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Aug. 2, 2021

The Missing Piece: Healing Trauma through Somatic and Mind-Body Therapies

The Missing Piece: Healing Trauma through Somatic and Mind-Body Therapies

Disclaimer: This is a long one – take your time and take care of yourself as you read.

For the longest time, my "self-development" journey focused mainly on developing greater self-awareness and learning to think about situations or myself differently. And that's all still important, but no matter how much awareness and "better thinking" I cultivated, something still seemed to be missing.

That missing piece for me finally presented itself a few short years ago: healing through the body.

Since then, integrating both mind and body healing approaches has been the most potent combination for experiencing transformation in my life.

That being said, for some reason I find it quite difficult to explain to people what "somatic healing" (somatic meaning of the body) entails, or what "mind-body approaches" even mean. So this is my attempt at shedding some light on all of it.

(P.S. I am not a trauma expert or therapist, and I'm still very much learning about the world of somatic and mind-body therapies, so please allow me some grace if I don't get it all 100% right. All the cited authors I mention in this post will be listed at the end – these are great resources to check out to learn more!)

First, some confusing, jargon-y terms

Before we dive in, I want to clarify a few terms as best as I can. There's a lot of jargon-y lingo in the trauma education that can be confusing but will inevitably come up in this post. So let's deal with them now.

First off, as I mentioned, "somatic" means "of the body, especially as distinct from the mind" (Google Dictionary). In the therapy world, the field of Somatics was pioneered by Thomas Hanna, who "coined the term 'somatics' from the ancient Greek word soma, meaning body." (1)

Basically, when you hear about "somatic therapies," it refers to healing approaches that center the body and nervous system. As you read more, you'll see how this orientation to the body differs from therapeutic approaches that focus more on the mind and our thoughts.

(I'll also use the terms "somatic," "body-based," and "bottom-up" interchangeably in this post.)

"Nervous system regulation" is also a common term you'll come across in the trauma education. When our nervous system is regulated, that means there's a healthy balance between the activities of our nervous system's sympathetic branch (which governs our fight-flight stress response, etc.) and parasympathetic branch (which governs digestion, relaxation, etc.).

If you listened to my episode "Healing Trauma (Part 2): What Causes Trauma + Why Trauma Isn’t Just About Negative Thoughts," you'll have learned that when trauma develops, it involves our nervous system getting activated into fight-flight mode when perceiving threat and then resorting to "freeze" when fighting or fleeing the situation are not possible.

The trouble happens, and trauma forms, when we are unable to come out of that freeze mode and return to our parasympathetic state where we can be at ease, rest, recover, etc. Instead, all that accumulated fight-flight survival energy stays "stuck" inside of us, causing our nervous system to become dysregulated.

It's with ongoing trauma and chronic stress that our nervous system never really has a chance to come back to baseline (or regulation) – instead, our body stays in this hyperaroused state, often interspersed with periods of collapse, causing all sorts of issues from physical illness to mental health challenges. (So much more I can say on nervous system dysregulation, but I'll leave you with this resource for now for more learning.)

Lastly, when we talk about "top-down" and "bottom-up" approaches we refer to which direction the flow or processing of information between our thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations goes in.

Bottom-up means that physical sensations arise in our body first, which then shape themselves into emotions (as they move up into our limbic/emotional system), which then inform our thoughts as they reach our cortex. It is then that our rational brains attempt to make meaning of the body sensations and emotions we are experiencing, which ultimately inform our beliefs, self-talk, self-identifications, etc. (2)

Top-down goes in the opposite direction, starting with our thoughts, which then generate our emotions, which then lead to the physical sensations we experience. Information can flow in both of these directions.

Top-Down Healing Approaches (Mind-Based)

Top-down approaches in therapy seem to be what most people are familiar with. Again, "top" refers to the mind – and so, these approaches center the mind, often by identifying, examining, and trying to change "problematic" thoughts and beliefs in order to alleviate overwhelming or painful feelings and reduce internal suffering.

