Working with Trauma: Getting Your Body to Talk to You

Trauma affects the body firstWhen trauma happens its impact is generally felt in the body first. That’s why working with the body can be crucial for healing from a traumatic experience. But sometimes, even just being aware of the body can make some trauma survivors feel retraumatised. So how can we help trauma survivors move beyond the fear or anxiety that the body often holds?

There’s one thing in particular that can give trauma survivors a new perspective.

In a recent interview, Dr Pat Ogden, a pioneer in somatic psychology, describes how some survivors of trauma are very afraid to even be aware of their body because as soon they become aware they feel retraumatised. “They feel all the fear and they feel all the arousal, they may start to shake, and they don’t see a way through that.”

She explains how sometimes psycho-education can really help trauma survivors see that for the body to freeze and shake and tighten-up is a natural response to trauma. And that in therapy they can work with these responses held in the body through physical action and through reengaging protective mechanisms in the body. Sometimes a bit of psycho-education goes a long way.

Other clients find much relief through what are called somatic resources. Pat gives a good example of this in practice:

“One client who had experienced very severe trauma couldn’t really focus when she sat down, she was so frightened. Her legs were really tight and she kept looking at the door. So we simply got up and started walking around the office and I asked her just to feel the power of her legs–that her legs could take her away. Anytime she wanted she could just walk out that door and to really feel that in her body. When she sat back down she said ‘I feel really different!’

Although she knew intellectually she could walk out she didn’t have that somatic sense of her legs being able to flee. Because as a child she was a prisoner of her abuser, she couldn’t flee, she couldn’t get away.

Sometimes these kinds of resources can open up the safety that’s needed to work with the body. If you’ve encountered trauma it’s important that working with your therapist you find out why you’re so frightened of your body and then find a way through for example with psycho-education, or somatic resources, or case examples to help you feel hopeful.

When it comes to treating trauma, a key for therapists is understanding the source of your apprehensions so you can feel safe. Body-oriented approaches to trauma treatment, like Sensorimotor Psychotherapy, enhance your ability to read the signals your body is sending out and to form new, secure relationships with these signals, with your body, and with yourself.