Trauma Treatment: Healing Through the Body

When we think of trauma, we often imagine events including physical or sexual abuse, childhood abandonment, violence, war, injuries and illnesses, natural disasters and loss of loved ones. However, Levine (2008) talks about trauma as a “loss of connection—to ourselves, to our bodies, to our families, to others, and to the world around us” (p. 9). Levine explains, “We become traumatized when our ability to respond to a perceived threat is in some way overwhelmed either in an obvious or subtle way” (p. 9). Thus trauma is more of a continuum from life’s catastrophic events to small traumas that we experience in our everyday life including minor car accidents, medical procedures, falls, sudden startles, and being left alone as a child.

In response to traumatic events we carry out fixed action patterns: fight, resisting and overcoming the threat; flight, avoiding and running away from the threat; freeze, physiologically holding the memory of trauma based on the evolution of survival behaviors. The memory of trauma then resurfaces in our life in a variety of symptoms: hyper vigilance, mood swings, sleep disturbance, flashbacks, social withdrawal, addictive behavior, shame, depression, numbing, that become chronic over time (Levine, 2008).

Since trauma is stored in the body, healing occurs when we access and shift the body’s memory that is fused, distorted, or dissociated. Somatic Transformation (ST) utilizes strategies to link or differentiate intense experience of complex trauma (Mortimore & Kingsbury, 2010) through helping regulate intense emotions and integrating the traumatic disconnected implicit memories in these four clinical processes:

  1. Therapist uses his/her own attuned, regulated body to connect and help co-regulate the client creating an empathic bond.
  2. Therapist tracks the shifts in the body occurring in the present moment representing fixed action patterns.
  3. Therapist uses intervention including inquiry of body sensations, working with gestures, tics and thwarted movements, imagery, metaphors, symbolism, oscillating between the fixed action patterns and resourced states. This process allows for regulation and integration of complex trauma.
  4. Therapist assists the client in reflecting on new meaning emerging from the experience that creates a new healthy narrative.

In separating the implicit memory of the trauma from the present moment experience and reintegrating it in the body the therapist assists the client’s healing process (Stanley, 2011).

References

Levine, P. A. (2008). Healing Trauma. Bolder: Sounds True.

Mortimore, L. & Kingsbury, M. (2010). Somatic transformation: Linking neuroscience, the body and the therapeutic relationship. Insight into Clinical Counselling, 4, 6-7.

Stanley, S. A. (2011). Somatic transformation: Healing trauma in and through relationship. Two year program: Victoria, Canada (Unpublished curriculum).