In a culture that highly reveres rational thinking, most folks readily get behind the idea of using the "power of our mind" to create change. And certainly, to some extent, this is possible.

Here are some quick notes on how top-down approaches to healing trauma can be helpful:

  • The thinking brain can help calm down our nervous system through its ability to observe and differentiate past from present. (3)
  • Related to that, our rational minds can help situate traumatic memories in chronological order. It's not that the traumatic experience is erased from our minds – rather, we understand that it happened in the past and is no longer happening to us in the present.
  • Also related to that, using our left brain (which is responsible for verbal language, interpreting the meaning of things, making explicit or conscious what we're experiencing internally, etc.) can be helpful for developing a coherent narrative around traumatic memories that are implicit versus explicit. (More on this below.)
  • In my experience, if I've been triggered by something and begin down a negative thought spiral but am not too deep into fight-flight mode, using a top-down approach can help me examine and change my thoughts before they lead into super intense emotions and physical sensations.

Some examples of top-down healing/therapeutic approaches include:

  • Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT): CBT focuses on challenging and changing distorted thoughts, beliefs, attitudes, and coping strategies. It is based on the belief that thought distortions and problematic behaviors contribute to the development and maintenance of mental disorders (e.g., anxiety disorder). Thus, in CBT, the client is taught new information-processing skills and coping mechanisms that should in turn reduce distress. (Wikipedia)
  • Dialectical behavioural therapy (DBT): DBT is a type of CBT that seeks to address dysregulation in the client's emotions, behaviors, interpersonal relationships, cognition, and/or sense of self. Thus, DBT focuses on teaching mindfulness skills, distress tolerance skills (e.g., self-soothing techniques), emotion regulation skills, and interpersonal effectiveness skills (e.g., effective listening and communication skills). (Trauma Therapist Network)
  • Psychodynamic psychotherapy: This type of talk therapy focus on "recognizing, acknowledging, understanding, expressing, and overcoming negative and contradictory feelings and repressed emotions in order to improve the patient’s interpersonal experiences and relationships." In this process, clients become aware of how their past repressed emotions and experiences have affected their current decision-making, behavior, and relationships. (Psychology Today)

Again, as you can see from these examples, there is a large focus on identifying, examining, and changing the way the client thinks (or even behaves) to affect change.

Therapy sessions usually look like the client talking about their issues; the therapist helping the client to analyze their ways of thinking and behaving and perhaps the connection to past traumas (although some of these therapists may never actually bring up trauma with the client); and the client learning certain tools, practices, or education to initiate change.

Personally, I also consider things like positive affirmations, positive thinking, gratitude journaling, and the like to be in the top-down category, since these practices involve using our cognition to impact our emotions and overall wellbeing.

Bottom-Up Healing Approaches (Somatic or Body-Based)

If you've listened to my podcast long enough, you'll have heard me say a few times that while top-down approaches (or focusing on the mind) can be helpful, they are oftentimes not the whole picture.

I'm willing to bet my last dollar that every person reading this (and every person who's not) can think of at least one (but probably more) recurring situation in their lives where no matter how much they know intellectually what they "should" do, no matter how much awareness or positivity or compassion or forgiveness they try to throw at it, that they time and time again experience the same triggers, the same painful or uncomfortable emotions, and the same conflicts or instinctive grasping for their coping mechanisms when faced with that same old situation.

It seems that no matter how much we try to think our way out of those moments, we can't actually control ourselves or the outcome.

The truth is, as much as we put our rational minds on a pedestal, there is so much that it cannot account for or control, especially when it comes to healing trauma. Here are some reasons why this is the case:

  • Our prefrontal cortex (the rational part of our brain) and memory centers actually shut down when our fight-flight-freeze survival response is triggered by a present-day situation that reminds us of a past trauma. When this happens, we get overwhelmed by the feelings and impulses that arise instead of understanding their connection to past events.

