Somatic Psychotherapy & Somatic Experiencing Trauma Therapy
My role as a Somatic Therapist is to assist you in being present for recovery and guide you in resilience for the future.
You will learn to:
- expand Mind-Body awareness
- ease Chronic Pain
- Reduce Stress and Anxiety
- Resolve and release symptoms of Trauma physical, emotional, and spiritual
- Develop deeper connections with self and others
I am a Somatic Counselor (MA), and Somatic Experiencing Practitioner (SEP) and assist in training new students. For more information on Somatic Experiencing, go to www.traumahealing.org or read Waking the Tiger by Peter Levine, PhD. for an introduction.
I am also a registered with the United States Association of Body Psychotherapy
What Does a Session Cost?
The cost for a session of an hour length is $ $75-150 (sliding scale) consult sessions of a half hour are $30 it is my invitation for you to place yourself on this scale as benefits your unique financial situation.
***It is my belief that everybody deserves exceptional mental health care and services. In negotiating a fee, please keep in mind the value and commitment you are placing on your own growth, change, and transformational process***
Payments are made by check or cash at the time of the session. 24 hour cancelation is required or full payment of session is due.
*Look to the Integrative Somatic Therapies facebook page *
I have a private practice in NE and SE Portland
The Process of Individual Treatment
• The process of treatment begins with an initial meeting in which I learn about your reasons and objectives for seeking help, your personal history, and current health status. Sometimes a personal history takes more than one session to complete. Some clients prefer to draw or write their own histories as a way of creating their story and letting me get to know them.
• The treatment process is always collaborative. Together we will decide what treatment techniques and what pace work best for you. For some examples of Somatic Psychotherapy techniques. Often, Somatic Psychotherapy looks like “traditional” talk psychotherapy. Even though we are talking, we are also tracking your reactions on multiple levels: thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations. In this way, all aspects of your Self join in our dialogue, in an integrative fashion. Most clients meet with me once a week, but sometimes it is necessary to meet more often for better containment, regulation, or depth work.
I am often asked, “How long will this take?” I do not have a standard answer to that question. Most clients want to work quickly to be relieved of their symptoms, but this is not always possible nor advisable. The body can experience any sudden change, even a change for the better, as a shock, and it will not hold the change over time unless it is gradually prepared for it. Whenever a positive change is introduced, there is always some “negative feedback,” an effort for the old pattern to reassert itself. We work in increments, and most likely you will experience periods of feeling better and expand those over time. Termination occurs when your goals have been met and you feel that you can maintain the progress on your own.
What is Somatic Psychology?
Somatic Psychology works with the dialogue between mind and body to help healthy patterns reassert themselves. The process uses mindfulness, which invites the observing, non-judging part of us to witness our patterns, perceptions, and reactions with curiosity. The process of engaging a “neutral” part of ourselves in this way uses different parts of the brain than the parts occupied by stuck patterns and faulty perceptions. In and of itself, mindfulness helps the nervous system relearn to make accurate perceptions of its environment. As perceptions change, nervous system regulation and defense responses change as well. Bringing attention to thoughts, images, sensations in the body, and impulses all facilitate this new dialogue between mind, body, and emotions.
What is Somatic Psychotherapy?
Somatic Psychotherapy is a form of Mind/Body Medicine that integrates the experiential levels of thoughts, emotions, and senses, and reduces the conditioned responses that persist as troubling symptoms.
How is Somatic Psychotherapy different from other psychotherapy?
Most talk-therapy does not engage the body, especially at the sensational and sensorimotor level. Somatic psychotherapy is a term for several treatment techniques that pay equal attention to physical responses, moving between the levels of thought, feeling, and sensation. When we feel “stuck” with a behavior or symptom, even though we understand it, somatic psychotherapy can move it. This is especially important in dealing with trauma responses.
How is Somatic Psychology Different from Cognitive Approaches?
Somatic psychology differs from other approaches in its value of the body mind connection, its conscious use of psychobiological regulation, as well as its invitation to both the client and therapist to mindfully observe the organization of experience in the present moment from a place of curiosity and nonjudgmental. This philosophy, more than any particular technique, fosters dialogue between the parts of the brain that have been out of touch following experiences of trauma and overwhelm in the past. The ability to perceive the internal and external environment grows out of this personal study, and helps retrain the nervous system to oscillate and cycle with patterns that promote rest, creativity, growth, and learning.
