Last month, Caroline Guhde, LCSW shared her knowledge and practice of Sensorimotor Psychotherapy. This month, Caroline provides tips and exercises that we can utilize to begin cultivating mind-body awareness and healing after a traumatic event.
When we create a safe space & cultivate mindful awareness we can hold the memory of what happened with our present moment experience. This will allow the body to process and begin to integrate a traumatic event. Without addressing the physiological experience of a traumatic event, we run the risk of failing to completely integrate what happened into our lives. We might find ourselves consciously or unconsciously reenacting the trauma and it can contribute to an overall feeling of being stuck. One of the first steps towards creating more understanding and safety around our bodily experience is to bring conscious awareness to the possibility that our body can be a resource for us.
To unlock this potential, here is a short list of somatic resources you can try if you are experiencing some common traumatic reactions (Sensorimotor Psychotherapy Institute):
Traumatic reactions: Somatic Resources:
Shaking/trembling Deep breathing/sighing
Agitation/anxiety Hand on the heart
Tensing/armoring Tensing and then relaxing
As a result of a traumatic event, it may seem difficult to be physically still and present since it doesn’t feel safe to be relaxed. If we are still or calm and not anticipating the next threatening event, we may fear that we will get hurt. This can lead to feeling overwhelmed and anxious. An exercise to try to help bring you back to your body and feel centered is to place one hand on your heart, and one hand on your belly, and notice what happens in your body when you drop into your thoughts and simply focus on your hands: observe the weight of your hands, the temperature of your hands, the sensations you experience, the changes in breathing, and the energy in your hands. An even simpler version of this exercise is to just place one hand over your heart and simply notice what happens to your heartrate and your breathing (Sensorimotor Psychotherapy Institute).
If you ever find yourself becoming consumed by negative beliefs about yourself, something to explore would be to see what happens when you lengthen your spine one vertebrae at a time. As you do this, notice how it feels; does it feel better or worse? You can play with this physical exercise and exaggerate it: If you allow yourself to slump down/hunch over, how resourced do you feel? Notice what happens as you lengthen your spine—what happens to your negative belief of “I’m helpless”? (Janina Fisher, Ph.D. 2015).
You most likely do things all the time with your body that allow you to feel relief and help you to feel restored. You might have habits such as squeezing your hands together, rubbing the top of your head with your hand, taking deep breaths, or wrapping yourself in a blanket. What would it be like to pay attention in the moments when you employ these movements and physical actions to experience the impact they have on your body? Notice, does it feel good or bad? Ask yourself what in your body tells you it feels good or bad?
CTC utilizes many somatic approaches to provide relief and healing from traumatic events, which include: Somatic Experiencing (SE) Psychotherapy, Sensorimotor Psychotherapy (SP), and Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing (EMDR). Each of these approaches brings awareness to the resources we can employ to create a sense of safety, self, and connection and differentiation. If you would like to learn more, please contact Dr. Bianka Hardin at (773) 569-1468 or email us at CTC@centeredtherapychicago.com.