    Our amygdala (part of our limbic/emotional system) reacts to these overwhelming feelings by "sounding the alarm" as though we are presently under threat. Basically, our body takes over, while our rational brain goes offline. (3)
  • Our earliest memories in life are stored as implicit (not explicit) memories – thus, any experiences of trauma at that time will get stored within the body as somatic or emotional memories and only be remembered later through the body (not through conscious thought).

    This remembering through the body can be felt as "tightening, trembling, sinking feelings, fluttering, quivering," etc. and/or perhaps feelings of shame, self-hatred, etc. (3)
  • Even when we develop the capacity to store explicit memories (around age 2–3), experiences of trauma (or aspects of it) still often get stored as implicit memories. That's because verbal memory areas that help us to tell a story from start to finish shut down when the amygdala is triggered during a traumatic experience (or when we relive that experience through present-day triggers).

    Thus, trauma survivors may only have a fragmented understanding of what happened or no clear story at all, while still remembering and reliving the experience in the form of physical sensations or emotions in the body. This can lead to confusion or overwhelm, as "they do not recognize what they are feeling as memory." (3)
  • Trauma in childhood can result in an underdeveloped corpus callosum, the part of the brain that enables our left and right brains to communicate. This can pose a challenge for the left brain (which, again, governs rational thinking, verbal language, narrative memory, etc.) to help develop a coherent narrative around what was experienced in the right brain (which governs nonverbal language, emotion, instinctive survival responses, traumatic memory, etc.).

And there's more, but for the sake of time, let's get to the bottom-up, body-centered therapeutic approaches. (You can also listen to "Healing Trauma [Part 3]: Getting Triggered [Why Can’t We Just Leave the Past in the Past?]" on the podcast to learn more about the effects of trauma on our nervous system/brains).

Given the limitations of the mind in healing trauma (i.e., not that it isn't useful, just that it oftentimes can't do the whole job on its own), healing at the level of the body can be helpful to fill in what might be some missing gaps of top-down approaches. These body-based ("somatic") or bottom-up approaches can help in the following ways:

  • Learning how to better regulate our nervous system so that we can tolerate the intense, painful, and/or uncomfortable physical sensations and emotions that arise when we are activated by past traumas long enough to actually deal with (and think about) them instead of shutting down or turning to our coping mechanisms.
  • Getting stuck, unprocessed survival/stress energy unstuck and integrated into our body so that not only is it no longer contributing to the dysregulation of our nervous system, but it's also now a flowing energy that can contribute to our resilience and power. (I know that sounds kinda woo-woo, but stay with me here.)

    (By the way, you might hear the term "releasing" or "discharging" trauma, but I've come across a lot of resources that say it's not like this energy just escapes or disappears into thin air – rather, it becomes integrated within us.)
  • Accessing our implicit memories of trauma to begin understanding "what happened," so that we can then develop a coherent narrative of past traumatic events with the help of our left brain.
  • Restoring our innate connection with our body. Through experiences of trauma, we lose this connection as our bodies end up feeling like an unsafe place to be in. Our senses dull; we disconnect from our bodies to shut out painful or overwhelming sensations; or perhaps we feel everything to the nth degree, which can also keep us from hearing our body's authentic messages (and usually results in us collapsing/disconnecting at some point).

    This all leads to a dis-ease in the body; diminished aliveness; losing touch with our body's innate wisdom (what we might call our intuition, gut instinct, "felt sense," life force, etc.); and not being in the present moment. Thus, healing on a somatic level can help us restore our natural connection to our body in all these ways.

So how do we do this work of reconnecting with our bodies and healing trauma on a somatic level? It may look incredibly different for others, but for me this somatic, body-centered healing has taken a few different forms:

1) Getting old stress/survival energy unstuck and integrated in my body.

  • Breathwork is a healing technique where you intentionally activate your sympathetic nervous system (the fight-flight response) through a specific breathing technique in order to bring up stuck emotions or traumas. During this part of the session, you might actually experience your body buzzing, shaking, etc. as stuck survival energy begins to move. I usually release a lot of tears as well as emotions like shame and grief. Also, certain images or memories associated with past traumas or hurts will spontaneously come to my mind. (Because this is being done within the context of a safe, loving space with trained facilitators, it doesn't feel like an unsafe experience for my body. Of course, others may have different experiences with breathwork. It's very individual.)

