Trauma and the Body

Photography: Solitude by Jeremy Hockin

Many people suffer from either physical or emotional wounds that remain from a previous traumatic experience, and sometimes both. Trauma is defined as a serious injury or shock to the body, as from violence or an accident, or an event or situation that causes great distress and disruption. A traumatic experience can hijack the body and break down the connection between mind and body. We may not be able to connect rationally or articulate what we feel. In a recent interview Bessel van der Kolk, trauma expert at the Boston University School of Medicine explained,

“It’s amazing to me what a hard time many people I know have with (articulating what happened). This is not about something you think or something you figure out. This is about your body, your organism, having been reset to interpret the world as a terrifying place and yourself as being unsafe. And it has nothing to do with cognition. You can say to people, ‘You shouldn’t feel that way’ or ‘You’re not a bad person’ or ‘It wasn’t your fault.’ And people say, ‘I know that, but I feel that it is.'”

The body is designed to heal itself, and the brain’s job is to take care of the body. This is good news for many who struggle daily with the effects of trauma. Through compassionate and gentle practices we can once again embody our bodies. “Unless you befriend your body, you cannot become well.” (Bessel van der Kolk) One’s healing journey can begin with the aid of a compassionate therapist partnered with “somatic experiecing,” (explained below) such as yoga.

Therapeutic Trauma Treatments

  • EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing): According to Dr. Amy Fuller, EMDR is “a revolutionary therapy that has helped millions let go of painful experiences, memories, or beliefs. By utilizing the brain’s natural healing processes, EMDR therapy quickly heals many emotional problems and conditions which have been difficult and time consuming to treat in the past.”
  • Compassion Focused Therapy: “Helps people who have undergone a traumatic experience to develop compassion for themselves and others, a sense of safety, and the ability to self-soothe when difficult memories or emotions arise.” (Lee James, and Gilbert)
  • Somatic Experiencing: “Somatic experiencing takes advantage of the body’s unique ability to heal itself. The focus of therapy is on bodily sensations, rather than thoughts and memories about the traumatic event. By concentrating on what’s happening in your body, you gradually get in touch with trauma-related energy and tension. From there, your natural survival instincts take over, safely releasing this pent-up energy through shaking, crying, and other forms of physical release.” (Robinson, Smith, and Segal)
  • Van der Kolk also suggests exploring techniques such as RolfingCraniosacral therapy, and Feldenkrais that “help people really feel their body, experience their body, and open up to their bodies.

[pb_vidembed title=”Healing Yoga for Trauma” caption=”Simple, gentle yoga therapy practice for releasing trauma.” url=”″ type=”yt” w=”480″ h=”385″]

Healing Trauma Resources

Deborah A. Lee, Sophie James, Paul Gilbert: The Compassionate-Mind Guide to Recovering from Trauma and PTSD: Using Compassion-Focused Therapy to Overcome Flashbacks, Shame, Guilt, and Fear

Lawrence Robinson, Melinda Smith, M.A., and Jeanne Segal: Emotional and Psychological Trauma

Denise Kersten Wills, Healing Life’s Traumas

Restoring the Body: Bessel van der Kolk on Yoga, EMDR, and Treating Trauma

Contributed by:

Jennifer Christian, M.A., LPC

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