Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) may happen after a person experiences a traumatic event (ranging from fatal accidents, terrorist acts, natural disasters to sexual violence and abuse) that lead to intense and disturbing thoughts and feelings. These emotions can last for a long time after the traumatic event has transpired. There are many ways to treat this psychiatric disorder. Trauma-informed psychotherapy, which focuses on the memory of traumatic events, remains the most common method. By encouraging people with PTSD to visualize and talk about the traumatic memory, therapists help them verbalize emotions and modify unhelpful beliefs such as self-blame or self-hate. An unconventional treatment method for PTSD is somatic experiencing, a body-centered approach to include natural bodily (somatic) responses to achieve wholeness and healing. This therapeutic approach is based on a holistic understanding of how trauma affects the entire human existence, including both the body and the mind.
The Distinctness of Somatic Experiencing Therapy
A basic understanding of somatic experiencing therapy is that because trauma creates bodily energy, trauma-informed care should consider the effects on the body. It includes the bodily energy created by trauma in repairing and completing the natural cycle of the body releasing the effects of trauma. This is a less direct and incremental approach to revisiting trauma. When traumatic events happen, people may experience muscle tension, elevated heart, and respiratory rate, and stress hormones flooding the body. These bodily changes occur with the experience of a “fight or flight” emergency. People are endowed with an innate mechanism for self-care. Both the body and the mind participate in this natural cycle of release. However, traumatic stress often overwhelms the body’s natural ability to process it. Somatic experiencing builds this bodily aspect of healing into revisiting trauma. If the traumatic energy has been long trapped in the body, it needs to be released. For example, an individual who has experienced childhood trauma may be asked to relive and describe the experience. A somatic experiencing therapist may encourage that person to begin running away from the treatment by bodily movements that simulate escape. This action completes the natural release of traumatic energy.
Somatic Experiencing Sessions
Like other forms of therapy, somatic experiencing begins with getting the client comfortable in the physical environment and with the presence of a trained therapist. Conversations can happen naturally to build a sense of trust. This trust-building process is key to all trauma-informed care. Then the therapist will ask a client to revisit the traumatic memory by using an indirect analogy in life. For example, instead of immediately diving into the details of the event of violence, the therapist may ask what the weather was like on the day of that event. This allows the body to build a kind of resilience and slowly release traumatic energy. The pacing and progression of this conversation depend of course on the comfort level of the client. The therapist should explore gently and indirectly. Somatic experiencing may involve some improvisation on the part of the therapist who allows for much fluidity about what to talk about and how to move the body in sync with the memory and potential traumatic energy. The therapist guides clients to focus on physical sensations and integrate mind-body exercises whenever possible. These include breath work, meditation, visualization, massage, grounding, sensory awareness, movement simulation, or even dance.
Different Types of Somatic Experiencing Therapy
Depending on the need of the client, somatic experiencing may include many different forms. Sensorimotor psychotherapy uses the body as both a source of information and an intervention target. The Hakomi method is guided by core principles such as gentleness, nonviolence, compassion, and mindfulness while incorporating psychological and spiritual sources to help clients heal. A third common type of somatic experiencing therapy is bioenergetic analysis. It is a body-psychotherapy that combines bodily, analytic, and relational understandings of energy into designing healing sessions. Lastly, biodynamic psychotherapy combines allopathic and physical massage into healing the body’s energy.
The Benefits of Somatic Experiencing Therapy
The over-arching principle of somatic experience is to connect the body, the mind, and past trauma. It corrects the trend of over-analyzing how our mind is affected by bringing bodily sensations back into the experience of trauma. This more comprehensive approach offers the benefits of developing more awareness of bodily sensations, self-calming skills by bodily movements, strengthening bodily boundaries, and emotional release. Apart from treating PTSD, somatic experiencing can help alleviate symptoms of many mental and physical health issues, including anxiety, grief, depression, chronic pain, digestive disorders, and sexual dysfunction. Its focus on grounding and mindfulness can complement other treatment methods.
If you or a loved one suffers from traumatic stress, there are many ways to help you cope and recover. Among these is somatic experiencing, a body-centered approach to include natural bodily (somatic) responses to achieve wholeness and healing, while working with an experienced professional therapist. At Casa Recovery, our trained therapists know how to help you recover from traumatic stress and its related mental health problems. We believe that both the body and the mind can be treated simultaneously. The staff at Casa Recovery believes that a client’s treatment plan should be as unique as they are to maximize effectiveness and produce a successful treatment outcome. Each client’s treatment team will work with them to provide customized efficient and effective treatment methods that have been developed and applied in clinical settings. Early intervention is key. To learn more about the help that clients receive, call Casa Recovery today at (888) 928-2272.