    In the second, more meditative part of a breathwork session, you activate your parasympathetic nervous system to come down to a more grounded state. As the ladies at Breathwork Healing say, "This is where the pay-off happens." And indeed, here I have experienced my past wounds and painful emotions being healed, and my heart opening itself up to greater love and acceptance of myself and others. Sounds super cheesy, but I'm owning it. ;) You can read more about my Breathwork experiences here.
  • Organically through my relationship with my therapist (and myself): While something like breathwork might feel like an obviously cathartic experience, I have found that a lot of the "unsticking" of old survival/stress energy has happened bit by bit, as I've worked through stuff with my therapist or allowed myself moments to grieve or be with emotions that were previously invalidated for a long time. I find that in general a lot of this "self-work" can be so incremental, but when you look back at the bigger picture, you see that change has indeed occurred.

    There was actually one time though that I experienced this obvious movement of stuck survival energy with my therapist. As my attachment to her had grown, my abandonment issues got triggered and I feared she would tell me we couldn't work together anymore. After receiving assurance from her that she wasn't going anywhere, my face and hands began to buzz. It was a bit scary, as I didn't understand then what was happening, but my therapist said that the tingling could be my body’s way of completing a survival response that may never have had a chance to before.

    That made a lot of sense to me. I had been in that same cycle over and over again: becoming attached to someone, my abandonment traumas getting triggered, reaching out for assurance, but ultimately never feeling a true sense of safety with the person. With my therapist – who has proven to be a consistent, unconditionally loving presence in my life – I finally experienced a different outcome, which was incredibly healing for me.
  • The movement of stuck survival energy can also happen in the context of 2b (see below).

There are so many bottom-up healing approaches that can help a person get old trauma energy unstuck. Somatic Experiencing is a method involving various neurosensory exercises for this purpose. And Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy has become a popular bottom-up approach that I've been really curious about trying.

Sensorimotor Psychotherapy is also a well-known approach that helps clients carry out any previously unfulfilled actions related to a traumatic event through focusing on movements, impulses, and physical sensations, so that the client can achieve a feeling of completion and closure. (Good Therapy)

There are so many other approaches one can explore. Please feel free to add any that you've found helpful in the comments!

2a) Increasing my awareness of my body's internal experience through practices that engage the five senses, breathing, voice, and/or movement.

"We need to learn to notice our sensations, because they are the language of the body." – Aline La Pierre (2)

One thing I've learned from doing this somatic work is how much wisdom our body holds. There is so much that our inner physical sensations and emotions can teach us – however, many (if not most) of us have learned to ignore or override the information our bodies try to share.

For some context, our bodies have three sensory systems:

Interoception is the internal experience of our body, including our inner physical sensations (e.g., sensing our heartbeat, our state of hunger, or how rested we are) and emotions (e.g., feeling safe, feeling threatened, feeling loved). It’s in this visceral experience where our sense of self is shaped. (2)

Exteroception is our sensitivity to and perception of our outside environment. We take in information about the world around us through our five senses and then use exteroception to gauge our level of safety. The perceptions and interpretations we develop from that assessment then guide our behaviour.

There's also proprioception, which is the sense through which we perceive our body's movement and position in space.

Certain somatic practices help turn our attention to the physical sensations we experience on that interoceptive level. These practices may guide us in noticing our breath. Or we may be invited to look around ("orient to") the environment we're in or open our ears to the sounds around us. Oftentimes, our awareness is brought to the ground underneath us (e.g., noticing the chair underneath our butt or the ground underneath our feet).

In these ways, these somatic practices help us to stay grounded in the present and curious/open to both our internal experience and external environment. And believe me, as simple as they sound, they are hard to do at first because most of us are very much not grounded in our bodies or the present moment!

