In the realm of trauma treatment, the mind and body are inextricably linked, and somatic trauma treatment offers a unique approach that recognizes and addresses this profound connection. By focusing on the body’s physical sensations, movements, and energy, somatic therapy seeks to unlock the healing potential that lies within us. In this blog, we’ll dive into the world of somatic trauma treatment, exploring its principles, techniques, and the transformative power it holds for trauma survivors.
Understanding Somatic Trauma Treatment
“Somatic” is a word derived from “soma” meaning ‘the body.’ Somatic trauma treatment, therefore, is rooted in two aspects: 1) the belief that trauma is stored not only in the mind but also in the body. Unresolved traumatic experiences can lead to physical tension, chronic pain, and a host of somatic symptoms, and 2) Somatic practitioners use body-based techniques and skills for processing traumatic memories cognitively that gently guides the body through the recovery process. Somatic psychotherapy is the practice of blending body-based practices with traditional talk-therapy such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) or Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT). It is distinct in that the practitioner has skills in both modalities: somatic and cognitive/thinking approaches.
Principles of Somatic Trauma Treatment
Central to somatic trauma treatment are several key principles:
- Body Awareness: Cultivating body awareness enables individuals to recognize internal sensations, emotions, and patterns of tension or relaxation within themselves. This is one area of mindfulness – self-awareness – that is essential in resolving trauma.
- Regulation: Learning how the body is always communicating to us, and will always seek to balance itself is foundational to effective trauma treatment. Regulating the nervous system is essential for trauma survivors who often perceive body signals as painful, uncomfortable, or distressing (because during the trauma – they were!). Techniques to help the body’s natural relaxation response are incorporated to balance the fight-flight-freeze response.
- Embodied Resourcing: Encouraging clients to develop and regularly access positive “resources” within their body fosters a sense of safety and empowerment during the healing process. This can be accomplished with breathwork, guided meditations or imagery, music, etc.
- Slow and steady: Taking the healing process slowly is key to not re-traumatizing yourself when resolving past traumatic experiences. Techniques that simply “throw you back into it,” or encourage the imagined reliving of an event are not effective for all people, and risk re-traumatization. Re-processing difficult experiences or wounds is best done within a “window of tolerance.”
Techniques in Somatic Trauma Treatment
Somatic trauma treatment incorporates various therapeutic techniques:
- Body Sensing: Focusing on bodily sensations, or body feedback, helps clients build trust within themselves. It also helps clients connect with emotions and memories stored within their bodies. First steps in this work might look like simply tracking one’s breathing, or examining fidget or random objects in your surroundings by touch only and observing what is noticeable.
- Breathwork: Conscious breathing skills helps regulate the nervous system, providing a tool for grounding and calming during moments of distress. The breathe is a common and sometimes easy tool because it’s always with you! No need for a worksheet, fidget, or other object. Here are some ideas for a variety of breathing techniques.
- Movement and Gesture: Engaging in movement or expressive gestures allows trauma survivors to release trapped energy and emotions, facilitating a sense of release and relief. This could look like intuitive yoga, somatic dance, body postures, or shaking practices. Even walking and stretching have benefit in this area!
- Touch and Boundaries: Somatic practitioners may use touch (always with the client’s consent) to foster a safe and healing connection, always respecting individual boundaries and preferences. Somatic touch can involve massage of the hands or feet to assist clients in connecting to sensations and releasing areas of tension. A self-hug technique can also be effective. Intimate partners can be taught how to engage in healthy and reciprocal touching to facilitate nurturance, as well, such as holding hands, cuddling, hugging, etc.
- Grounding Exercises: A ‘grounding skill’ is founded in drawing awareness and connection to the literal ground beneath you. This can include walking barefoot on any natural surface, and help clients stay present and connected to their bodies during overwhelming experiences or flashbacks.
Benefits of Somatic Trauma Treatment
Somatic trauma treatment offers a range of benefits, including:
- Enhanced Self-Regulation: developing tools to manage big emotional and physiological reactions, reducing anxiety and promoting a sense of safety in one’s life.
- Empowerment: Reconnecting with the body fosters a feeling of internal wholeness, personal agency, and ability for clients to become active participants in their healing journey.
- Long-term healing: By addressing trauma stored in the body, somatic healing aims to address the root cause of distress, not just outward signs/symptoms. This leads to more profound and lasting transformation.
Somatic trauma treatment is often used as part of an integrative approach to healing. Combining somatic techniques with traditional talk therapy, which we identified earlier as somatic psychotherapy, and other evidence-based modalities creates a comprehensive and holistic treatment plan tailored to each individual’s unique needs. Other healing interventions could include trauma-informed yoga, medical treatments, energy work, and nutrition, etc.
Somatic trauma treatment offers a powerful pathway to healing, recognizing the body’s integral role in the trauma recovery process. By tapping into the body’s wisdom, trauma survivors can unlock the keys to their own healing and transformation. Somatic therapy provides a safe and nurturing space for individuals to explore their internal landscape, reconnect with their bodies, and move towards a life of resilience and empowerment. Remember, the journey of healing begins within, and is highly individualized – somatic trauma treatment invites you to embark on a voyage of self-discovery and growth, embracing the power that resides in your bodies to reclaim our lives.
If you are interested in learning more about somatic, body-based treatments to resolve childhood/adolescent trauma, we have clinicians trained in some modalities that can help. Please contact us at www.connectionsfamilycenter.com/contact and request a therapist who can help with trauma resolution.