Sensorimotor Therapy & Trauma
In the sensorimotor approach, there are distinctive methods of working, one is with trauma and the other with developmental issues. Developmental - meaning most life issues as many of our experiences start in childhood and take shape throughout the life span.
The practice of sensorimotor psychotherapy blends theory and technique from cognitive and dynamic therapy with straightforward physical interventions, such as helping clients to become aware of the body, track bodily sensations and implement physical actions that promote empowerment and success. Clients are taught to become aware of the relationship between the bodyʼs organisation and their beliefs and emotions.
Beliefs are embedded in the experience of the body in the form of tension, opening, movement, habitual gestures, posture, energy and structural patterns. The meaning of these physical experiences often remains unconscious until we translate these non-verbal habits into words. Finding the meaning reveals a belief, positive or negative. Such interventions help to unify body and mind in the process of therapy.
Why work with the body?
The body for many reasons has traditionally been left out of “the talking cure.” While change can occur through narrative expression alone the body holds the wisdom of the unconscious offering a real representation of the self. The body has a mind of its own and it remembers everything. If we can stay with the body and listen to the wisdom it has to offer it provides an opportunity for true healing. What we often describe as body language is the non-verbal trying to communicate something to us, the unconscious trying to get through to the ego-mind.
Loss of sense of the future, hopelessness, shame and worthlessness, generalised anxiety and panic attacks, substance abuse, eating disorders, feeling unreal or out of body, self destructive behaviour, loss of sense of who I am, emotional overwhelm, numbing, loss of interest, depression, dissociation, little or no memories.
The effects of trauma contain developmental beliefs about self, relationships, the world etc. However, the pure effects of trauma manifest in symptoms such as racing thoughts, body sensations, intrusive images and physical pain or any of the above. Because the stress response disrupts general information processing survivors live in a somatic world rather than a world of language.
Current research in neuroscience shows that the imprint of trauma lives on the animal brain rather than the thinking brain. Mindfulness is a key element in the processing of both traumatic and developmental issues. Staying in the present moment and keeping the frontal lobes, the thinking/noticing part of the brain on board prevents traumatisation. As clients become skilful at observing and tracking body sensations, the sensations themselves usually transform into ones that are more tolerable. These experiences like the experience of grief can often find their own expression and resolution.
Techniques for working with trauma are taught within a phase-oriented treatment approach, focusing first on stabilisation and symptom reduction. Practical ways of helping a client stabilise include resourcing and grounding exercises; use of breath; containment; orienting exercises; creating boundaries; the practice of active defence; movement and emotional regulation. If a client wants to work with a trauma memory it is done slowly and gradually starting at the edges of the trauma and working inward toward the core.