In my experience, during these types of somatic practices I'm not necessarily connecting what's happening in my body with past traumas. Certain sensations, emotions, images, and/or thoughts related to past adverse experiences can certainly come up during the process. But really, so much of it is about being present and in your body (versus in your head). I've done most of the following practices either by myself or in an online group setting with a facilitator:

  • Somatic Practices (general): Some resources I've used to develop my own somatic awareness include Irene Lyon's online Drop-In Classes and her YouTube videos, as well as the exercises in the books Somatic Internal Family Systems Therapy (Susan McConnell), Coming to Our Senses (Jon Kabat-Zinn), and My Grandmother's Hands (Resmaa Menakem), etc.

    These practices have helped me re-establish an open, exploratory orientation to my environment, which allows for more curiosity and connection (important for someone who has been in a hypervigilant state for a long time); learn to follow my natural impulses (instead of disregarding them, as we are conditioned to do); quiet the busyness in my mind that takes me out of the present; move with intention; and just overall deepen my connection to my Self.
  • Feldenkrais: The Feldenkrais method is a form of “somatic education” that uses gentle movements and real-time awareness of one's body sensations to stimulate neuroplasticity (Feldenkrais Method). During my first session, I had a pretty profound moment experiencing the novel feeling of knowing how my body wanted to naturally be. That ownership over my body, especially as a woman, is something I'm in an ongoing process of reclaiming. The more I can get away from defaulting to all the ways I've been taught to sit, walk, move, and feel in my body, the more that reclamation will happen.
  • Yoga Nidra: I've done this a few times before bed using the Insight Timer app to quiet my mind and get sleepy. In yoga nidra, your body becomes completely relaxed as you follow the practitioner's instructions to bring awareness to every part of your body (we're talking "your right thumb," "your right index finger" kind of specificity).
  • Grounded dancing: I tried this with Joy-Marie Thompson through the Tending the Roots Festival. This wasn't about getting certain moves "right" or looking aesthetically pleasing. We practiced tuning into how our body was wanting to move and leading from that place. It was such a freeing experience and helped me get more connected with my Self.
  • Singing: In the online workshops "Liberate Your Soul’s Voice Through Song" (Thorald and Isaac Koren, The Shift Network) and "Singing is For Everyone: Technologies of Liberation" (Eli Conley, Rooted Global Village), I learned practices of using our voice to heal past woundings. Similar to the grounded dancing class, this wasn't about singing "beautifully" or getting the notes exactly right. It was about singing whatever emotion wanted to be expressed and noticing how that felt in our bodies. It was also about allowing our voices and selves to take up space – something many of us are taught to keep small and quiet.

Practices like yoga, meditation (I've done a bit of this), and many others could also fall under this category. The key though is that there is a certain mindfulness involved when doing them. Obviously, things like dancing, singing, and I'd say even yoga could be done without that much mindfulness – rather, just going through the motions or with the intention of external physical gain or just having fun versus growing your inner awareness of your body.

By themselves, these somatic practices seem very small, perhaps even insignificant in the context of healing trauma. But collectively, and continually doing them over time (it really is a muscle you have to work), I've already noticed that it's helped me become a lot more in tune with what my body is trying to tell me, which translates into some really important, tangible outcomes like identifying my needs and boundaries more easily, walking away from harmful situations earlier, experiencing more joy, reducing my sense of hypervigilance, and just overall taking better care of my mental and physical wellbeing.

Once you become more in touch with the inner world and language of your body, it gets harder to ignore the wisdom it's trying to share with you.

2b) Learning to do the body awareness piece (as described in 2a) but within the specific context of working through trauma.

This is where the mind-body connection has come into play for me. It has been profoundly life-changing to understand how the physical sensations and emotions I feel in my body relate to particular triggers, thoughts, and behaviours that are related to past adverse experiences that continue impacting my present-day life.

So that's why I want to talk about the mind-body connection – because integrating the bottom-up and top-down approaches (instead of just focusing on either one) has been the most impactful approach to healing trauma for me.

