How to Use the Wisdom of the Body to Help Heal Trauma

Apr 05, 2022

There is a new field of psychology that is gaining traction in the healing world and taking it by storm. It is ancient and timeless – but also backed by the latest science. It may sometimes seem a bit esoteric – and use fancy words like "polyvagal theory," "titration," "oscillation," etc. – but the truth is it is as close as the pulse on your neck. It is a field of psychology that is based on the wisdom of the body and the sometimes unspoken voice that lives within. This approach, called somatic psychotherapy, is helping people heal from emotional abuse, trauma, and overwhelm by using the power of the body to direct the healing process.

This approach recognizes that the body is a powerful tool for healing, and that by working with the body, we can access a deep well of wisdom and knowledge. The truth is that the body is always trying to heal itself, and when we work with the body, we can help it to do just that.

There are many different schools and branches of somatic psychology, though the truth is that they are all much more similar than they are different. Sometimes they use different words to describe the same thing, but they all roam around the same territory. One of the most popular frameworks and models is something called Somatic Experiencing (SE). This model has become, perhaps, the best known – but it is, honestly, very, very similar in form to Sensorimotor Psychotherapy, Hakomi, Focusing – and all of the other somatic methodologies. These are all, in their essence, methods of work that use the body’s natural healing response to trauma to help people heal. 

This whole field emerged – at least in its Western incarnation – from the rising tide of interest in the body mind connection of the 1960s. Charlotte Selver, Richard Price, Dick Olney and many others influenced Peter Levine's thoughts and his teaching – and Peter would go on to spread the good word through his own branch of the work called Somatic Experiencing. In doing so, he popularized many of the core concepts within the somatics field and – coupled with his keen intellect and biophysics background – was able to give clearly articulated language and scientific codification to a field that had sometimes lacked a coherent sense of intellectual architecture. 

Somatics emerged, then, as a social-cultural movement and a force to be reckoned with – in part due to the dedicated efforts of Dr. Peter Levine and his merry crew of faithful faculty, and Peter became a world-renowned expert in trauma and healing. In addition to his nods of gratitude to his somatic teachers in the field, he also attributes a lot of his understanding of trauma to his observations of how animals recover from traumatic events, and he has found that they use a similar process to humans.

When an animal is traumatized, they will often go into a state of shock. This is a protective mechanism that helps them to survive the event. But if the animal is not able to recover from this state of shock, they will often develop chronic stress and anxiety.

Dr. Levine has found that by working with the body, we can help people to recover from this state of shock and trauma. SE uses a variety of techniques, including touch, movement, and awareness, to help the body release the trauma and allow healing to occur.

There is a growing body of research that is showing the efficacy of somatic approaches in treating trauma. A recent study found that somatic therapy was more effective than traditional talk therapy in treating PTSD.

If you or someone you know is struggling with trauma, consider seeking out a somatic psychologist or therapist who can help you heal using the wisdom of the body.

And if you're interested in learning more about this technique, please check out our mini-course or Trauma Certificate Program.