Anxiety is a strange beast. While we often experience it in our heads as thoughts that seem uncontrollable, anxiety also has a very strong physical component.
In fact, anxiety and trauma are rooted deep within our nervous system. Their impact and memory are stored in the middle brain, which is responsible for emotions and self-protection.
This fact reveals itself in the physiological responses of our bodies. Our bodies store anxiety and trauma and live out its effects even without us being aware of it. Indeed, our mental health is tightly interwoven with our physical bodies.
Because of this, finding therapeutic approaches that are able to access this deeper part of the brain is vital for healing. Sensorimotor Psychotherapy (SP) is one way to do this.
What Is Sensorimotor Psychotherapy (SP)?
As the name implies, Sensorimotor Psychotherapy involves the physical senses and the motor system which refers to our body and the way it moves. SP was developed Pat Ogden in the 1970s and is influenced by neuroscience, cognitive and somatic approaches, attachment theory, and mindfulness practices.
“Sensorimotor therapy helps clients uncover unconscious behaviors and habits—both physical and psychological. These habits and behaviors inform a person’s experiences, good and bad. By focusing on mindfulness and becoming fully aware of both the physical and psychological sensations and responses to emotions, a client learns how to change maladaptive responses. Uncovering unconscious behaviors allows a client to understand and change those behaviors.
Sensorimotor psychotherapy has shown promise in helping individuals transform emotions and attitudes resulting from trauma1.”
The Brain’s Survival Responses
To understand the long-term effects of anxiety and trauma, it’s important to understand how they work within the brain.
Our brains respond to threats, fear, and danger through hard-wired reactions of fight, flight, or freeze. This is similar to how animals in the wild react to predators: they fight back under attack, try to run away, or go limp and play dead. All of these responses are attempts at self-preservation.
Animals experience this over and over, yet they manage to bounce back to their normal activities without long-lasting trauma. Humans aren’t always able to do this, unfortunately. Anxiety and trauma, when not resolved, get tucked deep away in the brain and body, often wreaking havoc in our lives.
Healing Trauma’s Effects
SP works by addressing the neurological roots of trauma and anxiety. It is designed to help individuals re-live trauma just long enough to work through it and release it. What exactly is involved in this?
A Safe Space
To be effective, the therapist first needs to help establish a sense of safety with the client. This includes helping the client identify the sensations, physiological experiences, impulses and behaviors that accompany a sense of security. Helping clients establish an embodied sense of safety is vital to resolving trauma.
When you feel safe, you are better able to slow down enough to pay attention to what’s happening in your body. This paves the way for the next step in sensorimotor therapy.
Most folks who struggle with trauma and/or anxiety tend to disconnect from their bodies. As safety gets established, you’ll have more capacity to listen to your body’s cues, to tolerate discomfort and fear, and to trust that your body will more effectively return to baseline after upset.
SP really supports clients in learning to listen to the language of the body and being more response-able versus reactive. When clients start learning to trust their bodies as an ally in the healing process, deep healing takes root.
As you identify the physical experience of anxiety-provoking memories in your body, your therapist can help you with the next step. Sensorimotor therapy helps you respond physically to your anxiety in a way that is helpful.
Your therapist will work with you to identify physical responses to past fears that will facilitate healing. Maybe it’s verbalizing anger toward a controlling parent. Or perhaps it’s pushing away a threatening stranger.
As you act out or complete the physical responses to past events in which you felt afraid, you will find healing. And you can find a sense of empowerment and strength that you didn’t before. This is the heart of Sensorimotor Psychotherapy.
We are in it together
As a therapist, I’ve seen firsthand how powerful sensorimotor therapy is. Healing from trauma and anxiety is best done in relationship with someone you trust, someone well-trained and someone with whom you feel safe.
If you’d like to learn more about Sensorimotor Psychotherapy, please click here and/or fill out the form below.
There is so much love for you here!