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Working Through Trauma Using the Body – Understanding Somatic Therapy

Somatic therapy is an approach that emphasises the mind-body connection. Working through trauma using the body can be a valuable and effective method to help with releasing trauma, for somatic therapy recognises that trauma is not only stored in the mind but also in the body. By integrating the body into the therapeutic process, somatic techniques aim to release stored tension, process unresolved emotions, and promote healing and integration.

Here are some key points that outline this approach:

Understanding Somatic Therapy

Somatic therapy recognises the interconnectedness of the mind and body in the healing process. It acknowledges that traumatic experiences can be stored in the body as physical sensations, tension, and patterns of activation in the nervous system, and that addressing the physiological and sensory aspects of trauma is crucial for effective therapy. By addressing the body, somatic therapy aims to facilitate healing at both the physical and psychological levels.

Traumatic experiences can dysregulate the nervous system, resulting in chronic stress, hypervigilance, and heightened states of arousal. Somatic therapy focuses on regulating the nervous system by helping you develop tools for self-regulation and co-regulation. This involves working with the autonomic nervous system, which governs physiological responses and activating the body's natural relaxation responses.

Trauma can remain unresolved in the body, even if you have processed it cognitively. The body stores traumatic memories and sensations, which can lead to physical symptoms, chronic pain, and emotional distress. Through various somatic techniques, such as breathwork and movement, you can access and release these stored sensations, allowing for the integration and resolution of trauma.

Developing body awareness is a fundamental aspect of somatic therapy. You are encouraged to pay attention to bodily sensations, emotions, and subtle shifts in your physical experiences. By cultivating mindfulness and attunement to the body, you can increase your capacity to regulate and navigate your internal experiences more effectively.

Somatic therapy encompasses a range of techniques and approaches. Some commonly used modalities include Somatic Experiencing (SE), Sensorimotor Psychotherapy, Body-Mind Centering, Hakomi Psychotherapy, and Trauma Release Exercises (TRE). These approaches may incorporate breathwork, movement, touch, visualisation, and other body-oriented interventions to facilitate the release and integration of trauma.

The emphasis with somatic work is on creating a sense of safety and working at a pace that is comfortable for the individual. You are helped to develop skills to titrate your experiences, meaning you gradually and safely explore traumatic material without overwhelming yourself. This approach ensures that the therapeutic process is manageable and respects personal boundaries and limits.

Somatic work aims to support the integration of body, mind, and emotions, fostering a sense of wholeness and coherence. By addressing the physiological aspects of trauma, you can experience a more embodied sense of self and develop a greater capacity for self-regulation, resilience, and overall well-being.

Working somatically can be particularly beneficial for those people who have experienced trauma or struggle with symptoms such as anxiety, depression, chronic pain, or physical symptoms.

Building Body Awareness

A crucial aspect of somatic therapy involves cultivating body awareness. You are encouraged to notice bodily sensations, tension, and any areas of discomfort or numbness. By becoming more attuned to your body, you can develop a deeper understanding of how trauma is stored and expressed physically.

Building body awareness through somatic work is crucial for several reasons. Below are some key points that highlight the importance of developing body awareness in the context of somatic work:

Accessing unconscious information: The body often holds valuable information that may not be accessible through conscious thought alone. By building body awareness, you can tap into your somatic experiences and access deeper layers of awareness. This can provide insights into unconscious patterns, emotions, and unresolved trauma that may be influencing thoughts, behaviours, and overall well-being.

Regulation of the nervous system: Traumatic experiences can dysregulate the nervous system, leading to a state of hyper-arousal, hypo-arousal, or both. Hyper-arousal refers to a state of heightened physiological and psychological activation. It is associated with an overactive sympathetic nervous system, leading to symptoms such as increased heart rate, rapid breathing, heightened anxiety, hypervigilance, and a sense of being on edge. Hypo-arousal, also known as dissociation or shutdown, is a state of reduced physiological and psychological activation. It is associated with an underactive sympathetic nervous system, leading to symptoms such as numbness, detachment, emotional numbing, decreased heart rate, slowed breathing, and a sense of disconnection from oneself or the environment. Body awareness can help you recognise and regulate your physiological responses, facilitating a sense of safety, calmness, and self-regulation.

Uncovering patterns and triggers: Body awareness helps you identify patterns and triggers that may be contributing to your distress or challenges. By paying attention to bodily sensations and responses, you can become aware of how certain thoughts, situations, or interactions impact your body. This awareness empowers you to make conscious choices and develop strategies to manage triggers more effectively.

Empowerment and self-advocacy: Building body awareness fosters a greater sense of empowerment and self-advocacy. You can learn to trust your body's signals, needs, and boundaries, enabling you to make choices aligned with your well-being. This awareness also supports the development of healthy boundaries and the ability to communicate your needs and preferences better.

Resourcing and self-care: Body awareness helps identify internal and external resources that promote well-being and self-care. You can recognise activities, sensations, and experiences that bring comfort, joy, or relaxation, and incorporate them into your self-care routine. This enhances your capacity to self-soothe, cope with stress, and nourish yourself on a physical and emotional level.

Trauma processing and healing: Somatic work acknowledges that trauma is stored in the body and can be released through bodily experiences. By developing body awareness, you can identify trauma-related sensations and emotions, allowing for the safe and gradual processing of traumatic memories. This process promotes healing, integration, and the resolution of unresolved trauma.

Grounding and Stabilisation

Trauma can often lead to a sense of disconnection and dysregulation. Somatic techniques emphasise grounding and stabilisation to establish a greater sense of safety and stability. Grounding and stabilisation techniques may include practices such as deep breathing exercises, guided imagery, mindfulness, body scans, somatic movement, and sensory-based activities, and they can help you feel more present and centred in your body. Below are some key points that highlight the importance of these techniques:

Create a sense of safety and support: Traumatic experiences can dysregulate the nervous system, leading to feelings of overwhelm, dissociation, or hyperarousal. Grounding techniques help you reconnect with the present moment, anchor yourself in your body, and regulate your nervous system responses. This sense of safety allows for more effective trauma processing and prevents re-traumatisation.

