My approach to trauma healing is based on Peter Levine’s somatic (body-oriented) understanding of trauma. This approach has enriched our understanding of what happens in trauma, and how to deal with it in psychotherapy.
The concept of trauma originally comes from the world of medicine: It refers to a serious injury or shock to the body, such as what happens as a result of violence, or a major accident.
By extension, trauma has been used in a psychological sense to refer to an overwhelming shock to the system, such as a total shutdown. From a therapeutic point of view, it can be useful to view these situations in terms of their effect on the nervous system. Trauma affects the ability of people to self-regulate (i.e. to be calm when appropriate, or agitated when appropriate). Working mindfully on self-regulation is a gentle and effective way of healing trauma.
In times of stress and danger, our organism (like that of other animals) braces for danger. For instance, under normal circumstances, we “orient” to the danger… We respond through fight or flight… Our organism gets geared up for this by producing a lot of energy, which is expanded as we respond. When we cannot respond adequately, we do not have the benefit of the “discharge” of energy that would allow us to “de-activate”, thai is, return to normal.
In Somatic Experiencing, we “titrate” experience, that is we deal with it in manageable amounts, as opposed to trying to shock the system into catharsis – which can overwhelm the regulatory mechanisms of the organism.
We encourage clients to develop body awareness, both as a resource and as a gateway to resolving trauma:
- We use awareness of body sensation to help people “renegotiate” and heal rather than re-live or re-enact trauma.
- Paying attention to the bodily “felt sense” allows the highly aroused survival energies to be safely experienced and gradually de-activated.