It may be a bit surprising to find out that our bodies have their own set of reactions during our daily situations that we are often totally unaware of.
For example, someone may be waiting for an interview and begin to quickly tap their foot on the ground without realizing it. Or maybe someone has been invited to an event where they don’t know anyone, and they find that they have been standing with their arms crossed in front of their chest the whole time. These are examples of how our body automatically helps us cope with situations in ways that we aren’t always immediately aware of.
As Jennifer Chow, a registered psychologist at Cornerstone Counselling and trained Somatic Experiencing practitioner, says, “Our body reacts before our mind is even aware.”
There is a strong relationship between our body movements and our nervous system. Somatic Experiencing is a therapy technique that works with this relationship by drawing awareness to our otherwise unconscious, automatic bodily reactions in order to help us access, understand, and heal our nervous system. It is taught very gently, and is meant to help restore balance in one’s nervous system after they have experienced trauma or immense stress.
Jennifer integrates Somatic Experiencing into her overall practice and has found that it offers a way to unlock another side of the whole person. Along with very softly exploring one’s more intense reactions: reactions that activate the nervous system, Somatic Experiencing also draws attention to positive bodily reactions: reactions that help relax the nervous system.
An example of drawing attention to one’s positive bodily reactions is if they were to sit in a large, comfy chair. When sitting in this chair, they could explore the way that their body relaxes into it, and how supported they feel by the sturdiness of the chair. As they move deeper into this opening relaxation, their nervous system will also respond and relax. The relaxation of their nervous system may invite any tension or trauma that’s there to surface and be worked through, which can ultimately offer relief from the trauma itself.
The benefits of Somatic Experiencing aren’t limited to the specific trauma one is healing from, and they don’t end when a meeting with a counsellor ends. While Somatic Experiencing serves to re-balance the nervous system in the moment, it also helps train the nervous system to return to balance more easily on its own in future circumstances and prevent trauma from ever occurring.
Blog post by Logan Hedberg, Volunteer
Jennifer Chow, Registered Psychologist at Cornerstone Counselling. (Aug. 25, 2020).
Payne, Peter, et al. “Somatic Experiencing: Using Interoception and Proprioception as Core Elements of Trauma Therapy.” Frontiers, Frontiers, 17 Jan. 2015, www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2015.00093/full.