Provide a foundation for deeper therapeutic work: When you feel grounded and stable, you are better able to engage in exploration and processing of traumatic experiences. By building a solid foundation of safety and regulation, somatic work can proceed at a pace that is manageable and appropriate for your readiness.

Develop body awareness and attunement: By focusing attention on sensations in the body, such as the feeling of the feet on the ground or the breath flowing in and out, you become more connected to your physical experiences. This heightened body awareness supports the identification and tracking of bodily sensations and emotions, which are essential for somatic processing and healing.

Valuable resources and coping skills that you can use outside of therapy: These techniques can be employed during moments of stress, anxiety, or triggering situations to help you regulate your emotions and come back to a state of equilibrium. Grounding techniques serve as tools that you can utilise independently to support your well-being and manage symptoms in daily life.

Promote self-regulation: The techniques help you learn to navigate your internal experiences and regulate your emotions more effectively. Through grounding practices, you develop the capacity to identify and respond to your needs, manage overwhelming emotions, and make choices aligned with your well-being. This increased self-regulation extends beyond therapy sessions and can have a positive impact on various aspects of life.

Trauma can lead to dissociation or disconnection from the body. Grounding and stabilisation techniques support you in re-establishing a connection with your body and reclaiming a sense of embodiment. By engaging with the physical sensations, you gradually rebuild trust and develop a more compassionate relationship with your body, fostering a greater sense of wholeness and integration.

The practices can be incorporated into the therapeutic relationship, creating a safe and contained environment. By using the techniques collaboratively, your therapist can help you establish trust, deepen the therapeutic alliance, and provide a secure space for trauma processing. These practices can also help you feel seen, validated, and supported throughout your healing journey.

Tracking Sensations and Feelings

Tracking sensations and feelings is a vital component of somatic work in trauma therapy. It involves developing awareness of bodily sensations and emotions as you arise in the present moment. You will be encouraged to track bodily sensations and emotions during therapy sessions and in your daily life. This can involve noticing any physical sensations that arise when discussing traumatic memories or challenging emotions. By tracking these sensations, you can learn to tolerate and regulate your emotional experiences more effectively.

Here is more information on why tracking sensations and feelings is so important in somatic work:

Accessing implicit memory: Traumatic experiences are often stored as implicit memories, which are non-verbal and stored in the body. By tracking bodily sensations, you can access these implicit memories and gain insight into the somatic aspects of your trauma. Sensations can serve as entry points to accessing and processing unresolved traumatic material that may not be accessible through explicit memory alone.

Body as a source of information: The body provides valuable information about your inner experiences and emotional states. Tracking sensations and feelings helps you listen to the wisdom of your body and develop a deeper understanding of your emotions, needs, and boundaries. This information can guide the therapeutic process and inform interventions that support healing and regulation.

Enhancing self-awareness: Tracking sensations and feelings cultivates self-awareness and self-attunement. You learn to become more present in your body, observe bodily sensations without judgment, and explore how emotions manifest physically. This heightened self-awareness supports emotional regulation, self-care, and the ability to respond to your needs more effectively.

Resourcing and Self-Care

Somatic therapy emphasises the importance of resourcing and self-care. By exploring and acknowledging pleasurable or soothing sensations, you can access internal resources that promote resilience and well-being. This involves identifying and cultivating internal and external resources that can be called upon during challenging moments to provide a sense of grounding, safety, and self-regulation.

Resourcing and self-care practices create a foundation of safety and regulation. Trauma can disrupt your sense of safety and stability, and resourcing techniques help establish a secure container for the therapeutic work. By accessing resources, you can regulate your nervous system, manage triggers, and create a greater sense of safety within yourself. The skills also provide you with coping skills that support emotional regulation and stress management. You can develop tools to self-soothe, manage anxiety, and navigate challenging emotions. Resourcing and self-care practices serve as strategies that you can use both within therapy sessions and in your daily life to promote emotional well-being.

The skills help to build resilience and increase your capacity to cope with stress and adversity. By identifying and cultivating resources, you can develop a sense of inner strength and support that can be drawn upon during difficult times. Resilience is crucial for navigating the healing process and fostering overall well-being.

Resourcing and self-care emphasise the importance of pleasure, joy, and positive experiences. These practices encourage you to explore activities and sensations that bring you pleasure and allow you to tap into a sense of joy and vitality. Reconnecting with pleasurable experiences is a vital aspect of healing from trauma and promoting a more balanced and fulfilling life.

By cultivating resources and engaging in self-care, you develop a greater sense of agency, self-advocacy, and self-compassion. You learn to prioritise your well-being, set boundaries, and make choices that support your overall health and happiness. The techniques also act as preventive measures against overwhelm and burnout. Trauma work can be emotionally and physically demanding, and engaging in self-care practices helps to replenish your energy, restore balance, and prevent exhaustion.

Resourcing and self-care practices in somatic therapy can include a wide range of activities, such as mindfulness exercises, breath work, engaging in hobbies, connecting with nature, spending time in supportive relationships, and movement practices. These practices are developed to suit your individual needs, preferences, and cultural background, and they are integral to fostering a sense of safety, regulation, and overall well-being in the somatic healing process.

Patience and Self-Compassion

Healing from trauma is a process that takes time. You will be encouraged to practice patience and self-compassion throughout your journey. It's essential to honour your unique pace and be gentle with yourself as you navigate the complexities of working through trauma somatically.

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