3 Reasons why it is so important to build somatic awareness in trauma-therapy
If you just started working with a trauma-informed therapist you may be surprised when they ask you: “So where do you feel that in your body?”. If you haven’t worked with a trauma therapist yet, and plan to- I promise you’ll hear that phrase on what may feel like repeat.
You may be thinking- “What does that have to do with my story!?”
I am here to assure you- we have specific intentions for asking this question.
Below are 3 reasons why therapists encourage clients to build somatic awareness (ability to identify shifts in their physical state) when working with trauma.
Attachment trauma/ Early childhood trauma:
In our earliest years, memories are non verbal. The experiences that occur during the first 2-3 years of life are called: implicit memories (often referred to as "body memories"). They deeply influence how we think, feel and act later in life-often unconsciously.
When these implicit memories are connected with language they will become explicit memories. Explicit memories are those which we, as adults, recall consciously. In order to get in-tune with these earlier memories, we have to achieve an ability to non-judgmentally access the sensations in our bodies.
Each sensation is a message from our inner selves: when we can access them, we will be able to find the memories which are causing problems in our lives today.
Often when we experience trauma we become disconnected from our bodies. We may dissociate in order to protect ourselves from the pain of the traumatic experience.
Dissociation is an automatic coping mechanism that numbs us and separates us from what is happening in our bodies- it is what keeps us safe at the time of the trauma.
When the traumatic experience is over, it is likely that we will still have some dissociated memories stored in our bodies. This is because of the nature of implicit memory storage. Our instinctive reaction at the time of the trauma was to separate from our bodily sensations so as not to feel any more pain-in other words: dissociating kept us safe. What was once a useful tool may not be necessary in the present moment.
One of the most common tools to combat dissociative experiences is connecting to our five senses. Connecting to our bodies in this way looks like:
5 things I can see right now?
4 things I can touch right now?
3 things I can hear right now?
2 things I can smell right now?
1 thing I can taste right now?
When starting EMDR therapy with a trained therapist, one of the most important things that is screened for is your ability to maintain dual-awareness. Dual-awareness in the simplest terms means: Can you tap into distressing memories and be able to shift back into a calm/present state?
Dual awareness means that you are allowing yourself to be present with your traumatic memories while also being aware of your therapist's presence, safety, direction and encouragement.
Widening your window of tolerance is the key to being able to regulate or maintain dual awareness during the reprocessing phase (Phase 4) of EMDR. In order to strengthen your ability to maintain dual awareness your therapist will guide you in and out of session to practice exercises that reinforce feeling safe and connected to the present moment.
Annabella Lipson, A Mental Health Counselor, incorporates a combination of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), EMDR Therapy and Mindfulness practices with her clients.
Annabella is available for morning, afternoon and evening appointments virtually or in-person at Peaceful Living MHC