What is Somatic Experiencing and How is it an Effective Therapy for Trauma?
One important part of working with the mind-body partnership is to pay attention to trauma. Over our life span, we encounter many situations that challenge our bodies to survive threat. What we learn from each experience becomes our blueprint for future self-projection and protection.
In recent years, it has become increasingly clear that trauma resolution must include the body as an essential part of the healing process. In Somatic Experiencing, a profoundly freeing modality developed by Dr. Peter Levine, trauma is understood to be held in the present nervous system, rather than the past event. Healing accelerates when energy trapped in the nervous system has an opportunity to discharge, renegotiate, and reorganize its locked-in fight, flight, and freeze responses that have remained in the body after the original traumatic incidents occurred. Somatic Experiencing frees us to live in the present, bringing our bodies up to date, and also promotes the lost capacity to self-regulate, and the ability to spontaneously move from activation to relaxation. Because of the inherent blueprint for health that resides at the core of the mind-body being, the slow, careful pace of Somatic Experiencing offers you an opportunity to invite and allow the wisdom of your body to do the work of healing.
Somatic Experiencing is a naturalistic approach to resolving and healing trauma developed by Peter Levine, PhD. Based on his observations that highly stressed animals recover from life-threatening situations through the completion of the “Fight or Flight” response without any remaining trauma symptoms, Dr. Levine noted the same capacity in people.
“Traumatic symptoms are not caused by the event itself. They arise when the activation, mobilized to meet an extreme or life threatening event, is not fully discharged and integrated. This energy remains trapped in the nervous system where it can wreak havoc on our bodies and our minds.”
-Peter A. Levine
Humans have this same innate mechanism for completing the “Fight or Flight” response of the sympathetic nervous system and eliciting the relaxation response for rest and recovery through the parasympathetic nervous system. Unfortunately, when we experience traumatic or overwhelming events, this healthy process is thwarted by social circumstances or the rational, thinking brain that suppresses helpful reactions as uncomfortable. This undischarged energy is held in the body as somatic memory and can appear as physical symptoms. With repeated unresolved trauma, syndromes can develop.
Through proper attention and support, Somatic Experiencing directs awareness to resourced (healing) states, initiating “pendulation” between resourced and unresourced states. Trauma “re-experienced” in this way is usually very tolerable to the client, as it is done in small doses, called “titrations. ” Titrations are expanded and deepened only as the client’s capacity expands. For this reason, trauma work often proceeds at a slow pace, and relief is experienced in increments. Nonetheless, changes that occur this way are more significant for their impact, long lasting, and promote overall health.
What does Trauma Look Like in the Body?
Trauma overwhelms our ability to cope, and disorganizes our nervous systems, leaving broken zones where we seem to have very limited choices. Although our psychological patterning must eventually be understood through the story line of our early lives, neither talking nor emoting can restore balance to our deep brain structures, where the raw experience of trauma is encoded in our protoplasm. If we are able to reorganize this fundamental level of our biology, our access to free awareness can grow. With appropriate support, we can clarify this awareness as our own true nature, and integrate that awakening throughout our existence.
This path of conscious embodiment permits a deep healing of trauma and chronic pain. I have found enormous support for that process through Somatic Experiencing. As we work together, I’ll introduce you to some of the basic tools and language of this elegant, gentle approach that can help you release hyperarousal, physical pain, and reclaim your native wellbeing.
A aspect of the Somatic Experiencing training that Jennifer has received involves the use of SE Touch, a bodywork modality that works directly with the physiology to bring about nervous system regulation and healing.
Traditional psychotherapy does not involve touch between the therapist and client, except as a way of greeting or saying goodbye. This is an important way of keeping clear boundaries between client and therapist.
Touch in somatic psychotherapy is not bodywork, nor does it directly manipulate body parts or tissues. Touch can be done by the client placing his or her hand on a part of the body, or by the therapist placing his or her hands on a particular area for the same purpose. Touch in Somatic Psychotherapy is never sexual in nature.
Some examples of times when touch can be helpful are:
Identifying an area of the body for focus and tracking internal reactions.
Supporting an area of the body to relax.
Engaging a reflexive action or defense.
Resourcing an individual with positive sensation or a healthy body function. For example, pressure on the feet can enhance a sense of grounding.
Calming an anxiety response, by supporting the brain stem or the kidney/adrenal area.
