Regaining trust in the world after sexual assault is challenging. A survivor may disassociate from their own body in response to fearful situations and in order to overcome the danger. If a survivor suffered abuse in childhood, they may have a limited sensory and emotional awareness overall. Body psychotherapies can help people have a body connection that they never developed or have lost because of sexual assault. Mindfulness somatic healing can help sexual abuse survivors learn to feel comfortable in their own skin.
What is mindfulness somatic healing?
Somatic experiencing (SE), or mindfulness somatic therapy, is an alternative therapy aimed at treating symptoms of PTSD. Many people who suffer from PTSD and other traumas experience living disconnected from their bodies. They may be worried about the past creeping into the future. To be mindful is to be present in the moment so SE helps people return to the present moment. SE is a body-oriented therapy that helps people identify when their nervous system goes into flight, fight, freeze mode because of a perceived threat. It is concerned with accessing the body memory of a trauma–the response to the threat causing the nervous system to be out of sync–and not necessarily the trauma story itself.
Participants of SE gradually reconnect to their bodies by witnessing body sensations and engaging in practices that require them to be conscious of their bodies. A therapist may introduce some traumatic material (without retraumatizing the client) to activate the client’s sensations so that they may understand they’re feeling heavy, dizzy, disoriented, or other trauma sensations. The therapist will then note these sensations and offer other resources that trigger sensations of strength and comfort, helping the client learn to self-regulate when they sense danger. Some complementary therapies include dance, yoga, guided meditation, vocal work, breathing exercises, and progressive muscle relaxation.
How SE helps with sexual trauma
People who have experienced sexual trauma are faced with the possibility of enduring psychological, physical, and emotional issues. It can be difficult for survivors to live fully in their bodies, and to be touched, decreasing their ability to feel pleasure.
SE can reset a person’s mind and body. It can help survivors identify sensations that are pleasurable versus dangerous, and to have a sense of control over the reaction to situations. Mindful somatic healing takes time and is a slow process because the survivor needs to be able to build trust, connect with themselves, and surrender to the idea that good sensations exist. Each physical experience felt through therapy creates a new association for the survivor, as well as awareness around the sensations related to the trauma and connection to the body.
Additionally, SE resolves the symptoms of trauma in the body, the energy that is stuck, so that survivors can end the cycle of trauma. When a survivor is able to observe their impulsive protective methods and truly feel everything that is happening in the body during a threat, they can realize when they aren’t truly in danger and thus, develop a new sense of awareness to be able to let go of the symptoms.
For more information on mindfulness somatic healing, call Trauma and Beyond Center ® at (818) 651-0725.