Somatic psychology invites us as therapists to notice our own bodies and to observe our client’s nonverbal communications for signals of safety or threat. For example, our bodies respond differently depending on whether we feel safe or threatened. Under conditions of safety, we feel relaxed, but under conditions of threat, we react instinctively out of self-defense. A body-centered approach emphasizes the importance of paying attention to these changes in facial expressions, postures, gestures, and tone of voice as a core part of therapy.
Somatic psychology recognizes that our difficult life experiences, especially those from early development, contribute to patterns of tension in the body. Importantly, body awareness helps us access an internal source of wisdom that guides the healing process for complex PTSD (C-PTSD). However, we must engage clients in body awareness and healing movements at a pace they can tolerate. We achieve this by strengthening their capacity for dual awareness, in which they remain aware of their external senses while building their capacity to internally sense and feel the body.
Building body awareness can be uncomfortable at first. Clients may have difficulty staying present with their sensations. They may feel restless, anxious, and irritable, or they might feel lethargic, tired, and heavy. In some cases, clients may report feeling numb or disconnected from their sensations. This is especially common for clients with dissociative symptoms.
When working with clients who have difficulty connecting to their body, explore the following healing practice
from my new book, The Complex PTSD Treatment Manual
, to help them connect to sensations and emotions at a pace that they can tolerate. You can use these statements to invite somatic awareness of areas of tension, numbness, or pain as you and your client discuss traumatic events from their history. Not all statements will be relevant to all situations, so adapt these as appropriate to your client. Click here
to download your free copy of the Repattern the Body exercise. You can find more information on how to conduct successful therapy with clients who have experienced prolonged exposure to traumatic events in The Complex PTSD Treatment Manual: An Integrative, Mind-Body Approach to Trauma Recovery. *This is an adapted excerpt from The Complex PTSD Treatment Manual by Arielle Schwartz, PhD. Copyright © 2021, Arielle Schwartz. PESI Publishing.
Learn more about treating complex trauma in Dr. Arielle Schwartz’s other blog posts: Attending to Dissociative Symptoms with Parts Work Therapy
and Connection & Co-Regulation