Touching Trauma: Why Touch is used in Psychotherapy and what it looks like –
The body instinctively defends against threat and fear of threat. It can perceive danger and reflex to fight, flight or freeze. The body prepares for the threat by releasing nor-epinepheron and epinephrine through the system in turn increasing it’s heart rate, slowing digestion, and becoming hypervigilent in most sensorial of visual, hearing, taste, smell, and touch. When a person is traumatized the sensory system can perceive the world around them as threatening without the individual having a memory or thought a particular fear. The normalized process of shaking off the excess charge that the nervous system prepared for in an unjustifiable threat can create muscle tension, visceral constriction, neurological patterns, and other imbalanced body response that can manifest as ‘symptoms’, behavior, distorted thought, or disease.
Touch is a way to work with the core physiological states of trauma and can help the mindbodysensories or bodymindsensories (no hyphen) to rebalance and interconnect the nervous system, sensory input, hormone transmitters and neuroeptides or the molecules of emotions for a more balanced and calm system. Psychotherapeutic talk therapy using SomaticExperiencing®Trauma Healing by Peter Levine, PhD, does a remarkable job of working wit the mindbodysensories system to rebalance. And yet, I have found that the place of ‘no-words’ in trauma either in the freeze state or early developmental trauma and/or attachment ruptures, which are sometimes preverbal states, touch trauma healing is vital to those who suffer each day out of balance and in need of some normalization, re-organization, and/or stabilization of their physiological system.
Trauma healing touch sessions are done in a variety of ways. A person can sit in a chair or sofa, but the clinician may have a difficult time moving around to have access to the parts of the body that need re-organization. Most healing touch utilizes a regulation table so the client can lie down while the clinician has access to the body. The client keeps his/her clothes on and usually lays flat on their back, although some sessions the client may need to be on their side or stomach. If a child or adolescent is the client, a parent or guardian must also attend the session. Most touch sessions begin by the clinician engaging the parasympathetic nervous system by placing their hand in the middle of the client’s and uses attention and intention to move body tissue to a better balance. While this is a simple explanation of what a session looks like, there are remarkable rebalancing experiences that each client receives in each session.
By Kim DiRé, LPC, Med, SEP Therapist at Healthy Futures 8065 N. 85th Way Scottsdale, AZ 85258 www.HealthyFuturesAZ.com (480) 451-8500 Kim DiRé specializes in Family Therapy, Eating Disorders, Childhood Obesity and Trauma Healing