or no to? How are we allowed to move in relationship to each other in our bodies? There are many forces, structures, and institutions in the world that tell us answers to those questions. Some of those answers serve us and some of these do not.

In therapy, you can learn to explore the patterns you have developed around who you are, how you connect or disconnect from others, and how you make meaning of yourself, others, and the world. We are taught who we are. Some of what we are taught is not true.

Therapy is a place where you can re-write the script. However, this work can't just be cognitive. How we connect and disconnect from each other is something we feel in our bodies and hearts, and patterns we develop around relationships need to be rewired in micro-detail by working directly with the nervous system—really slowing down and listening to your own cues. This work is gradual, slow, relational, and experiential.

Therapy sessions with Nima

What will our first session together be like? What happens in ongoing sessions?

Our first session is us getting to know each other. Gradually we introduce somatic experiential activities and exercises so you can explore what is coming up for you and connect to and develop resources to help you be with what is coming up with more ease. My work is a mix between process-oriented (think "going with the flow of experience") and providing guidance, structure, feedback so that we steer clear of the trauma vortex while developing healing and resource vortexes so that you are able to be with your experience without feeling overwhelmed.

How long do clients typically see you for?

I do gradual, incremental, long-term work. It is not uncommon for me to work with someone for a year or more. This allows for the time we need for you to really listen to what is happening in your body and incrementally shift nervous system patterns in your body. The patterns you have inherited have taken decades to develop. Rather than a quick fix, I offer the longer-lasting more sustainable work of shifting these patterns from the ground-up.

Are there any books you often recommend to clients?

I've been vibing to:

Do you assign “homework” between sessions?

Yes, if it is helpful and decided collaboratively. The homework is primarily bodily awareness activities and creative art exercises to explore themes between sessions or facilitate more grounding, centering, or ease in the body. Homework is not meant as a quick fix, but rather an opportunity to take away what you are learning in therapy and explore it in between sessions to see whether it helps or not.

How do you help ensure I'm making progress in therapy?

First I think we need to critically examine the concept of progress. Who decided what progress looks like? I think too much of what we consider progress is decided unilaterally by therapists and imposed by society. Too often progress means adapting to oppression. There is a quote I like from Krishnamurti that says "It is no measure of health to be well-adjusted to a profoundly sick society."

What I offer is a space for you to critically and collaboratively examine what progress means for you. This needs to be explored and discovered, rather than being assumed. Because if we just assume we know what progress is, we risk uncritically internalizing standards of progress that merely reinforce adjustment to oppression and masking of our true liberatory needs, values, and feelings.

How can I prepare for our first session?

I provide an intake questionaire that people fill out which has a lot of exploratory questions that help you reflect about who you are, what is bringing you to therapy, and what goals you may have. I think just sitting with honesty and transparency about what you are feeling and how you are doing and then showing up the best you can in the truth of where you are is the most any of us can ask anybody else in life.

How will I know it’s time to end my time in therapy with you or reduce session frequency?

We decide this together. Feeling more at home in your body, being able to set healthy boundaries, connecting with others, building community, feeling more connected to the earth and your ancestry, feeling more empowered in your life, unwinding toxic narratives about who you are that are limiting, learning to be with yourself more deeply, trusting your body and your feelings, learning how to be with your pain and suffering without resorting to prior patterns, all these are signs things are improving.

Why should I seek therapy, rather than turning to my partner, friends, or other loved ones?

All societies in all times have spaces of healing—spaces where we can be with our pain, suffering, and soul-ailments with support and compassion to reconnect with our deeper truths and resources. Therapy has the power to be one of those spaces. If this speaks to you, then perhaps therapy is for you.

Visit Nima’s profile to watch his introductory video, read more about him, and book an initial call!