Connecting with tissue memory.
As a Somatic Experiencing Practitioner, I am an Advanced Level Somatic Experiencing Touch Training practitioner trained by Kathy Kain through the Foundation for Human Enrichment.
In Somatic Psychotherapy sometimes it is helpful and necessary for an individual to be supported by touch in order to bring awareness to areas of the body and to facilitate the process of releasing the effects of traumatic experience. The human experience includes both conscious and unconscious memory, the latter of which is held in the body in the form of somatic memory. We can experience somatic memory as vague physical complaints and symptoms, and habitual patterns and reactions whose origins we can’t trace. Touching an area can help us focus and sense what is going on by noticing our internal reactions, either through emotions, thoughts, or sensations.
Even with touch, appropriate and comfortable boundaries are maintained in Somatic Psychotherapy. It is only done with the client’s consent and for a clear clinical purpose. If a client says he or she is not comfortable with a proposed plan, the therapist will not be offended and alternative ways will be found to get to the problem. In fact, saying “no” may be a very empowering and important part of the therapy for clients who have been abused through touch.
SKILLS & CAPACITIES DEVELOPED THROUGH SOMATIC PSYCHOTHERAPY
In addition to the ego strengths developed in psychotherapy (such as affect tolerance, reality testing, impulse control, delayed gratification, etc.), somatic psychotherapies focus on body-based strengths.
Affect Tolerance – the ability to experience negative emotions without acting out, hurting oneself or others, splitting off aspects of experience, or dissociation. We begin with the smallest levels of exposure to negative experience and develop the capacity to tolerate larger amounts over time.
Boundaries – in ego psychology, the ability to set limits with others and to recognize the limits set by others. In Somatic Psychotherapy, boundaries are also the ability to sense the difference between oneself and the environment, including other people, and to differentiate between internal and external stimuli.
Breath Work – the use of breath and breathing patterns to affect positive physiological and emotional changes, such as calming and centering; containment and affect tolerance, etc.
Containment – the ability to tolerate negative sensations, energy states and emotions without acting out, dissociating, or self-medicating. Also, the sense of being held by the body and its boundaries.
Centering – the sensation of the core of the body self.
Cognitive Restructuring – the ability to recognize negative thoughts as distortions and to reframe them into more positive and adaptive thoughts. Our thoughts inform our attitudes and positions towards life.
Coherence – the natural synchronization between various body systems in a healthy or relaxed state, such as coherence between breath and heart beat; between different diaphragms, etc.
Connection – the ability to be in relationship to others.
Defenses – In psychotherapy, ego defenses are unconscious processes that protect the self from distress or conflict (eg., denial, repression, sublimation, intellectualization, displacement, splitting, projection, etc). Over time, rigid ego defenses stunt emotional growth and lead to dysfunction and symptoms. An important function of psychotherapy is to recognize these defenses and to create sufficient security to reach the unconscious material they hide. Once this material is exposed and integrated, the defenses are unnecessary.
Somatic psychotherapy also focuses on the restoration of appropriate physical defenses and reflexes that were thwarted during developmental or shock trauma (eg., psychomotor movements; muscle activation). Successful completion of a defensive response leads to a sense of competence and security in the body, and reduced trauma symptoms.
Grounding – the sensation of the connection with the ground. Usually sensed in the feet and legs; awareness of support from the lower body.
Health – “wholeness”: balance between body, mind, emotions, and spirit.
Mindfulness – the non-judgmental awareness of the here and now, enhanced through sensory perceptions, rather than replaying negative events in the past or anticipating and rehearsing possible events in the future.
Orientation – In Ego Psychology, the awareness of time, place, and person. In Somatic Psychotherapy, the awareness of oneself in place; a primary defensive response to a threat.
Pendulation – the natural rhythm of movement between constriction and release inherent to all physical systems. In Somatic Experiencing, pendulation is also the movement between past events (unresourced state, the “trauma vortex”) and the present (resourced state, the “healing vortex”).
Relaxation Response – the body’s inherent capacity to relax and recover from internal alarm reactions. Facilitated by the parasympathetic nervous system, the relaxation response is the natural antidote to the stress response (“Fight or Flight”) facilitated by the sympathetic nervous system. The natural occurrence of the relaxation response is also a sign that the stress response as a trauma reaction has been successfully completed. In Mind/Body Medicine, the relaxation response is elicited by techniques such as progressive muscle relaxation, breath work, meditation, guided imagery, etc. In Somatic Experiencing, the relaxation response is elicited through pendulation and the completion of the stress response.
