Trauma Treatment at Sunshine Coast Health Centre (Part 2): Somatic Experiencing Therapy
Has Something Traumatic Occurred?
If something traumatic happened, then it probably had a big impact on you. Let’s talk about what’s next.
At Sunshine Coast Health Centre, we want to help you find your path to healing. It doesn’t matter if your trauma or PTSD was from something you did to yourself, if it was the result of an accident, or if your trauma was the result of someone else’s actions. What matters is that you want to change how you are coping with the impact it has had on you.
For many people, doing the hard work of healing is not as enticing (or perhaps, as easy) as masking the hurt parts of ourselves. We push forward by ignoring what happened, sometimes as if it never happened. We turn to unhealthy ways to forget our feelings by coping with alcohol, narcotics, or process addictions (sex, gambling, etc). The freedom only lasts so long and gets progressively shorter, but we keep searching for that moment it gives our brains the euphoric escape from a tiring and often overwhelming reality.
Eventually, these coping strategies stop masking the pain, they stop being effective in helping us forget the pain we live with every day. This creates a double whammy of suffering. Not only are we struggling with trauma, we are now struggling with a dependency that isn’t even “helping” us anymore.
Being responsible for healing doesn’t mean we have to do it alone; we can be helped and supported along the way. How long it takes is dependent on the individual as well as the treatment type since not all therapies are created equal and not all therapies work for everyone either. Since there isn’t yet a way to go back in time and stop the event from happening, nor is there a way to go ahead in time and magically be in a better mental and physical place, we have to learn to do what we can in the present. One of the ways people heal from trauma and PTSD is Somatic Experiencing therapy. SCHC’s trauma program integrates some somatic aspects into its clinical practice to help men start healing from their trauma(s).
What is Somatic Therapy and How Can it Help with Trauma and PTSD?
Somatic Experiencing was developed by Dr. Peter Levine. He figured out that we have 3 ANS (Autonomic Nervous System) responses to distress:
Depending on what type of person you are, you will experience one of those responses to a traumatic event. Trauma occurs when you curb the emotional response after freezing. As humans evolved from acting just on impulse, we started acting on thought. As some of the most rational humans in history, we can easily outthink or overthink things. It’s a wondrous ability.
The destructive impact of trauma occurs when we get stuck in a moment in time where you don’t act on flight or fight, but rather you freeze. For many people trying to get the mind and body to unfreeze can be a difficult process. For example, if you got into a car crash you can:
- Come out the car screaming and yelling mad as hell someone crashed into you (fight),
- Cry and turn to goo, not knowing what to do or how to react (flight), or
- Compose yourself by stuffing all your feelings down, get out of the vehicle to deal with the exchange of information, and act like nothing was wrong (freeze). You reinforce the freeze when you don’t let yourself release from what happened to you later on in the day or even the week. The longer you put off addressing the impact of the event, the more uncomfortable your body and mind get. We aren’t meant to hold on to events like that forever. Dr. Levine believes our bodies keep score.
Amanda Sawatzky says the “Trauma is created when a devastating moment is frozen in time. That surge of adrenalin and chemical that was not discharged or let out, stays within us creating havoc. It acts as an ‘internal straightjacket,’ and interferes with our natural ability to heal by somehow blocking or changing normal reactions to the event. Trauma symptoms are not caused by the event itself, but by our reaction to the event.”
Instead of crying, letting your legs turn to jello, having a meltdown, or just letting yourself experience the emotions of what just happened you may have bottled it all up and pretended as if nothing happened and it’s a-ok. Except it wasn’t really ok and over the next few weeks and months you may feel agitated, nervous, stressed out, pain in your body long after you should feel pain, tightened muscles, and more. You didn’t let your body burn off the adrenaline that was coursing through your body during that event.
With fight and flight you see the emotions and feelings all the way through, but with freeze you can get stuck. The worst part might be that you can’t pinpoint anything from your present day as to why you may feel this way. These bodily and emotional signals are one of the ways your body is telling you that you aren’t okay and no, everything isn’t fine. It is trying to tell you that you need to work on yourself, let that hurt and suffering go.
Similar to EMDR, Somatic Experiencing (SE) is a way to work through the trauma. Instead, of going through your memories and reorganizing them like EMDR, SE allows your mind and body to complete the traumatic experience that got stuck. It is a type of therapy that allows people to process the experience and release the energy that was frozen. This healing comes from a belief that the body has locked that trauma energy and stopped you from moving forward. An experienced somatic therapist should not start treatments with you until you both agree you’re mentally strong enough to handle it, otherwise, there is a risk of retraumatization. The main goal is to release the physical tension leftover from the traumatic event.
Where Can I Find Trauma and/or PTSD Treatment Programs?
If you are tired of coping in unhealthy ways and are ready to return to being the author of your own life, then Sunshine Coast Health Centre might be the right fit for you as a trauma and PTSD treatment program in British Columbia, just north of Vancouver and Victoria. With us, you have the chance to work with staff who can see if SE might be right for you.
Sara Klinkhamer focuses more on meaning-based therapy, but does have experience with somatic awareness and will work with you if it is a good fit.
Davis Briscoe is one of the massage practitioners who has recently completed training in somatic therapy. He and SCHC are currently working on a way to integrate it into the program.
If you don’t believe SCHC is the right fit for you, we suggest looking at a reputable website and searching for a local clinician or practitioner in your area. Psychology Today and Canada Drug Rehab host content and profiles of therapists who may be able to assist you in your recovery as inpatient programs for just trauma aren’t many in number in Canada. Once you select a few professionals who might be taking new clients it would be a good idea to verify their credentials.
We advise you to check the following before you pick a counselor or delve deep into therapy:
- Does the practitioner have your preferred credentials? (for benefits and/personal preferences)
- Check the Canadian Counselling and Psychotherapy Assn. or the BC Assn. of Clinical Counsellors if they have RCC/CCC to make sure your provider has completed the necessary training and is a member in good standing. Most credentials have corresponding associations or colleges that help keep them accountable to you and their practice.
- You will typically have a few sessions beforehand to make sure the professional is someone you connect with and can get you through your healing. A reputable provider will not start SE with you until they know exactly what you want to work on and they feel you’re capable of dealing with it.
- Make sure you are ready to do the work of healing. Most people need multiple treatments using SE and may continue to need additional therapeutic supports afterward.