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Natural Awakenings Northwest Florida

Healing Trauma: Embracing Body-Based Mental Healthcare

Jun 28, 2024 11:27AM ● By Kirsten Wilkinson

Terms like embodiment, awareness, mindfulness, grounding, somatics, mind/body practices, vagus nerve regulation, and dissociation, along with concepts like Trauma-Informed Yoga and Somatic Experiencing, are becoming increasingly familiar as body-based mental healthcare gains recognition. Influential books such as The Body Keeps the Score and My Grandmother’s Hands, and experts like Gabor Maté and Peter Levine, are also contributing to this growing awareness. If these concepts are new to you, this introduction aims to shed light on this transformative field.


Understanding Body-Based Mental Healthcare

Often referred to as somatics, somatic therapy, mind/body practices or embodiment, body-based mental healthcare addresses mental, physical and emotional health through the nervous system. By integrating body-based practices, somatic therapy bridges the gap between traditional talk therapy and holistic, integrative restoration, offering a comprehensive form of preventative medicine. The term “soma” literally means body. Somatic therapy addresses feelings of freeze, overwhelm, anxiety, depression, dissociation and PTSD, while also assisting with chronic pain, sleep irregularities and stress. Furthermore, it empowers individuals to reclaim agency and resilience following traumatic experiences or in managing ongoing trauma.


The Nature of Trauma

Trauma is not merely the event itself but the body’s response to it. It encompasses anything that feels too much, too soon, or not enough for too long. Human bodies are designed to seek safety, and part of the nervous system triggers fight, flight or freeze responses when perceiving a threat. If these responses are interrupted and the cycle cannot be completed (such as running away or fighting back), the survival energy becomes trapped in the body. This can manifest as anxiety, stress, hypervigilance, sleep issues, chronic pain and digestive problems. This unprocessed energy—or trauma—profoundly affects mental, physical and emotional well-being, as well as the ability to connect in relationships and function optimally.


How Somatic Therapy Heals Trauma

Somatic therapy aids healing by creating space for growth and expanding opportunities within the nervous system. It fosters neuroplasticity—the brain’s ability to form new, supportive pathways—by reminding the body what it feels like to be calm, comfortable or safe. For instance, if someone runs out of a building during an earthquake, the body’s response is survival. However, if the need to flee buildings arises whenever thunder rumbles, this is residual trauma. Somatic therapy helps carve out new pathways, discharging trauma residue and reinforcing a sense of safety and self.


Moments of Remembering: Glimmers

These moments of calm and safety are referred to as “glimmers.” Each glimmer of calm or safety helps forge new pathways in the nervous system toward overall well-being. This process, known as widening the window of tolerance or capacity, enhances the ability to cope with life’s challenges while maintaining hope for change. It nurtures innate resilience, making it more accessible during times of stress and discomfort.


Seeking Professional Support

Navigating trauma and discharging its residue can be complex. Professional support in somatic therapy provides valuable guidance, helping individuals find strategies and tools suited to their unique nervous systems. These methods can complement conventional talk therapy or stand alone, depending on individual needs.


Exploring Somatic Strategies and Tools

Somatic therapy encompasses a wide range of practices, including yoga, body mapping, qigong, massage, orienting, vagus nerve stimulation, breath work, myofascial release, parts systems therapy, inner child work, dance, tapping, inner knowing work, Somatic Experiencing, Alexander Technique and Rolfing. Whether familiar with these methods or not, exploring them further can provide personalized guidance.

The merging of conventional talk therapy and non-Western body-based strategies marks an exciting juncture. Science increasingly supports what traditional practitioners have long known: trauma resides in the body, and to truly heal, engagement with the body is essential to feel more calm, safe, and connected.


Kirsten Wilkinson is the founder and executive director of Legacy Motion, a 501(c)3 NGO organization that supports individuals impacted by trauma by offering sustainable programing and trainings to community members in trauma informed, restorative movement-based practices and somatic therapy modalities. For more information, visit Healing-Motion.orgInstagram.com/healingmotionkw or email [email protected].


Kristen Wilkenson

 


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