Resilience – the ability to manage difficult or traumatic experiences without long term negative effects.
Resonance – the ability to sense in one body the physical energy and sensations of another. This unconscious process is one way that humans affect one another, especially when they are in close relationship (such as mother and infant; couple or family; therapist and client, etc).
Resourcing – the ability to identify and use positive coping skills for self-regulation. Resources may include positive memories, images of helpful people, calming thoughts, “a safe place”, stress-free areas of the body, physical support, etc. The body also has inherent internal resources that assist in defensive reactions: grounding, centering, balance, boundaries, orientation, etc.
Self Regulation – the ability to process difficult or negative experience using the body’s inherent mechanisms, such as pendulation and discharge. Effective self-regulation decreases negative coping, such as alcohol, nicotine, drugs, excessive spending, gambling, etc., and increases the capacity to manage trauma effectively.
Somatic Memory – the body’s ability to hold the physical sensations and disruptive energy patterns of past trauma, even in the absence of a clear narrative or a conscious association between the initial cause and current symptom. When somatic memories are engaged in a clinical setting, they can be resolved.
Somatic Symptom Relief – the resolution and disappearance of physical complaints as the trauma response is completed and energy is released back into the system. Numerous symptoms that can be relieved in this manner, including head aches, digestive problems, pain syndromes, etc.
Stress Response – the body’s innate alarm system in response to a perceived danger, also called the “Fight or Flight” response. The Stress response was first noted by Hans Selye, a Canadian researcher, who described it in three stages: Alarm (when danger is perceived); Resistance (when the body’s defenses engage); Exhaustion (when the body rests and recovers). The Stress Response is highly adaptive to danger and human survival when threats are physical, but less so when threats are emotional, psychological, or imaginary. It is also very debilitating when stress is chronic.
Tracking – The ability to identify, follow, and report changes in physical sensation throughout the body, and to connect these changes to thoughts, emotions, and the release of trauma responses
GREAT ARTILE ABOUT YOGA, TRAUMA, AND SOMATIC THERAPIES
Dr. Levine: When I first started developing my approach to trauma – and this was in the sixties and seventies, so it was way before the definition of trauma as PTSD – I noticed how many different kinds of sometimes even seemingly ordinary events could cause people to develop symptoms that would be later defined as trauma, as PTSD.
And I also was really curious why animals in the wild – because the parts of our brain that respond to trauma are really quite the same in all mammals, including us – and if they became so easily traumatized, they probably would never survive because they would lose the edge, and then they wouldn’t survive nor would the species survive.
“I discovered that these reactions that reset the nervous system are identical with animals and with people.”
So I realized there must be some powerful innate mechanism that helps people rebound; that sort of resets our nervous system after encounters with trauma, highly arousing encounters with trauma. And I discovered that these reactions that reset the nervous system are identical with animals and with people. The difference is that we learn to override it because of fear of powerful sensations.
And if we could just be guided – I know it is an oversimplification – but the basic idea is to guide people to help them recapture this natural resilience. And we do this through helping them become aware of body sensations. And as they become aware and able to befriend their body sensations, they are able to move out of these stuck places.
Because I realized that trauma was about being stuck in these high levels of arousal or in low-level, shutdown levels of arousal and dissociation. So it really became a matter of learning how to help people to contain these sensations and help them to move through, back into life, to discharge, as it were, these high-levels of activation.
And in animals – and in humans – I noticed it [trauma] as a particular type of sequence involving shaking and trembling.
“It really became a matter of learning how to help people to contain these sensations and help them…back into life, to discharge…these high-levels of activation.”
We can help move these people out of these high states of hyper arousal back into balance, back into equilibrium. We want to help people come out of shut-down and dissociation, come back into life, and it’s possible to do this in a safe way; in a way that really largely ensured that people weren’t overwhelmed – you know, that was a problem in the therapies at that time which were very cathartic.
“…if you just overwhelm the person, the nervous system really can’t tell the difference between the trauma and just being overwhelmed overloaded.”
So they would have people with really big reactions, and often people would feel better after that – probably, at least in large part, because there was a releasing of endorphins and catecholamines, adrenalin-like hormones, and neurotransmitters, and so the people, in a way, they felt a tremendous relief, even a high. But then they would go back into the same trauma patterns afterwards.
