Using Movement to Heal from Trauma

It appears every time we tune into the news, something catastrophic is happening. We are all exposed to trauma on many levels, multiple times a day. As traumatic events seem to be more and more prevalent (or perhaps just more publicized), there is a need to understand how to cope with traumatic experiences—whether first-hand or secondary. Trauma can affect us physically, change our behaviors, intensify our emotions, and transform our psyches.  Often, our reactions to trauma can include denial, anxiety, fear and helplessness. Beliefs, views and relationships can be challenged. Healing from trauma is possible, and this healing can be fostered by bringing the body into the therapeutic process.  As we know, processing feelings and emotions is central to the therapeutic process. Such expression can freely occur, or it can be blocked in the body. Such blocks often occur as the result of trauma, and working through the body can help to foster expression.

Why focus on the body and movement?

  • To encourage feeling safe again
  • To increase the self-awareness
  • To integrate the verbal and non-verbal experience
  • To incorporate thoughts, emotions, and body-felt sensations
  • To work with sensation and movement to affect symptoms and promote change
  • To promote a focus on the present-moment: give attention to what happens in the body as the mind expresses itself
  • To regain a sense of control over the body to develop skills to self-regulate
  • To decrease stress and increase endorphins, our “feel-good” chemicals

Using approaches like breath work, mindfulness, meditation, relaxation techniques, and dance/movement therapy can directly affect symptoms a person might experience following traumatic exposure, including hyperarousal, numbing, dissociation, isolation, depression, anxiety, and feeling out of control.

In a body-based therapy session, you might expect to learn the following:

  • How to focus on your present moment experience
  • Coping skills such as deep breathing, relaxation training, mindfulness and meditation
  • How to identify triggers (physical, emotional, environmental) that may cause dysregulation
  • How to slow things down in the body to maintain balance
  • How to incorporate the traumatic experience into your “story”

Several additional therapies and approaches have also been successful in trauma treatment, such as cognitive behavioral therapy, EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing), hypnosis, exposure therapy, group therapy, sensorimotor psychotherapy, and the creative arts therapies.

Additional resources:

  • National Center for PTSD: www.ptsd.va.gov
  • American Dance Therapy Association: www.adta.org
  • National Institute of Mental Health: nimh.nih.gov

References:

  • Levine, P. (with Frederick, A.). (1997). Waking the tiger: Healing trauma. Berkeley,CA: North Atlantic Books.
  • Ogden, P., Minton, K., & Pain, C. (2006). Trauma and the body: A sensorimotor approach to psychotherapy. New York: W. W. Norton & Company.
  • Rothschild, B. (2000). The body remembers: The psychophysiology of trauma and trauma treatment. New York: W. W. Norton &
  • Turner, S., McFarlane, A. C., & van der Kolk, B. A. (1996). The therapeutic environment and new explorations in the treatment of posttraumatic stress disorder. In B. A. van der Kolk, A. C. McFarlane, & L. Weisaeth (Eds.), Traumatic stress: The effects of overwhelming experience on mind, body and society (pp. 537-558). New York: Guilford Press.

About the Author

Gail Gogliotti, LCPC, BC-DMT is a therapist at our Edison Park location. Gail works with adults and couples. Gail’s specialties include dance/movement therapy, body/mind integration, trauma, mood disorders, and stress management. If you are interested in working with Gail, send an email today!