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Monday, February 27, 2012

Overcoming Emotional Trauma with Somatic Experiencing Therapy

As a psychotherapist in NYC, I see many clients who are seeking help to overcome emotional trauma. Many of these clients have already tried conventional talk therapy, but they've experienced little if any relief from that treatment, and they're interested in experiencing a mind-body oriented psychotherapy, like Somatic Experiencing, EMDR or clinical hypnosis.

Overcoming Emotional Trauma With Somatic Experiencing

Emotional Trauma is Stored in the Body
Conventional talk therapy often helps clients to become intellectually insightful about their trauma. However, in many cases, it doesn't help clients to heal from the trauma, which is why I prefer using mind-body oriented treatment modalities, like Somatic Experiencing, clinical hypnosis or EMDR, which I have found much more effective in helping clients to heal.

In prior blog posts, I've described Somatic Experiencing in detail, so I won't focus on that here. For anyone interested in finding out more basic information about Somatic Experiencing, I recommend Peter Levine's books, Waking the Tiger - Transforming Overwhelming Experiences and In an Unspoken Voice as well as the Somatic Experiencing website: Somatic Experiencing Trauma Institute.

Feeling Cut Off from the Body Due to Emotional Trauma
In this blog post, I want to focus on a common problem that traumatized clients have when they begin treatment, which is feeling cut off or dissociated from their bodies. The degree to which a client might feel cut off varies. Some clients, depending upon the depth of the trauma, might feel significantly out of touch with sensory experiences in their bodies most of the time. Other clients might feel out of touch with sensory exeriences at times and with. only certain parts of their bodies.

Dissociation Can Go Unnoticed in Traditional Talk Therapy
Very often, in traditional talk therapy, this dissociation goes unnoticed, especially for very intellectualized clients who can talk intellectually about their problems with the therapist, but who might be emotionally and physically cut off from their trauma. If the therapist is not trained to notice what's happening physically in clients, this dissociation is often not apparent to them.

 A client can go through years of conventional therapy in this state, gain intellectual insight, but not still not overcome the trauma. At the conclusion of what the therapist perceives as a "success" therapy, the client is often left wondering why he or she still feels as traumatized at the end of treatment as he or she did at the beginning. Some clients end up blaming themselves for this, which could be a life long pattern due to a history of trauma.

Somatic Experiencing as a Gentle and Effective Therapy
So, if traumatized clients are often, to some degree, dissociated from their emotions and their bodies, you might wonder how they could participate in Somatic Experiencing.

The answer is that, initially, for clients who are significantly out of touch with their emotions and physical sensations, the Somatic Experiencing therapist helps them to start getting these experiences back "online." There are Somatic Experiencing techniques that gently and safely help clients to overcome their dissociation.

As an example, one technique that Somatic Experiencing therapists use is helping clients to become more aware of tension in their muscles.

 For people who are cut off from the sensory experiences of their bodies, they often don't realize how tense their muscles are. 

Their muscles have become like body armor without their even realizing it. Helping clients to learn how to relax their bodies is one way to begin the process of reacquainting them with their bodies and gradually bringing various parts of their bodies back "on line" again.

Often, the parts of the body that are dissociated are the parts that "hold" all or part of the emotional trauma. Somatic Experiencing is a gentle and safe way to help clients to reintegrate emotionally and physically.

 The Somatic Experiencing therapist is observing and tracking what's happening for the client on an emotional and physical level. Before any work is begun, the therapist ensures that the client has the internal emotional resources for doing the work. If not, the therapist works with the client to develop those skills.

My original training after graduate school was in psychoanalysis and psychodynamic psychotherapy. 

Early on, when clients with significant trauma came to me, I found that psychodynamic therapy had its shortcomings in helping clients overcome trauma, which is why trained in various mind-body oriented treatment modalities, like clinical hypnosis, Somatic Experiencing, and EMDR.

 I still use psychodynamic psychotherapy with some clients, but I now use it in a much more dynamic and contemporary way.

Getting Help
If you are seeking to overcome trauma, you could benefit from attending treatment with a Somatic Experiencing (SE) therapist. The Somatic Experiencing website (Somatic Experiencing Training Institute) has a list of SE therapists in the US and internationally.

I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist who is certified in mind-body oriented psychotherapy. I provide psychotherapy services, including Somatic Experiencing, clinical hypnosis, EMDR and contemporary talk therapy to individuals and couples.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist

To set up a consultation, call me at (212) 726-1006 or email me: josephineolivia@aol.com.

Also, see my article:  Overcoming Childhood Trauma that Affects Your Adult Relationships