So you’ve read the Sensorimotor Psychotherapy (SP) method page and now you’re wondering, “okay, well what’s it like to actually go through an SP session? Can you provide examples? What should I expect?”
It’s normal to feel curious about your return on investment in SP. While each client session looks a little different, there are several consistent things you can expect during an SP session. First, let us briefly look at how the brain and body function with and against each other amid surviving a traumatic event.
Brain Meet Body, Body Meet Brain
Through the somatic lens, healing trauma must occur through the healing of the body. This is because trauma happens at the body level. Research indicates that trauma happens at the subcortical level. Meaning, trauma occurs beneath the cortex of the human brain (Ogden & Fisher1).
Because of this, we cannot expect therapy working solely at the cognitive level to complete the healing and integration of trauma. There must be a link between the left analytical brain and the right body-oriented brain for true integration to occur.
A significant component of SP is to support you in making that which is implicit become explicit. That is – to notice what is automatic in the body and begin to shift into having choices.
The right brain often responds at an implicit level. So when trauma occurs, folks may start having PTSD reactions to everyday experiences, people, or things. This is due to the body implicitly reacting to a perceived threat to protect itself from possible future trauma.
We need support to begin making the implicit reactions explicit. Through this process, the body can complete the action it wanted to make during the trauma event but couldn’t at the time. The body can begin integrating the experience instead of continuing to relive it over and over again.
During the beginning phase of SP the focus is on orienting, building understanding of body language, and practicing mindfulness in the present moment. Through these three categories you will begin to build a context of understanding your individual body and its responses with curiosity, compassion, and acceptance.
These skills allow us to build new resources and integrate the traumas of your past. Your foundation to SP work starts here:
We orient based on our attention and focus provided in any given circumstance. Everyone has an “orienting reflex” (Ogden & Fisher1, p.115) whenever a new stimulus is presented. When dealing with trauma, the reflex often orients toward stimuli that confirm and reiterate the narrative of the trauma.
Over time this reflex becomes automated.
But the good news is we can dismantle the orienting reflex, it just takes practice. Practice orienting your body towards what feels pleasant – allow your body to experience a different orientation in the world.
By focusing our attention on pleasure in a situation, integration and healing can begin to occur. Dismantling the orienting reflex ultimately leads to the ability to choose in what you orient towards.
2) BODY LANGUAGE
In order to listen to our body, we must understand the language of the body: procedural memory. Procedural memory is “our memory system for automatically performing certain skills, behaviors, and survival strategies” (Ogden & Fisher1, p.99).
After a trauma, or in response to developmental trauma, our body begins to learn how to survive and how to carry itself to survive. This learned way of being provides context in two ways: for our ways of being in the world and in relationship with others and ourselves.
You can expect to develop your own curiosity and capacity to notice the language of both your body as well as others. When we begin to understand and recognize the automatic reactions of our body, then we can work to unlearn past patterns and integrate new ones.
3) MINDFULNESS OF PRESENT MOMENT
- 5 SENSES: By paying attention to your 5 senses (sight, smell, hear, taste, and touch), you have the capacity to build awareness around the impact of a trauma event while remaining grounded in the present moment. This also assists you in orienting to pleasure instead of pain.
- MOVEMENT: You might notice tension in certain parts of your body while you begin exploring your trauma. Throughout sessions, I may ask you if there are any movements your body is wanting to make. By exploring movement in the body, we begin making the implicit become explicit. This exploration can allow the body to complete and integrate a movement that might otherwise become tension or pain in the body.
- INNER BODY SENSATIONS: When we follow inner body sensations and are able to mindfully talk about and experience them, we provide space for the sensations to dissipate and integrate. Instead of having the consistent tingling feeling throughout your arm, for example, we might stay with the tingling and notice how it shifts and changes through attunement.
- COGNITIVE: Thoughts are typically the easiest to access for folks. As you begin to integrate the trauma, new cognitions may come to mind. Bringing these new cognitions with you into daily life starts a shift toward an integrated narrative. These new thoughts may become a portal to your most integrated and healthy self.
- EMOTIONS: Your emotions are integral. When you begin naming the present emotions, you will notice how your body and nervous system responds. You can even start now! Start by noticing what is happening in your body when during a pleasant experience. As you begin integrating those pleasant experiences and body sensations you will have more capacity to access them outside of sessions when you need them most.
The good news is you will not have to go through this process alone! It can feel overwhelming to think about building these new skills especially if you have experienced trauma. Fear not! SP is a modality that is collaborative and I will go at your speed.
I will work with you to help you build these skills and be the support you need and deserve along this journey! If you want to begin this journey, then call us today for a free consult! There is so much care for you here.