Body-Oriented Psychotherapy or BOP recognizes the interconnection between body and mind and considers them both functional and interactive units of the whole. Types of BOP’s include, but are not limited to, Sensorimotor Psychotherapy, Hakomi, Somatic Experiencing and Expressive Arts among others. Somatic therapy is unique from traditional talk therapy methods as rather than focusing on symptom reduction, it focuses on the connection between emotions and somatic sensations and teaching clients to cultivate a sense of wellbeing. Understanding the unconscious messages of symptoms, becoming aware of bodies and seeking empowerment through a bottom-up approach are all part of the somatic process.
Somatic Experiencing, developed by Peter Levine, is the result of his life long interest in clinical, naturalistic animal studies and comparative brain research, which collaboratively help restore equilibrium, resiliency and support healing. It essentially helps release traumatic shock, a key component in the formation of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Levine emphasized that the difference between an animal and a human’s experience is that the ‘immobility phase’ does not always release in humans, thus getting trapped in the body. He believes this ‘stuck’ energy bound in the body can cause severe dysregulation, distress, disassociation, and other symptoms of PTSD. Traumatized individuals are trapped between their sympathetic (overwhelmed) and parasympathetic (numb) systems. Due to this entrapment, they are unable to trust their sensations and lose their way in activities that are dangerous and compulsive to avoid their inner lives. Levine states that during these circumstances, trauma sufferers are unable to experience the ‘transitory’ nature of fear, rage and helplessness that is designed to move through their extreme sympathetic and parasympathetic states. S.E. helps traumatized individuals dip into their intense sensations for increased amounts of time as they build their ‘window of tolerance’.
Somatic Experiencing revolves around creating resilience and present-moment awareness through fully experiencing our bodies. Although humans are different in their genetic makeup, traumas, relationships and personalities, we all share the same innate healing mechanism and the desire to connect to ourselves and others.
Developed by Pat Ogden, Sensorimotor Psychotherapy is an approach to healing trauma through the body. In this modality, it is suggested that trauma is stored in the body in the form of action tendencies, or urges to act, and that by paying attention to and completing these actions in the context of a supportive relationship with the therapist, the impact of trauma can be released from the body.
When recalling traumatic memories, they are often experienced as though they are happening again as the body prepares to defend itself against danger. When this happens, the “thinking” brain becomes less active, and the nervous system reacts as though it is fighting to survive, even when the threat has long passed. Because of this, the body needs to learn that it is safe in the present. Clients are guided to track the actions that the body wants to take and are guided in completing these actions. This allows memories to be “updated” with a new sense of mastery and control that was not present when they initially occurred.
Sensorimotor psychotherapists are skilled at attuning to the moment-by-moment experience of the client and bringing client’s awareness to their inner sensations or urges to act to aid in the processing of trauma memories. New bodily felt experiences can in turn shift cognitive processes, leading to a ‘bottom-up’ healing process. Clients are still encouraged in sharing their story, with the added layer of being guided in attending to their inner experiences as they emerge in the present.
Curtois, C., & Ford, J. (2009). Treating Complex Traumatic Stress Disorders (Adults): Scientific Foundations and Therapeutic Models.
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