Trauma Counseling +
Using the Body for Nervous System
Are you struggling with symptoms related to trauma? Do you find yourself avoiding certain situations because they seem dangerous? Do you struggle with emotions taking over and becoming out of control? Or is it a challenge to feel emotions at all? Do you feel hyper-aroused and anxious, often? Or perhaps you feel numb and depressed? Do you view yourself negatively, perhaps with a lot of shame and guilt? Are relationships in any form dysregulating? Maybe you are wondering about developmental trauma, or
have been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder or complex PTSD and are exploring different forms of treatment?
Trauma can be at the root of many unwanted symptoms. It can bar us from intimate contact with ourselves and others. It often takes over our life, or makes certain parts of it unbearable. And if you are seeking out ways to work with it, I whole-heartedly salute you.
Trauma has become quite the buzzword these last several years. While it may be used flippantly all too often, it is nonetheless a good thing to be talking about. But what is trauma, exactly?
In the Nervous System, Not in the Event
One common misconception is that trauma is the car crash, slip and fall, breakup, or sexual assault. Actually, any one of these may be a traumatic event, but trauma is the nervous system dysregulation left over from the event.
When we undergo any event (or series of events, as with complex PTSD) that we perceive as dangerous, there is the potential for lasting nervous system dysregulation.
This is the first important point: perception. The event does not have to be life-threatening, we only need to perceive it as such. And as creatures completely dependent upon others, yet subjected to many forms of abuse and neglect by our fellow humans, this happens all too often. Not to mention driving automobiles, surviving natural disasters, and enduring many forms of illness or loss. Life can be scary, and our nervous system reacts to it.
In the Helplessness
However, simply perceiving something as dangerous does not leave one traumatized.
Trauma occurs when we are rendered helpless in a threatening situation. In the face of any threat, our nervous system produces a high state of arousal in order to facilitate fighting or fleeing. But when these forms of protection are of no use, or are socially unacceptable, our body holds on to that high-charged state because the vast amounts of energy prepared for defense have not been released. Renown trauma expert Dr. Peter Levine once referred to trauma as “being all dressed up with nowhere to go.”
When trauma happens, our nervous system can remain dysregulated for long periods of time. This is true with post-traumatic stress disorder, complex PTSD, and developmental trauma (see Developmental Trauma vs PTSD for a more detailed explanation of such childhood trauma).
Dysregulation Becomes Psychological Symptoms
When the trauma we endured leaves us with a fight-or-flight system chronically engaged, we can suffer tremendously. This is because our body’s state of arousal has a strong impact on our psychology. It is often forgotten that our bodily nervous system is sending constant information back to the brain.
In the cases of post-traumatic stress disorder and trauma, when our body stores the charged response to threat in our muscles and gut, our nervous system is sending a constant message to the brain: we are under attack. This is extremely taxing on our psyche and can show up as all sorts of negative thinking patterns, excessive ruminations, and self/other aggression.
To deal with being traumatized in this way, we may develop complex forms of maladaptive soothing to keep the fear at bay.
It is in this way that somatic (bodily) psychotherapy works with unconscious processes. In my therapy—that combines several forms of mindfulness-based treatment—we work to regulate your nervous system and reconfigure unhealthy beliefs by working with sensation and emotion. When we endure trauma, our dysregulated body becomes the harbinger of our unconscious beliefs about ourselves and the world.
As F.M. Alexander, an Australian actor who developed a technique to overcome habitual postures and movement, says, “When psychologists speak of the unconscious, it is the body that they are talking about.” (See Why Somatic Psychotherapy for a further explanation for the usefulness of working somatically.)
My trauma counseling is mindfulness-based, client-centered, and attachment-informed. Essentially, this means that we work with present-moment awareness, you direct the content of the session, and we are explicitly paying attention to the relationship we form. In doing all this, I draw heavily on my training in Somatic Experiencing.
Somatic Experiencing is a bodily-awareness form of trauma renegotiation that
intentionally moves slow, works with the sensations of the body, and embraces nervous system regulation as first priority in trauma work.
While my form of somatic psychotherapy draws heavily from this body-awareness technique, many other aspects of yourself will likely come out in session. Working with the body does not mean we throw out emotions, story, or cognition. We simply learn to work with them in a trauma-informed way.
This means we learn to tend to our body’s response to our thoughts and feelings in service of a regulated nervous system.
In my trauma counseling, we will work together. All too often, our trauma was not only a result of feeling helpless in the face of danger, but also that no one was there to help us. Or, in the worst cases, the ones we relied upon for protection were actually the threat. In this sense, it is important for you to know that I will work to make this process as gentle and effective as possible for you.
And in our work together, you may find that trauma does not endure forever.