What is Somatic Work and Somatic Psychotherapy?
Somatic Transformation is a healing modality that uses relational and bodily-centered practices to help people change the imprint of trauma. Whether in the form of early emotional neglect or overwhelming adverse events, trauma alienates people from others, themselves, and often their own bodies, generating a profound sense of loneliness and separation from humanity.
What creates trauma is anything overwhelming enough that the nervous system cannot regulate completely back to neutral afterward. It’s like the stress gets frozen in time in the body, waiting for the experience to be over with. Even after the actual event has passed, feelings of distress can linger- sometimes for years or even decades. And, one of the mysteries of trauma is that symptoms can take years to develop – which in and of itself can be confusing, and also potentially overwhelming.
The word “trauma” is frequently misunderstood. While the mind is part of what trauma effects, the roots of trauma are held in the body. And there’s no one thing that causes trauma. Trauma is in the nervous system, not in the event. What is intensely overwhelming to one person could be experienced completely differently by another. Another way to think of it is accumulated stress in the body, instead of “trauma.”
Symptoms of trauma can develop from chronic “lesser” stresses. Since a healthy nervous system relies on regular intervals of rest for release of activated energy in response to stress, and regulation afterwards once the stress has passed – it becomes clear how the incessant nature of our modern world is enough to create overwhelm in a nervous system.
Accumulated stress in the body effects many people’s lives – sometimes very adversely. There are the “obvious” causes, such as war, rape, or natural disasters, and those are very serious events to live through. But there are plenty of other ways a person can be suddenly or continually overwhelmed in life. When the origin of these experiences or symptoms is a mystery, that by itself if can be ongoing stress.
The goal of somatic therapy is to help the client acknowledge, experience, and bear reality with a feeling of presence, ease and safety. Somatic psychotherapy helps to bear reality by learning how to ride the waves of the stress response. This leads to greater resilience, self awareness, and the ability to form healthy relationships. When the nervous system is in a state of chronic stress (fight, flight, freeze) the biological imperative is not on forming good relationships but on surviving the day. If one can shift to a nervous system state of greater ease and subjective safety (social engagement) then one is actually in a state where one can form and maintain healthy relationships.
Somatic therapy is a distinctly "bottom up" approach to therapy. In a "top down" approach (CBT-cognitive behavioral therapy, DBT-dialectical behavioral therapy), the client might come in to a session in an agitated state, having just had a conflict with their mother; a typical top down approach would be to explore underlying beliefs, thought patterns, psycho dynamics, object relations, and hopefully clear up the conflict in that arena. In a bottom up approach, I would pay more attention to the underlying nervous system state triggered by the conflict with the mother; I would track the breathing pattern, heart rate, pupil dilation, facial expression, tone of the skin, and suss out the dominant nervous system state (fight/flight/freeze/social engagement) and respond with an appropriate intervention to help shift the state to one of greater integration. Both approaches are useful and when utilized will lead to a similar goal: self acceptance, greater ability to form healthy relationships, compassion, and resilience.
MABT is a mind-body approach uniquely designed to teach interoceptive awareness. Interoceptive awareness is the ability to access, attend and process inner body sensory experiences. Interoceptive awareness is profoundly useful for self-care and regulation. MABT teaches strategies for accessing interoceptive awareness, and mindful body awareness practices that are designed to facilitate self-awareness and emotion regulation. MABT is helpful for health promotion among healthy individuals. MABT is also useful for individuals living with chronic physical or mental health conditions, or in recovery from trauma or chemical dependency, as it provides an alternative to the bodily disconnection and experiential avoidance that can be common and distressing coping strategies for individuals with these health challenges. MABT helps to integrate sensory and cognitive processes, facilitating embodiment through cultivation of inner connection and an expanded sense of self. https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2018.00798/full
Interoceptive Awareness Skills for Emotion Regulation: Theory and Approach of Mindful Awareness in Body-Oriented Therapy (MABT). Frontiers in Psychology /Emotion Psychology May 28, 2018
Somatic Experiencing/ Peter Levine