The Mind-Body Connection

The book Healing Developmental Trauma (Laurence Heller & Aline La Pierre) describes this mind-body approach to healing:

First, they describe the "distress cycle" that people with unresolved trauma experience: Again, moving top-down, our distorted thoughts, judgments, and ways we see ourselves (our "self-identifications") affect our emotions and contribute to the dysregulation of our nervous system. That nervous system dysregulation then moves bottom-up, impacting our emotions and then thoughts. These continuous loops of information create a self-perpetuating cycle of distress.

By integrating both top-down (mind) and bottom-up (somatic/body) approaches in therapy, the client can work on both parts of the distress cycle. Oftentimes, the bottom-up piece has to begin first so the person can build more capacity to be in their bodies and tolerate the emotional charge of exploring how the impacts of their past traumas have been carried forward into the present.

As the person's nervous system becomes more regulated, they expand their ability to develop more awareness of their painful and distorted beliefs, self-rejection, and self-identifications. In turn, as we become more aware of these "truths and fictions of our personal narrative," the fictions diminish and we are able to reconnect more with our bodies and experience greater nervous system regulation. The distress cycle shifts to a healing cycle. (4)

Some examples of mind-body therapeutic approaches include:

  • Somatic Internal Family Systems Therapy: Internal Family Systems (IFS) therapy is a well-known approach that sees a person as comprising various inner "parts" and their core Self. Our "parts" can have either vulnerable or protective tendencies that often keep us stuck in old, unhelpful patterns (although all parts are welcome and have valuable qualities). In IFS therapy, the individual learns to reconnect and lead with their core Self, which "knows how to heal, allowing us to become integrated and whole." (IFS Institute)

    I learned about IFS through my therapist and the book Somatic Internal Family Systems Therapy (Susan McConnell). I write more about this approach and my experiences with it here and here, so to not make this post any more of a novel, please feel free to read those other posts for more!
  • NeuroAffective Relational Model (NARM) Therapy: Healing Developmental Trauma (Laurence Heller and Aline LaPierre) is one of my favorite books on trauma. It describes the NARM approach including its "adaptive survival styles" framework, which has helped me better understand the ways I adapted to childhood traumas. These survival strategies are at first protective but "over the years become rigid beliefs about who we are and what the world is like."

    I think NARM is pretty brilliant at integrating both bottom-up and top-down approaches. Bottom-up, the client learns to pay greater attention to their body and instinctive responses. Top-down, the client becomes more aware of "how their survival style distorts what they are experiencing in the moment."
  • Gestalt Therapy: This approach "works from the ground up and teaches the language of the Body." (Gestalt Institute of Toronto). Awareness is an important element of Gestalt Therapy – not just cognitive awareness, but also observing what is happening in the body through the senses and movement.

My therapist trained in Gestalt therapy and knows (of) Somatic IFS and NARM. She doesn't always necessarily work with me strictly through any one of these frameworks, but she's obviously been influenced by these mind-body approaches. And so, when I read about these therapeutic models, I think: Yes, that's what my therapy experience has been like, and that's what's been helping me.

Again, these are just a few examples of mind-body approaches in therapy. I'm sure there are lots more that I don't even know about yet!

This mind-body approach can often look similar to how talk therapy in general is conducted (with the therapist and client sitting and talking together). But there are certain aspects of these mind-body approaches that may differ from other therapies, including:

  • A focus on increasing nervous system regulation. Related to this, because these therapists often have training in other somatic approaches, they may introduce some of those practices into the session (if the client wants), like trauma-informed yoga or just simple somatic practices that use the senses to come back to the present ("grounding"), etc.
  • The therapist will pay attention to the client's body for signs of tension or collapse (the main ways we disconnect) or connection/being in the present moment. This is called "tracking." There is an understanding that the body may be telling a different story than what our minds are telling through words. When the therapist notices the client disconnecting, they understand it as the client's learned way of adapting to trauma and explore that with the client. In this case, the therapist might ask a question like: "Is there any reason why it is not safe for your body to let go right now?" (2)

