Trauma is unpredictable and can affect anyone at any age. While some may experience childhood trauma during developmental years that shape their view of the world, others may experience trauma later in life through any number of disasters, injuries, illnesses, or other negative and overwhelming events. Nothing about processing trauma is simple, and there are many symptoms of trauma that affect both one's body and mind.
Somatic experiencing is a type of therapy directed at processing trauma while acknowledging not just how one's mind has been affected by their experiences, but also how one's physical body responded to these stresses, anxieties, or other effects of trauma.
The Many Kinds of Trauma
Trauma takes many forms. While natural disaster, violence, physical and sexual abuse, and traumatic injury may immediately come to mind, there are a plethora of other ways that trauma can be experienced. Bullying, verbal abuse, the loss of a parent or close friend, and even a broken bone can all have traumatic implications. Because of the many different types of trauma, it is something that many people suffer from, and having a way to address the effects of trauma on one's body and mind is imperative when creating a plan to move through these experiences and shape a healthier future.
The Physical and Mental Sides of Trauma
Trauma can have a myriad of effects on an individual. Anxiety, depression, panic, guilt, doubt, and much more can all continuously impact one's daily routine and mental health. However, there is also a physical side to trauma. Beyond any injuries incurred from the event, one's physical responses to trauma can continue to be pervasive throughout daily life. An increased heart rate, irregular breathing, and more are all physiological reactions to the lingering effects of trauma, and overcoming one's experiences on both the physical and mental side is necessary for creating a healthy approach to healing.
What Is Somatic Experiencing?
Somatic experiencing is a recovery strategy directed at both the physical and emotional effects of trauma. The practice incorporates elements of talk therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy, addressing the mental and emotional impacts of trauma, and combines them with grounding strategies, mindfulness, and breathing strategies to moderate one's physical responses. By addressing both of these dimensions simultaneously, practitioners of somatic experiencing can get a complete picture of how trauma has affected them, better informing more specific strategies to continue coping with its effects in their unique situation.
During a somatic experiencing session, practitioners are guided through small memories of traumatic experiences, introducing manageable recollections of trauma in order to gauge one's physical and mental responses to the stimuli. Practicing this can help those in recovery better understand the effects of trauma, as well as begin to establish mental boundaries. This also helps practitioners situate themselves in the present moment and focus on their responses rather than feeling overwhelmed by unnecessary outside stress.
The revisiting of past traumas is closely monitored by a professional, picking up on small, subtle physical responses that one may not even be aware of, providing comfort, and helping an individual navigate these experiences with a degree of safety while providing support if such recollections create too much distress. This combination of attunement to one's emotions, physiological responses, and supportive atmosphere are all crucial to using somatic experiencing to its best effects.
The Power of Listening
The body can be acutely aware of how it feels, even if one's mind isn't aware of it. Subtle physical responses, such as the clenching of fists, crossing one's arms, or small twitches of one's leg can all be indicative of some kind of distress, and somatic experiencing not only looks to help individuals become aware of these responses, but also to begin using this information to monitor one's progress throughout recovery. Combining this with additional talk therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy – an approach that helps an individual better understand the connection between one's thoughts and actions – one can achieve a better degree of awareness of the effects of trauma, as well as the power one has to change their situation, responses, and behaviors.
Building Upon Somatic Experiencing
Somatic experiencing can continue to be built upon as an individual further explores their transformation throughout recovery. While achieving a degree of mindfulness and awareness of one's body can manifest as an exploration of traumatic experiences, the use of this kinesthetic awareness can branch into other therapeutic modalities, from sports to dance, yoga, and more, where the mindfulness practices utilized can develop into meditation or other internally-focused modalities. Somatic experiences are a way to begin to understand all dimensions of trauma and work to introduce many essential skills while providing a base where one can continue to build and personalize their own future in recovery.