Somatic Therapy for Healing Trauma
An Interview with Therapist Myles Downes, MFT
by Jaleh Weber
Are you having a difficult time recovering from a trauma that you have experienced in your life? Have you tried traditional talk therapy but it just doesn't seem to help you heal from your trauma? If you answered, "yes" then somatic therapy might be the plan for you. To help understand what somatic therapy is and how somatic therapy can help heal trauma, I have interviewed therapist Myles Downes MFT.
Tell me a little bit about yourself.
"I'm a 50-year-old, gay male MFT in private practice in San Francisco. I've worked in the field for 15 years but just got licensed last year. My primary orientation to therapy is experiential-based, much of which includes somatic aspects."
What type of impact can trauma have on someone's overall life?
"Trauma can be incredibly debilitating. Decreasing one's enjoyment of life, ruining one's quality of existence, and contributing to other conditions such as depression, anxiety and exhaustion. If the trauma is severe enough, there can be flashbacks, nightmares, and the inability to handle day-to-day responsibilities to the point where one's life is completely disrupted. One of the saddest aspects of this is that quite often the individual feels that they should be strong enough, motivated enough and whatever enough to resolve the trauma on their own, and when they find themselves unable to do so they often experience extreme dips in their self image and a tendency to lose faith in themselves."
What is somatic therapy?
"Well, I'm sure you can find the official definition out there easily enough, so I will answer based on my own take on it. I define somatic therapy to be therapy that is rooted in experience, specifically in the way that experience is manifested in the physical self. The body has its own innate knowledge, memory and wisdom, and somatic therapy attempts to tap into that wellspring of potential healing and transformation. There are many different ways to do this, but I mostly focus on how experiences leave their mark on the body and on the potential for movement that is available just under the surface, the potential for direct visceral experience to assist someone in becoming "unstuck". Often they have become stuck after trying to resolve their concerns via more traditional talk therapy means, and have gotten to a place where just talking about things isn't enough."
How can somatic therapy help heal someone who has experienced trauma?
"Since the body is where much traumatic experience gets stored, it makes more sense to go directly to the source. Trauma is often understood these days as an uncompleted action, an inability at some past moment to act in the world in such a way as to feel a sense of agency or resolution, instead feeling helpless, overly vulnerable or that your life has been threatened in some irresolvable way. Sometimes the cerebral knowledge of one's own agency is insufficient, and what needs to happen instead is for the individual tofeel that they can act, take care of themselves, fight back etc. Additionally, it is important to remember that most responses to physical threat are below the level of consciousness, originating in the more primitive parts of the brain, and that it can often be less than useful to use the higher cognitive functions (those under more voluntary control) to address something that is occurring from the autonomic nervous system (involuntary)."
What would a typical somatic experience be like for someone who has experienced trauma?
"This is hard to say, as there are multiple responses to trauma possible. I would say that some of the more common responses might be for the individual to experience a heightened sense of tension in the body, feelings of unease, fight or flight physical responses to inappropriate stimuli, shaking, and sweating at times when the body is currently physically inactive."
Copyright 2011 by Jaleh Weber