Darcy Lubbers, Art Therapy and Somatic Experiencing Therapist at PCH Treatment Center discusses the role of Somatic Psychotherapy in treating past trauma and helping individuals deal with the symptoms preventing them from living their lives.
Somatic Psychotherapy works with the body. It is an umbrella and there quite a few different modalities within that umbrella that different therapists work with. It is something that somebody can come in and talk about things they might talk about in other forms of talk therapy. However, the somatic psychotherapist is really tracking a lot with that individual. They are tracking how that person is breathing, how that person is responding, facial responses, body responses, posture, a lot of different physical responses. And the psychotherapist is also tracking what’s going on in their own bodies, because that gives them a barometer too of what may be going on with their client. So the idea is that particularly as we’re speaking about trauma; that sometimes the somatic therapy can come in where talk therapy kind of leaves off, in the sense that the traumas are held physiologically in the body. So we look at this idea that our body holds a record of our entire life experience, in terms of our physiological responses. And trauma keeps us from being fully present in the moment and so these traumatic responses that are held in the body, we often hear the terms fight, flight and freeze. They get stuck in the body for a variety of reasons and they overwhelm the person’s ability to be resilient. And with somatic psychotherapy what we want to do is help the person to release the stored trauma within the body. That’s one of the main aspects of it.
We want to help them if they are in a state of dissociation or what this model would look at as a freeze state, to be able to come back into their bodies but to do so safely without re-traumatizing themselves by telling their story over and over again. Instead, it’s more an aspect of working with that person to help them notice as you’re sharing what you’re sharing or as you’re connecting with that memory of that experience; what do you notice in your body now? And helping them to bit by bit discharge some of the held response that has gotten stuck.
One of the reasons that these fight, flight, freeze responses get stuck for a person is because in our modern world the kinds of stresses that we’re dealing with can be vastly different from the idea of escaping from a tiger for example. So the modern stresses that we have often bring complications to the fight, flight innate instinctual response that we have as humans and that animals have. And there are often paired responses with the fight, flight, such as a trauma may also include things like shaming or embarrassment or guilt. So these responses need to be teased apart from the actual instinctual responses of fight, flight.
So we work with people to touch lightly to the edge of the trauma, notice what’s happening in their body, begin to release some of what is stored in the physiology. And then we help them resource. So we move back and forth between helping somebody touch into a place where they feel supported, connected to a resource, and then going back into releasing some of the trauma. That’s one of the ways that we work with it this.
Darcy Lubbers, MFT, ATR-BC, PhD(c), Art Therapy and Somatic Experiencing Therapist