When we experience trauma, it is an experience of both the body and the mind. The mind and body affect each other more than is usually recognized, so it’s not a surprise that trauma leaves its mark on both. Many people who experience a traumatic event are not the same after the event occurs because of the mental and emotional scars that such an experience leaves behind. These scars often manifest as what is known as PTSD, which can lead to deteriorating relationships, poor mental health, and even declining physical health. Unfortunately, many PTSD treatments, though effective in their scope, address only one aspect of the disorder. Psychological treatments, such as cognitive therapy and psychotherapy, only concentrate on the cognitive and emotional details, while physical remedies, like medication, only deal with the physical and bodily problems that arise.
Luckily, a complementary approach to PTSD management has begun to make headway in the study of the disorder. Somatic Therapy seeks to manage PTSD symptoms through a combined focus on the body and mind during treatment. The success that Somatic Therapy has had in recent years shows that the relationship between bodily and mental health is much more significant than previously thought. But what is PTSD and how does Somatic Therapy approach its treatment?
What Is PTSD?
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, can occur after a person witnesses or experiences traumatic event. This can be a single or multiple-event experience or complex developmental trauma. One way of defining trauma is that your capacity to adapt is overwhelmed. Inability to adapt manifests through cognitive symptoms such as flashbacks, hallucinations, and nightmares; emotional and behavioral symptoms such as increased irritability, outbursts of anger, and increased edginess; physical symptoms such as high blood pressure, rapid breathing, and nausea; and interpersonal difficulties such as the avoidance of people and places, which can lead to further feelings of isolation. Sufferers of PTSD and their families know that the challenges associated with the disorder can have an adverse effect on relationships and quality of life. The ability to self-regulate emotions, attention, thought, behavior and social functioning is interrupted. Trauma is traumatic because it overwhelms the system and its ability to maintain integration. Thankfully, there are many treatments for PTSD, ranging from therapy to medication, both of which can vastly improve sufferers’ mental and physical health and emotional outlook. In combination with one or more of these treatments, Somatic Therapy can help to heal trauma sufferers, both physically and mentally.
“Integration is the pathway of healing for trauma…the lack of integration happens whenever we split off some aspect of our experience” –Dan Siegel
How Somatic Education Therapy Can Help
Like other therapies and treatments for PTSD, Somatic Therapy attempts to help a move the client past their negative and traumatic experiences, though Somatic Therapy acknowledges the importance of the body and the patient’s memory of his or her body during trauma. The first step in integration is establishing a therapeutic relationship where the client can feel sufficiently safe. During a typical session, the therapist guides the client to look at what elements of the client’s experience have been spilt off. Or, what has been shut down because the capacity to adapt was overwhelmed. Next, it is through attention –a mental process that is embodied directly through one’s nervous system – that allows the clients to focus or keep track of, and relate to the therapist what bodily sensations occur. These feelings, if they trigger negative physical associations with the traumatic event, are then worked through at length by the therapist and client. By re-working through these feelings and bodily responses, Somatic Therapy hopes to decrease tension and improve symptoms—physical, cognitive, emotional, and otherwise.
The success of Somatic Therapy in recent years in treating disorders such as PTSD suggests that there is more to the body-mind connection than has been previously thought. The Somatic Education taught at Montgomery Somatics is in a great position to improve the lives of those who hope to increase their bodily awareness and improve their overall health.
In honor of PTSD Awareness Month, we hope that you will join us at MontgomerySomatics.com in recognizing and learning more about this devastating disorder. If you suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, contact a medical professional for help and ask whether Somatic Education Therapy might be right for you. To learn more about how body movement, emotions, and cognition are interrelated and how all of them affect your health, call Montgomery Somatics.
Carol is a physical therapist, a co-creator of Integral Human Gait theory, a certified Feldenkrais practitioner, and a Senior Trainer in Movement Intelligence. Focus, Align, Teach and Inspire! These qualities not only describe her work, but they also describe her presence. She is passionate when it comes to reconnecting learning with human function and health. Carol is in private practice at MontgomerySomatics.com in Columbus, Indiana.