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Is Somatic Therapy Right For Me?

Harnessing the Power of the Mind-Body Feedback Loop

“The single most important issue for traumatized people is to find a sense of safety in their own bodies.” — Bessel van der Kolk

When we feel threatened by something in our environment, we have three choices: fight, flight, or freeze. The autonomic nervous system is directly linked to the fight-flight-freeze response. This system, which regulates heart rate, respiration, digestion, and arousal, can become dysregulated when we experience trauma. We can end up stuck in the "on" position, in a hyperaroused fight/flight state, or we can turn "off" and enter a frozen, dissociative state.

In the "on" fight/flight position, we can experience anxiety, panic, sleeplessness, attention deficit, OCD, mania, and rage. When stuck "off", we can feel depressed, lethargic, unmotivated, and chronically fatigued. If the traumatic experience remains unresolved, the residual activation can keep us in an ongoing state of hypervigilance or depression, or we may oscillate between the two states.

Somatic, or body-centered, interventions can help restore balance to the autonomic nervous system and decrease these uncomfortable physical and emotional symptoms. Somatic therapists recognize the body as a critical resource in the practice of psychotherapy. In addition to talk therapy, we use mind-body exercises and other physical techniques to help facilitate one's natural healing process. A client's posture, gestures, facial expressions, eye gaze, and movement provide important information about what is going on in the mind, and somatic therapists are skilled at perceiving and using this information to access mental and emotional material that can be difficult to reach through talking, alone.

Somatic therapy is used in the treatment of trauma, PTSD, depression, anxiety, grief, addiction, and OCD. It can also be helpful for some physical conditions, including chronic pain, sexual dysfunction, and digestive issues. Mindfulness and physical awareness are key components of this type of therapy. If you have experienced severe and/or multiple traumatic events, being intensely in the present moment may initially cause too much discomfort for you to work safely and productively. We work at your own pace and at a level you can tolerate, making sure you have access to the inner resources you need to facilitate this powerful approach without retraumatizing.

Types of Somatic Therapy:

The Hakomi Method: Developed in the 1970's by Ron Kurtz, Hakomi is a mindfulness-centered, experiential modality that uses felt experience to access core material. The changes elicited are then integrated into the client's immediate experience.

EMDR: During Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy, the client briefly focuses on a trauma memory while simultaneously experiencing bilateral stimulation (typically eye movements or tapping). Developed by Francine Shapiro in the 1980's, EMDR is included in several evidence-based guidelines for the treatment of PTSD.

Somatic Experiencing: Dr. Peter Levine developed Somatic Experiencing from his observations of how wild animals recover from repeated traumatic experiences, such as attacks by predators. He noticed that after a threat was gone, the animals experienced a physical release of their fight-or-flight energy by shaking, trembling, or running, and then they quickly returned to their normal state. SE is a gentle and indirect approach to revisiting trauma and allowing your body and mind to build the resilience needed to slowly release and recover from trapped trauma energy.

Sensorimotor Psychotherapy: Developed by Pat Ogden in the 1980's and 90's, this approach draws on the fundamentals of Hakomi and incorporates ideas from cognitive behavioral therapy and neuroscience.

Should I try Somatic Therapy?

If you have tried but not found success with traditional talk therapy after a traumatic experience, somatic therapy can help facilitate a deeper level of healing. As a somatic therapist in Pasadena, I regularly use these body-centered techniques with clients for trauma, PTSD, depression, anxiety, and many other debilitating conditions. I also work with people virtually throughout California and have been pleasantly surprised to find that these methods work equally as effectively online as they do in person. If you are a California resident and are interested in trying this effective approach, I'd love to hear from you. Please schedule a free consultation today to learn more.

As Dr. Peter Levine said, "Trauma is a fact of life. It does not, however, have to be a life sentence."

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