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  • Writer's pictureEmily Smith

Using Body-Based Tools in Trauma Therapy

Trauma is not solely an experience that resides in the mind; it leaves its imprint on the body as well. Even for clients who have been in therapy for quite some time in order to heal from complex and painful wounds, I often hear from them that it feels that they've "hit a peak," or that they've gained some skills but still are feeling something within that they can't quite put their finger on or figure out how to get some relief. To truly move through the complex layers of trauma, it's essential to incorporate the body-based trauma therapy into trauma treatment.

Trauma, whether experienced as a single incident or prolonged over time, can disrupt the mind-body connection. It can lead to a state of hyperarousal (excessive alertness) or hypoarousal (numbing and detachment). These states are not just mental; they manifest physically too. Individuals often express experiencing "anxiety" or "depression" as a result of what they've endured. Much of the time these are the words that are most commonly used to describe how that hyperarousal (anxiety) or hypoarousal (depression) feels in the body. Incorporating the body in therapy acknowledges this integral connection.

Trauma often lives in the body, even when the mind tries to forget or repress it. The body remembers through sensations, tension, pain, and even illness. By focusing on the somatic experience, trauma therapy can help individuals identify and release the physical manifestations of trauma, promoting true healing. Trauma specialists are trained in tools to help steer individuals toward this transformation and create a new sense of internal peace.

Body-centered trauma therapy encourages individuals to become more aware of their bodily sensations and reactions. This self-awareness is a crucial step in understanding how trauma affects them physically and emotionally. It also allows individuals to identify triggers and warning signs earlier, empowering them to respond more effectively. After experiences of trauma, we often disconnect from our body and sometimes don't even realize it. This can perpetuate the feeling of not being in control - leading to a lower sense of self and hopelessness. When we fold the body into things, it allows for a reclamation of power and possibility. Many trauma survivors struggle with emotional regulation. The body plays a significant role in this process. By tuning into bodily sensations and learning to regulate them, individuals can gain better control over their emotional responses, reducing feelings of overwhelm and anxiety. What trauma specialists know is that emotional regulation must first begin with co-regulation. Basically, we must first manage and soothe distress with others before we can get good at doing that alone. Especially those with experiences of complex trauma stemming from childhood, this experience of co-regulation wasn't readily available or modeled, which is often where trauma specialists begin in the healing process with clients.

Trauma often keeps individuals trapped in the past, replaying traumatic events over and over. Body-centered therapy helps individuals reconnect with the present moment, grounding them in the here and now. This reconnection is a powerful antidote to the intrusive memories and flashbacks that often accompany trauma.

This greater sense of presence, control, and regulation allows individuals an opportunity to reclaims a sense of agency over their physical and emotional experiences. It can provide the tools and strategies to respond to triggers and sensations in ways that empower them, rather than leaving them feeling helpless. When we incorporate the body we acknowledge that trauma is not a purely mental experience. It honors the mind-body connection and the role the body plays in the experience and recovery from trauma. By bringing the body into the therapeutic process, individuals can unlock a powerful pathway to healing, self-awareness, and empowerment. It's a reminder that true healing encompasses not just the mind but the entire being, fostering resilience and growth from within.

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