Somatic Therapy

 

Treatments for PTSD: Somatic Therapy

Somatic therapy take the physiological understanding of animal defenses (like fight or flight) and explore how that helps us work with PTSD symptoms.

 

Defense Responses

This approach finds a similiarity between how animals respond and the trauma response that humans have.

For example, what’s the first thing an animal will do if under attack? They’ll fight back.

We find similiar instinct in our own bodies. When we feel attacked the might be immediate impulses to clench our hands into fists, our muscles might contract and prepare a fighting stance.

If we can’t fight, our next option will usually be to flee, to get out of the situation. You’ll notice the energy moving into your limbs, especially the legs, energy surging to prepare you to move – to flee.

If neither the fight or flight options are open, most will freeze. Stop. Won’t move. We’ll try to get as still and quiet as we can. The hope here is that the attacker won’t be able to locate us and will move on without harming us.

If all these options don’t work, the trauma response is to submit or comply. In animals we’ll see them falling down and “playing dead.” Animals will expose their vulnerable neck or belly. They’ll act like they’re already dead, cuz what animal want old meat?

In us humans this usually shows up as doing what we’re told. We’ll become nice boys or girls. We’ll be helpful, we’ll submit to the attack. We’ll comply.

The last innate defense is to cry for help. We’ll let a sound out — someone help me!

This innate cry shows up in animals as well. I know when my puppy had his first shots five years ago he cried — obviously he didn’t say help me!! but he was pulling away from the doctor, trying to get to me all while this sad, heart wrenching cry came out of him. My instinct was to grab for him, pull him to me and soothe him. That’s the attachment system at play.

Somatic therapy believe that you can effect change in all levels of the person by changing what is most concrete – the body and it’s mechanisms. These models approach healing trauma through what is called “bottom-up” processing. The idea here is that if you can calm the body then the thoughts and feelings will shift as well.

Somatic trauma therapies were developed by Pat Ogden, PhD (Sensorimotor Psychotherapy) and Peter Levine, PhD (Somatic Experiencing) both hold that processing the trauma at this level of the body will result in a much more relaxed and spacious healing process.

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