When a person experienced a trauma, such as life-threatening events, abusive relationships, sexual assault, or witnessing violence, they often experience physical responses and ailments that may last years after the traumatic experience is over. These kinds of responses in the body are known as psycho-somatic symptoms, and they are part of the mind-body connection to trauma. Healing from trauma can be aided by understanding and including the body’s reaction to trauma and addressing symptoms from a holistic approach that includes physical care.
What are Psycho-somatic Trauma Symptoms?
Psycho-somatic symptoms are any kind of physical symptoms that you experience that seem to have no biological origin, but instead are related to psychological distress. When a person experiences trauma, they may not have physical injuries, but they do have psychological injuries that are expressed in a variety of ways. The response to trauma includes psychological symptoms such as intrusive memories, guilt, depression, anxiety, or disconnection. However, the response to trauma may also include psycho-somatic symptoms that manifest as physical ailments and symptoms.
Your body has the ability to react to danger by increasing adrenaline and other physical responses to enable you to react in order to survive. Your nervous system reacts to enable you to get away, fight back, or shut down to protect yourself- this is also known as your fight, flight, or freeze response. After the danger has passed, the body may still hold that energy in the body or manifest symptoms that serve as a physical place for the pain of the psychological trauma to sit until it can be dispelled.
Psycho-somatic symptoms can occur in a number of ways that are very unique to an individual depending on their personal experiences of trauma and their body’s reaction to it. There are some symptoms, however, that are common for trauma survivors to experience.
Some examples of psycho-somatic responses to trauma may include:
- Muscle Aches and pain
- Exaggerated startle response
- Insomnia or other sleep disturbances
- Gastro-intestinal problems
- Immune system dysfunction
- Fatigue or lack of energy
- Teeth grinding
- Psycho-motor agitation or tremors
- Increased heart rate
Incorporating Somatic Healing in Trauma Recovery
When you understand that some of the physical symptoms you are experiencing may be connected to past traumas, you can begin to consciously start to incorporate your physical healing with your emotional healing. Somatic therapy is an approach to trauma recovery that includes a focus on the connection between the mind and body and the psycho-somatic symptoms that are manifesting in an individual’s trauma response.
There are many effective and important ways in which somatic healing can be incorporated into the trauma recovery process. These include:
- Body scan meditations
This process can help clients become more aware of spots of tension and stress being held in the muscle structure.
- Breathing techniques
These techniques can help clients to use their breath to release tension and calm the body during periods of acute stress, panic, or flashbacks.
- Physical exercise
Exercise increases circulation in the body and can help dispel negative energy stuck in the body.
- Movement therapy
Incorporating movement during therapy can help an individual release associated psychological tension in the body.
- Healing touch or energy work such as Reiki
Some clients find gentle touch to aid in relieving tension and pain. Energy work such as reiki may help clients who have difficulty with being touched due to past traumas.
This practice can help relieve muscle tension that may be associated with psycho-somatic symptoms.
Professional massage can also help to dispel muscle aches and pains that may be associated with psycho-somatic responses.
This process involves a therapist guiding a client through traumatic memories and asking the client to note any physical sensations occurring in the body as the memories are processed to increase awareness of somatic responses and help incorporate psychological healing into the somatic experience.
This is another therapist-guided technique that involves moving the client in between a state where physical symptoms are present to one of homeostasis, in which the goal is to help the client dispel stress and negative energy.
The incorporation of any of these methods into your trauma recovery healing process may help trauma survivors to more fully heal from their experiences by reconnecting to their body and establishing an outlet for traumatic psychological injuries to be dispelled from the body. These types of methods can be appropriate for all trauma survivors, but not everyone is the same or needs the same kind of healing, so consultation with a professional therapist is advisable. There are considerations for which methods may be appropriate for certain kinds of trauma.
Considerations for Psycho-Somatic Healing Experiences
Incorporating somatic healing into the trauma recovery process can be a powerful way of integrating the mind and body during the healing process. However, the most important thing to keep in mind when turning to some of these techniques is that trauma healing should be helpful, not harmful, and every technique is not right for everyone.
The comfort of the trauma survivor is of paramount importance during the healing process. This is especially important when it comes to physical touch. Many survivors, particularly those whose trauma involved a violation of their physical boundaries such as in cases of sexual or physical assault, may have extreme distress or discomfort when being touched. In these cases, approaches such as massage or healing touch may not be appropriate. For clients with interest in energy work but who do not feel comfortable with personal touch, an approach such as reiki where hands are not put directly on the client may be more appropriate.
Furthermore, clients who have extreme reactions to distressful memories must be treated with caution and compassion when doing work that involves traumatic memory processing such as titration, pendulation, or body scan meditation. This does not mean these approaches should not be used, but the therapist needs to be aware of their client’s limits and be able to stop the process if the memories become too intense or disturbing. The goal of these therapies is to help aid in healing, not to provoke unnecessary distress in the survivor. All clients should be informed about the limitations and benefits of any process or technique used and be able to consent to participation in the therapy.
Incorporating somatic healing techniques through the trauma recovery process can help clients reconnect with their bodies and incorporate healing with a more holistic approach than traditional psychotherapy alone. While psychotherapy is also an important part of trauma recovery, incorporating somatic healing experiences can enhance the recovery process. However, somatic healing experiences are also not a total substitute for trauma-focused psychotherapy either. A holistic approach to trauma recovery will include attention to healing all parts of the survivor with respect to their needs as an individual.
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