So I realized that, again, if you just overwhelm the person, the nervous system really can’t tell the difference between the trauma and just being overwhelmed/overloaded in the same way.
So that really is the basis of the core aspects of somatic experiencing. And because it was a naturalistic way of approaching things – learning from animals in the wild, from ethology – to awakening those resilient instincts that exist within us because we are mammals.
Great article for further information
The QuickStart Guide: Get the Applications in One Easy-to-Use Guide
by Ruth Buczynski, PhD
with Bessel van der Kolk, MD
1. Quieting the limbic system
Trauma empowers the limbic system to take control of the brain, resulting in an animalistic, survival-based response. Dr. van der Kolk touches on how we can start to quiet that part of the brain so that the more rational brain systems can come back online.
The impact of trauma is in your animal brain – in your survival brain – and your survival brain doesn’t have words or concepts or ideas.
Your limbic system is like a little animal that responds to thunder by blowing up or biting.
Actually, you can be highly traumatized, and be very smart, extremely insightful, and have it all down.
You might have had ten years of psychoanalysis and cognitive behavioral treatment, but when your animal brain gets triggered by a particular sound, smell, or visualization, that animal part of your brain takes over.
Your frontal lobes will be running like crazy to keep it under control – you’ll be trying to manage that “raging dog” inside of you.
But in order to really overcome trauma, you need to take care of that “frightened dog” inside – and that is really the challenge.
Insight does not quiet down the limbic system.
So, the big question is this: How do you quiet down the frightened animal inside of you?
The answer to that is probably in the same way that you quiet down babies. You quiet them by holding and touching them, by being very much in tune with them, by feeding and rocking them, and by very gradual exposure to trying new things. (p. 15 in your transcript)
2. How trauma can hijack three fundamental areas of the brain
There are three basic systems functioning together in the brain, and trauma can have a profound impact on all three. Dr. van der Kolk describes the three systems and how they can be thrown off by trauma. He also talks about ways that we can help people re-integrate these systems after they’ve been disrupted by trauma.
What I call the smoke detector is that primitive brain area that makes you be afraid – the amygdala.
Certainly, in almost every study of trauma, that smoke detector – the amygdala –becomes hyperactive when people are exposed to images/memories of what happened before.
One of the big questions in trauma treatment is how do you rewire that amygdala? How do you rewire that smoke-detector system?
Nobody has nailed that yet. What we do know is that there is a part of consciousness that allows you to monitor and guide yourself in some way.
To my mind, the real advance in trauma treatment is that we know that you cannot change irrational, organic responses from your body, except by becoming deeply involved in your self – noticing your internal world.
The cook in your brain is the thalamus. At any particular moment, your brain gets input through your ears, eyes, nose, skin and body, and it converges on the thalamus. The thalamus cooks and stirs – the cook is the brain’s conductor that stirs and puts all these sensations together.
When you get in a very high state of arousal, your thalamus breaks down, and what is left are the unintegrated images, sensations, thoughts, smells, and sounds of the trauma that live a separate existence.
Trauma is really about sounds and images that make you flash back – your body makes you flash back, and that is very much because the thalamus is not able to do its job of putting all this together into a piece of autobiography that says, “This – or that – is what happened to me.”
The unintegrated fragments, the “ingredients of the soup” continue to live a separate existence.
In order to overcome your traumatic memories – the flashbacks – you need to calm the thalamus.
How we do that? We do that through neurofeedback. I think that EMDR can probably do that – we are studying that right now – how to get control over that out of control piece of the brain and how to calm down the thalamus.
The watchtower is that medial prefrontal self-experience part of the brain. How reactive you are to your environment to a large degree is determined by the size, the activation, and the neural connections of this part of your brain.
The bad news is that the more trauma you have, the worse that part of your brain functions, so that the more trauma you have, the more reactive you become.
The good news is that the laws of neuroplasticity apply to that part of the brain, and the law of neuroplasticity is that the more you use something, the more you build up that part of the brain.
As a traumatized person, you don’t want to experience your internal world – it feels so frightening.
But if you are helped to experience your internal world and you learn to meditate or do yoga, or you learn to activate that part of your brain safely, then you experience less reactivity.
You become more mindful – you can see things happen and not automatically react to them.back to top