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Overcoming Traumatic Stress with Somatic Counseling

Overcoming Traumatic Stress with Somatic Counseling

Are you having difficulties recovering from a previous traumatic experience? If you’ve tried traditional “talk” therapy but it hasn’t seemed to help, somatic counseling and therapy may be your best bet for overcoming the effects of trauma and moving forward in life with confidence and optimism.

What Causes Trauma?

Psychological trauma is commonly caused by extraordinarily stressful life circumstances… situations and events that shatter an individual’s sense of security and leave them feeling helpless and vulnerable.

While traumatic experiences commonly involve a threat to one’s personal safety, any event that causes one to feel alone or overwhelmed can be traumatic, even if no physical harm is involved. Some examples of traumatic events include:

  • Childhood physical, sexual, or emotional abuse
  • Automobile and other accidents
  • Natural or man‐made disasters
  • Combat experiences of soldiers or civilians
  • Abortion or other medical procedures involving loss
  • Sexual assault or rape
  • Death or near-death experiences

This is by no means an exhaustive list of traumatic experiences. Even a child’s learning that emotional expression is not acceptable can be considered a traumatic event, as it leads a child to cut themselves off emotionally from other people and themselves.

What is Traumatic Stress?

Traumatic stress is the mind and body’s normal reaction to a traumatic event.

When confronted with a traumatic experience, your brain, nervous system, and body all prepare your fight-or-flight response for quick defensive action.

If you’re unable to defend yourself by fighting back or fleeing the situation, your brain will instruct your nervous system to freeze your muscles. Your body undergoes dramatic changes in heart rate, respiration, blood pressure, and internal temperature control and you either stiffen up like a deer caught in a car’s headlights or go limp like a rodent caught in a predator’s mouth.

Once the traumatic event is over, your brain and nervous system will attempt to return your body to normal levels of functioning. However, doing so takes time, and it may be hours, days, or even weeks before these defensive mechanisms are successfully removed.

That having been said, it is not uncommon for people’s brains to be unable to effectively process traumatic experiences. In such circumstances, the brain continues to prepare the nervous system and body for defensive action and the defensive mechanisms remain indefinitely.

This continuous preparation for defensive action results in the disconcerting, and often debilitating, physical and psychological effects associated with traumatic stress and post-traumatic stress disorder.

If left unaddressed and untreated, traumatic stress can lead to depression, anxiety, nightmares, flashbacks, substance abuse, the inability to handle day-to-day tasks, and the disruption of one’s relationships and quality of life.

What Is Somatic Therapy and How Can It Help Heal Trauma?

Somatic therapy and trauma treatment does not describe a single therapeutic technique. Rather, somatic therapy describes an integrative approach to healing that incorporates a wide variety of methodologies, including traditional “talk” therapy and body-oriented healing techniques.

Given the numerous physical symptoms of post-traumatic stress – increased heart rate, muscle tension, and aches and pains, among others – it is clear that traumatic experiences affect our bodies as much as our brains. In fact, our bodies are where much of traumatic experiences become stored.

Unfortunately, the body and the physical aspects of traumatic stress are often overlooked and unaddressed in the treatment of trauma, even though effective trauma treatment should address every aspect of traumatic stress: mental, emotional, and physical.

The use of somatic therapy in the treatment of trauma resolves this issue and facilitates healing by integrating the physical, emotional, and mental experiences of a trauma survivor within the context of the safe, trusting, and respectful relationship developed between a client and therapist.

It is important to remember that most traumatic responses occur below the level of consciousness. Because these responses originate in more primitive parts of our brains and in our autonomic nervous systems, using higher cognitive functions to simply “talk through” these experiences is often ineffective.

By using the innate memory and potential for healing that exists in our physical beings alongside our higher cognitive functions, somatic therapy helps individuals not only understand that they can take care of themselves and restore wellness to their lives, but actually feel and experience that their ability to relax or take action is under their control.

You don’t have to consciously remember or relive a traumatic event in order to get help. What is important is that you gain control over and reduce the effects of traumatic stress, reestablish a good relationship with yourself, and improve your quality of life.

While there are no “quick fixes” in overcoming traumatic stress, if you’re suffering from post-traumatic stress, the integrative approach to healing that is offered by somatic counseling and therapy can help you regain balance and control at a comfortable rate, bring the various aspects of your physical, mental, and emotional being in alignment, and put traumatic experiences in their proper place… the past.

If you have any questions regarding this article, or if I may be of any other assistance, please don’t hesitate to contact me at 510-735-8868 or email me at scott@beyondwordspsychotherapy.com. I look forward to speaking with you and helping you create a life you truly love living!

Beyond Words Psychotherapy – How You Can Overcome the Effects of Trauma and Move Forward in Life with Somatic Counseling in California

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