    In my personal experience, other questions that are commonly asked during a session are: "What's coming up for you in your body as you talk about that?" "Where do you feel that in your body?" Basically, my therapist invites me to notice and be with the physical sensations that arise. Ultimately, I learn to stay with those sensations long enough for them to turn into emotions, and then come to understand what they mean and how to work through them.
  • Working in the present moment: There is a strong focus on ensuring that the client stays in the present even while talking about past traumatic experiences. This is to ensure the person is not re-traumatized or doesn't get stuck in those past memories while exploring them. Again, the therapist does this by "tracking" what the client is expressing through their body.
  • Strengths based: These approaches also tend to focus on the individual's strengths and positive resources (both internal and external), as focusing primarily on dysfunction is believed to reinforce dysfunction. (4)

There is more to say on these kinds of mind-body approaches, but hopefully reading these descriptions help you better understand how they uniquely integrate both bottom-up and top-down approaches.

I find the way that therapist Yvette Lalonde explains this type of approach is helpful in showing people that this can (and probably should) be a graduated process whereby traumatic memories are processed only when one's nervous system can tolerate the emotional charge behind such an exploration. (Read more about her process here).

One final thing about healing the physical body...

For some folks, trauma expresses itself as physical illness – from chronic migraines to chronic fatigue, to irritable bowel syndrome, fibromyalgia, etc.

As Dr. Aline LaPierre says: "If the mind does not listen to the body, the body will protest with various symptoms and pain. Sometimes that is the only way to make its presence known to a mind that won’t listen." (2)

If our nervous system is in chaos due to physical illness, that can of course affect our emotions, thoughts, and behaviours in a bottom-up kind of way. And so, attending to one's physical health may be one part of that person's healing process.

Perhaps this also relates to using medication for certain mental illnesses. While I haven't had this experience personally, I know several people who have taken medication for anxiety, depression, etc. in order to get to "baseline" and enough nervous system regulation so they can then do the deeper, more sustaining work.

How the impacts of trauma show up in our lives is so individual and often complex. So what our healing approaches look like will undoubtedly be individual and complex as well.

In closing...

If you got this far, thanks for reading. It's a lot to digest! For me, it's taken many iterations of learning from different resources and doing the actual self-work to be able to explain it in any organized kind of way! So if it doesn't all make sense right off the bat, have no fear.

In doing the work, it's been helpful for me to explore different practices instead of limiting myself to just one thing. It's not about trying every single approach out there (I think that's pretty much impossible to do), but finding a good combination of approaches or practices that work for you. It can take some trial and error and time, but hey, this is a life-long journey! So go at your own pace and as slow as you need to, if this is something you decide to explore. All the best in your own path to healing. <3

(If you have any questions or want to share about your own experiences with somatic and/or mind-body therapies, please leave a comment or send me an email at!)


(1) Somatic Internal Family Systems Therapy: Awareness, Breath, Resonance, Movement, and Touch in Practice (Susan McConnell)

(2) NeuroAffective Touch®: A Somatic Toolkit for Healing Emotional & Relational Trauma online course (Aline La Pierre)

(3) Transforming the Living Legacy of Trauma: A Workbook For Survivors and Therapists (Janina Fisher)

(4) Healing Developmental Trauma (Laurence Heller & Aline La Pierre)

Other resources:

The Body Keeps the Score (Bessel van der Kolk)

Polyvagal Exercises for Safety and Connection: 50 Client-Centered Practices (Deb Dana)

Episode 031: NARM and Working in the Present Moment with Laurence Heller and Brad Krammer (Transforming Trauma Podcast, NARM Institute) {this entire podcast is awesome}

My Grandmother's Hands (Resmaa Menakem) {this book focuses on anti-racism work through a somatic lens)

Dr. Gabor Maté's work on linking trauma with physical illness (e.g., When the Body Says No)