Somatic Experiencing and ptsd

Somatic Experiencing and PTSD

Somatic Experiencing Therapy views traumatic stress ( the TS part of PTSD ) as an imbalanced emotional regulation, and in some cases, disrupts the internal world of the client. Somatic Experiencing in addressing PTSD will require processing material from the past in a sequentially safe way, staying clear of directing too much emphasis on the core of the trauma. To enter into the core vortex of traumatic material without enough resources, or internally established resiliency, will re-traumatize the client, and further reinforce a sense of pain, confusion, hopelessness, and dissociation as defensive coping strategies. (Read Working with PTSD for more on symptomology.)

Many mental health approaches to treatment of PTSD – Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, fail in this regard, going in too soon without measuring client’s resiliency, facilitating a cathartic release of energy without effecting change on core somatic organization. Often this is the cause of traditional psychotherapy failures, namely over cathartic emotional release. Client’s may report feeling amazing after such a session, but quickly swing back into the original somatic defense and emotional pain of internal accumulative stress. For some client struggling with PTSD these temporary cathartic releases will exacerbate, and further drag out the recovery from symptoms.

Somatic Experiencing addresses with sensitivity the deep physiological mind/body effects. PTSD is in it’s simplest terms a disruption to the survival biology of the organism. Responsive biology relating to the death of the organism triggers deep nervous system processes, particularly the reptilian, older brain stem running through the spinal chord, and instinctual nerve center responsible for fight, flight, or flee behavior. PSTD occurs when life-threatening events are incurred without enough support to manage them. Obviously there are roots here to complex trauma, trauma resulting from the abuse of the care-giver. However, the loss of support in most PTSD cases is a result of the bodies own inability to manage the on-coming threat, as in war, rape, car accidents, surgical procedures, abuse, physical accidents, assault, or natural disasters. Getting the support you need will require finding a therapist who can include the body and it’s powerful self-healing functions in resolving intense states of stress.

For lasting resolution of PTSD somatic approaches to treatment are required. Somatic Experiencing works across the board for traumatized patients, building up a client’s resources, inviting them deeper into their bodies, and at their own pace, carefully processing events at the edges of the trauma vortex. Working with traumatic stress in this way facilitates resolution of flashbacks and other intrusive symptoms, completing the cycle of arousal symptoms into a constructive narrative of the traumatic event in full, compassionate, clarity, allocating the intrusive and highly charged energetic material to the past where it belongs. Peter Levine, founder of Somatic Experiencing, explains in his book, ‘Waking the Tiger’, that healing from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) frees up the trapped survival energy in the body, resolving symptoms of dissociation, flashbacks, nightmares, anxiety, addiction, depression, social phobias, intrusive thoughts, hyper-vigilance, and emotional reactivity.

A major underlying difficultly in healing from trauma is the emotional pain. Post-traumatic stress remains in the body because of an overwhelming emotional experience. To experience the overwhelming feelings, a little bit at a time, in the comfort of a safe, and reliable therapist, begins to thaw the symptoms of avoiding the internal and avoided emotional experience. Working in this way can feel empowering. When we realize we can be in control of our feelings we feel a sense of hope, joy, and peace. Many traumatic experiences occur in relationship. If this is the case, the greatest sense of healing will come through a corrective experience, in relationship with someone warm, caring, protective, and knowledgeable of the process. Going at a pace that feels right to you will instill a further sense of control, safety, and trust. A therapist can help you identify triggers that bring on PTSD symptoms, and how to avoid them until you are no longer bothered or affected by them. The emotional component in healing PTSD is important but not comprehensive. A somatic component is also required. There have been many evolving therapies for the treatment of trauma. Currently, somatic therapy has been used to address PTSD in the body, since that is where the traumatic experience lives, in the form of accumulative stress. Talking about a traumatic experience can sometimes re-traumatize a client. Somatic therapists know only to talk when the body is able to process. Processing small bits of the story at a time allows for a sense of safety, awareness, and pace to integrate and resolve traumatic memories. For this same reason, exposure therapy as a treatment is being replaced by new somatic approaches, avoiding too much exposure, or cathartic releases and the hazard they potentiate.

Symptoms of PTSD.

Somatic symptoms from PTSD may not be experienced right away. It could take days, months, or even years for the full effect of having been in a traumatic event to surface, such as dizziness, headaches, panic attacks, insomnia, dissociation, flashbacks, or tightness in the body. Experiencing the traumatic event over and over leads to anxiety and easily escalating panic, chronic worry, mental rumination, and physiological activation such as a pounding heart, difficultly breathing, muscle tension, sweating, nausea, or asthma.
Some behavioral symptoms of post traumatic stress include avoiding activities or other elements that remind you of the trauma. Carrying around so much internal stress may lead to symptoms of depression, loosing interest in activities that would otherwise bring joy and meaning, feeling hopeless about the future. It is common to feel agitated, on edge, jumpy, irritable, sensitive to sound, light, common every day conversations, or routines. You may have outbursts of anger or sorrow. Without support you may try to understand on your own, which could lead to symptoms of self-blame, negative self talk about what you could have done different, which can lead to isolation, depression, or apathy.

The most common symptoms of PTSD are dissociation, somatization, and emotional deregulation. Healing trauma will require working on the cognitive level, orientation to the present, allowing for somatic experiences to be felt in titration, such physical symptoms of shaking, gripping, bracing, and strengthening affective capacity to the arising felt memory sensations.

Physical symptoms from PTSD are rooted in the resulting accumulative stress impressions of the original trauma, which deregulate and tax the nervous system straining to manage the heightened amount of stress. In particular traumatic stress symptoms result from the adrenal fatigue, resulting from over working adrenal glands, weighing down vital health functions such as digestion, full blood circulation, and simple pleasure releasing chemicals in the brain.
Some common ways PTSD presents itself can be broken down into three groups, intrusive, avoidance, and hyper-arousal. Intrusive experiences of PTSD are expressed as nightmares, visual or auditory flashbacks, sensations, and other triggers of the original experience being thrust into current time consciousness out of context from the original event. Avoidance expressions of PTSD can be seen in the way we start to limit our life exposure to anything that could resemble elements of the original trauma, such if it was a car accident with a white car, avoiding getting into a car, avoiding busy street, avoiding people who are wearing the color white, avoiding television as cars may be seen, even avoiding the sound of cars on the street outside. Hyper-arousal forms of PTSD are expressed as physiological arousal symptoms, increased heart rate, jump, startle responses, being easily frightened, on edge, having racing thoughts, and being sensitized, hence easily overwhelmed, by stress.

Group therapy in the treatment of PTSD.

The main benefit of group therapy is the normalization of hearing your story or symptoms reflected back as also the experience of others. Sharing in a group with others can be very supportive to some clients in the later stages of healing. Some therapy groups for clients struggling with PTSD are; stress management group, rape or assault survivors group, group for batters, groups for women who have been battered, domestic violence support groups, addiction recovery groups, veterans support groups, and groups for survivors of child abuse, neglect, or growing up with an alcoholic parent. As you feel comfortable with the group you may start to open up and share your story, piecing together your personal struggle with PTSD, and through the empathy, companionship, and support of the group, deepen your sense of acceptance, compassion, and kindness towards yourself. Through the experience of sharing with others who understand what you have been through, you can heal from the sense of shame and loneliness that comes up in isolation, as well as heal from the feelings of fear, guilt, chronic anger, or rage. Healing from these feelings allows us to live more and more in the present moment, allocating the post-traumatic stress to the past, and moving forward in connection, friendship, and understanding.

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