Trauma Healing/Somatic Experiencing
The effects of overwhelming life events can impact the quality of life long after the occurrence of the event. Symptoms of post-traumatic stress reveal themselves not only in our minds but also in the body. For example, insomnia, chronic fatigue, unexplainable chronic pain, panic attacks, and digestive disorders can all be possible post traumatic symptoms caused by a nervous system that has forgotten how to manage arousal.
Historically, recovery from trauma has been approached from a purely mental or psychological model. If you heal the mind, and realize “it’s just all in your head”, then the person can move on from the trauma. While this approach has its benefits and can be supportive of trauma survivors, it does not always fully address the physical discomfort and dysregulation of the nervous system that persist.
Research in the last ten years has challenged the purely mental model. I have adopted a body-based healing model as presented by Peter Levine, founder of Somatic Experiencing and the Foundation of Human Enrichment, and Pat Ogden of the Sensorimotor Psychotherapy Institute. Peter Levine noted that although animals in the wild are constantly being threatened by predators, they are rarely traumatized. He surmised that there must be something about the body’s nervous system that naturally allows the body to manage intense arousal. This “bottom up” approach to trauma recovery capitalizes on the role the nervous system plays in regulating our physiological responses. In this model, symptoms are viewed as healthy defense and orienting responses that have been thwarted during the traumatic event. Therapy involves encouraging these truncated responses to complete, thereby releasing trauma-bound energy held in the nervous system, and restoring one’s natural nervous system regulation.
A combination of mindfulness, education and awareness about sensation, and appropriate touch are used to facilitate this non-cathartic process. The client begins to become aware of the wisdom held in their body, and relates to their body as an ally in their healing. The client learns new ways to regulate arousal and builds resiliency through a balanced nervous system.
Uses: trauma, PTSD, anxiety, lack of
body awareness, somatic and emotional stress responses, life transitions, insomnia
What’s it like: client remains clothed,
touch used as needed to support or to heighten body awareness