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  • Writer's pictureFiona Oppenheimer

Healing Trauma Through Sensorimotor Psychotherapy: A Somatic Journey of Recovery - Part Two

Somatic Therapy

The word somatic is derived from the Greek word “soma” which means “living body.”

Somatic awareness is gained through developing a more complete connection with your body’s experience in the present moment.

Through specific somatic tools and techniques that give your body a ‘felt’ awareness of physical sensation that is attached to emotions, you’ll begin to notice and unwind the stored traumatic experiences in your body that block you from being in the present lived moment.

A somatic approach to therapy will teach you how to be in harmony with your nervous system, so that you become empowered with a newfound sense of control and trust in your body’s ability to move away from the over-active ‘fight-or-flight’ response in order to feel calm, safe, and secure.

At Heartsapce Counselling I weave many somatic techniques into psychotherapeutic work, such as:

  • Mindfulness

  • Tracking physical & emotional sensations

  • Pendulation (moving between ‘felt’ senses)

  • Breath-work

  • Guided meditations

  • Progressive muscle relaxation

With ongoing practice of somatic and embodied healing techniques, you will reclaim your sense of security and comfort within your own body and release stored traumatic energies. You will recognize how to respond versus react to your nervous system activations, and you’ll usually begin to notice your hyper-vigilance, anxiety, sleep troubles, and/or flashbacks are happening less frequently.

Sensorimotor Psychotherapy offers a powerful approach to healing for clients grappling with the aftermath of trauma. Unlike traditional talk therapy, this modality recognizes that trauma is stored not only in the mind but also in the body. By engaging the body's innate wisdom, therapists can help clients access and process traumatic memories in a safe and supportive environment.

Grounding Yourself: Finding Stability Amidst Turmoil

Grounding techniques are essential tools in Sensorimotor Psychotherapy, helping clients anchor themselves in the present moment when overwhelmed by distressing emotions or memories. Grounding exercises may involve focusing on the sensations of the feet on the ground, observing the breath, or using visualization techniques to create a sense of safety and stability.

Core Alignment: Harnessing Posture for Healing

Core alignment involves working with posture to promote physical and emotional well-being. Therapists guide clients in exploring how their posture reflects their internal state, helping them develop awareness of and control over their bodily responses. By aligning the body's core, clients can cultivate a sense of strength and resilience in the face of adversity.

Using Your Breath: A Gateway to Self-Regulation

The breath serves as a powerful tool for self-regulation in Sensorimotor Psychotherapy. By bringing attention to the breath and practicing conscious breathing techniques, clients can soothe their nervous systems and ground themselves in the present moment. Breathwork fosters relaxation, enhances emotional awareness, and promotes a sense of calm amidst turmoil.

A Somatic Sense of Boundaries: Honouring Your Body's Wisdom

Boundaries are crucial for navigating relationships and maintaining a sense of safety. In Sensorimotor Psychotherapy, therapists help clients develop a somatic sense of boundaries, tuning into bodily sensations to discern what feels safe and what feels threatening. Clients learn to mindfully sense the physical indicators of their needs, preferences, opinions, and limits and how to make their words congruent with their body language to communicate clear boundaries. By honouring the body's wisdom, clients can establish healthier boundaries and cultivate greater autonomy.

Implicit Memory and Reconstructing Painful Past Memories

Traditional talk therapy often emphasise the need to create a verbal narrative of the past. In contrast, this approach uses a 'bottom-up' approach to memory that emphasises reorganizing the impact of the past rather than creating a verbal description of it.

Trauma is often stored as implicit memory, influencing thoughts, emotions, and behaviours without conscious awareness. In Sensorimotor Psychotherapy, therapists assist clients in reconstructing painful past memories in a safe and controlled manner. Through gradual exposure and dual awareness of past and present, clients can process traumatic experiences and reclaim a sense of agency over their lives.

Restoring Empowering Action: Moving from Victim to Survivor

Trauma can leave individuals feeling powerless and disconnected from their bodies. I work to empower clients to restore a sense of agency through somatic interventions that promote empowerment and self-efficacy. By recalibrating the nervous system through sensorimotor sequencing, directly addressing the strong energies of hyperarousal by teaching clients to put aside trauma-based emotions, thoughts and content and to focus instead on the body.

Clients learn to direct their focus ed attention to the involuntary sensations and movements of hyperarousal states until their arousal returns to the window of tolerance. When this is learnt clients can reclaim their bodies and engage in empowering actions that promote healing and growth.

Emotions and Animal Defenses: Understanding the Body's Responses

Emotions are deeply intertwined with the body's survival instincts, known as animal defenses. I help clients identify and regulate emotions by exploring their somatic manifestations.

By understanding the connection between emotions and animal defenses, clients can develop greater emotional resilience and self-awareness. Wanting to fight back when in a threatening situation but not doing so because that would have made things worse, so for some clients they may have lost the impulse to resist. The impluse usually still exists to defend and protect ourselves as instincts in our bodies. Through interventions that allow clients to mobilize their defenses permits them to finally feel the power and strength of taking action to defend themselves.

The Legacy of Attachment: Healing Relational Wounds

Attachment experiences from the past profoundly shape our sense of self and our relationships with others. I help clients explore the legacy of attachment and how it manifests in the body. By making sense of attachment patterns and beliefs stored in the body, clients can cultivate more fulfilling and secure relationships.

Beliefs and the Body: Uncovering Hidden Scripts

Beliefs about oneself and the world are often encoded in the body through posture, movement, and sensation. I often invite clients to explore how their beliefs manifest somatically, providing an opportunity to challenge and reshape entrenched narratives. By integrating cognitive and somatic approaches, clients can transform limiting beliefs and embody new possibilities.

Making Sense of Emotions: Embracing the Wisdom of the Body

Emotions are messages from the body, offering valuable insights into our needs and experiences. In help clients make sense of emotions by tuning into bodily sensations and gestures. By honoring the wisdom of the body, clients can cultivate greater emotional intelligence and resilience.

Moving Through the World: Walking Towards Healing

The way we move through the world reflects our internal state and relational patterns. I explore in session how clients walk, move, and interact with their environment, uncovering unconscious patterns and facilitating growth. By embracing mindful movement and exploring boundary styles in relationships, clients can navigate the world with greater authenticity and agency.

Connecting with Others: Proximity Seeking and Play

Human connection is essential for healing and well-being. Sensorimotor Psychotherapy explores proximity seeking actions and playful interactions as avenues for connection and healing. By fostering positive emotions and pleasure through play, clients can experience greater intimacy, joy, and resilience in their relationships.

Challenging Your Window of Tolerance: Expanding the Comfort Zone

The window of tolerance represents the range of emotional and sensory experiences that a person can tolerate without becoming overwhelmed. I carefully and gently challenge clients to expand their window of tolerance, gradually exposing them to distressing stimuli while providing ample support and resources. By pushing the boundaries of comfort in a safe and controlled manner, clients can reclaim lost aspects of themselves and embrace life more fully.

A Transformative Journey of Self-Discovery and Healing

Sensorimotor Psychotherapy offers a holistic and integrative approach to trauma healing, honoring the interconnectedness of mind, body, and spirit. By engaging the body's wisdom, restoring empowering action, and fostering relational connections, clients can embark on a transformative journey of self-discovery and healing. Through somatic interventions and mindfulness practices, individuals can usually reclaim their bodies, rewrite their narratives, and move towards a future filled with resilience, vitality, and hope.

If you think you would benefit from trauma-informed psychotherapy please get in touch.

Warmest wishes,

Fiona Oppenheimer

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