How does that feel?
Out of all of the catch phrases that can be heard from my mouth during a session, "how does that feel?" is probably among the most common. Somatic (meaning an experience in the body) work, is a bottom-up therapy approach. "What in the world does that mean?"....Let me explain.
We often speak of the three activated threat responses of our central nervous system: Fight, Flight or Freeze. When our body and mind interprets a threat in our environment (the lion in the bushes, so to speak) our mind reverts back to that tried and true reptilian/primal brain of survival. As mammals, the software on this system hasn't been updated to account for our much more complex or simple world (depending on how you interpret it). We take in sensory experiences into our body and if they warrant action we decipher what survival approach we're going to use: do we flee this scary situation or do we stand and fight? And if all hope is lost and we encounter a "mortal threat" or interpret death as a possibility, often our body will go into total shut down mode and freeze in place (play dead for those fans of opossums).
Wake that Polar Bear!!
Thanks to Peter Levine and Stephen Porges, who are among the elite in the study of Somatic Experience and Polyvagal Theory, we know that humans and mammals in the wild do not recover from trauma in the same, seamless way. Peter found that recently tranquilized Polar Bears (no animals were harmed in the making) would finish their threat response before completely coming out of sedation. This would often look like sideways running and physiological stress responses, until respiratory function had come back to a normal level. What this "completion" as those of us in the somatic world call it, did, was reset the central nervous system from the trauma and allow the mammal to resume normal functioning without any triggers or adverse reactions down the road. Pretty amazing huh?!
What do you notice?
As a somatic healer what I focus on is tuning clients into the impulses their bodies have when discussing certain traumas. Because the body keeps the score (thank you Bessel Van Der Kolk), we need less of the trauma narrative and more awareness of the bodies innate felt sense to recover. In essence, helping someone complete the threat response with enough resource or support to avoid overwhelming the nervous system in its recovery process.
Why Somatic Work?
I spent the first part of my career working with problematic sexual behavior youth and families that had endured extreme layers of trauma within their lives. I spent hours in state funded trainings on trauma-informed care and the best practices for helping individuals, struggling with trauma. Although I saw success, which I attribute to the amazing programs we were able to offer the youth and their families, coupled with the amazing adults that dedicated their lives to helping these families; it is nothing in comparison to the success I see in just weeks with a client, using Somatic Experiencing (SE). Somatic work has created a framework for the container of support and healing that I am privileged to offer my clients everyday. It allows me to marry my love of counseling and bodywork into a truly, trauma-informed practice.
Let us relate...
Somatic work allows me, as a practitioner, to facilitate therapy in an authentic way; relationally-focused and compassion centered. It selects the client and their body as the expert in responding to trauma, eliminating the stigma that how they were functioning was WRONG. Most importantly, it allows for a humanness and softness, free from judgement and shame, that we all need in order to heal, recover and thrive!!!! This post isn't a plug for somatic therapy (although I'm a huge fan girl). It is a declaration for the work that has forever changed me as a therapist. And an appreciation for the continued trust, that the people I am privileged to serve, have in me in using this modality. Cheers to those of you daring to ask for help. Cheers to those of you seeking the courage to reach out and Cheers to those of you still functioning in the shadows. #MentalHealthMatters and so do you!