Working with trauma clients and using bodywork to help heal places of deep fear and mental and physical pain has been a journey of discovery on many levels. As a clinician, it is a continual experiment and process to recognize emotional trauma can wreak havoc on our bodies physically.
Spending time in session listening and responding to people with countless frustrating physical manifestations of chronic pain, nausea, incessant migraines and lack of sleep has at times left me feeling as if I have been warring with patients bodies and minds in an exhausting battle.
In the now epic New York Times best seller, The Body Keeps the Score, Bessel Van Der Kolk states that “as long as you keep secrets and suppress information you are fundamentally at war with yourself. The critical issues is also allowing yourself to know what you know. That takes an enormous amount of courage”.
Perhaps the largest realization in my trauma bodywork with clients is the discovery that the element of fear keeps us hostage to our bodies. Our bodies become our enemies. We fight them with drugs, unhealthy diets, too little exercise, or too much hyper-attention, trying to jam and push the pain out of our bodies by ignoring them, punishing them and making them our critical angry source and subject of pain.
As a clinician I have begun to recognize that we must help our clients whether they are in person meetings or virtual Zoom sessions to learn to listen to what their bodies are trying to tell them. We have to help them “befriend” their terrors and physical emotional pain connection. This sounds like the last thing clients may feel eager to do, but I think it is the way through.
I recall a client coming in for a bodywork session that had been in a terrifying tragic car accident. Even though doctors had told him he was free to move and exercise, he was unable to move his neck and shoulders, and felt like his body would crumble if he thought of stretching or even breathing. He was stiff and terrified. Immobilized, and afraid to get in a car.
As he lay down on the Pilates equipment I was using that day to begin addressing his body issues, he told me he was sure he would never be able to “move again”. As he began to do some deep breathing and placed his hands on his neck we began to explore the idea that his neck and shoulders were trying to connect his emotional fears to his fears of moving forward again.
Imagining driving, being on the freeway, giving himself permission to take risks again.
But he needed something. He needed courage.
He needed to face the fears of his mind and recognize that his body was a physical manifestation of his emotional fear. As he began to allow the fear to just exist in the room, and we began to imagine his neck releasing the fear…his body began to relax. He began to feel safe, imagine his body feeling re-connected and joined, he began to slowly stretch and move his neck. But the key to moving again was courage. He had to face himself and trust his body again.
It wasn’t “magic”, it wasn’t some brilliant new exercise that released his neck from moving. It was re-connection. And releasing the fear. So what was the core component? Was it safety? Was it empathy? Well, in that room that day I think it was the combination of safety and courage. Safe connections during healing was essential to allowing him to let go of the chronic pains and issues in his body and trauma memories.
And that’s where we as therapists and practitioners can step in. We can be the ally against fear. We can be the safe partner in process that invites our patients to see and feel and respond with courage. I wonder if we can help our patients approach their mental and physical pain as an invitation to be explorers , discovering with curiosity and not crippling fear.
We have tremendous opportunity to explore with our patients the freedom to understand that our bodies are there to communicate, to help, to assist and free us from our emotional pain.
The body and mind need to re-connect. They are not separate but deeply connected in such a way that we are only now beginning to understand the truly weighted realization of this. As therapists, we have the ability to re-educate our patients to fully understand that we can by naming our pain and connecting them with our verbal language begin to restore our sense of well being.
Recently, I had the honor of joining visually impaired adults in a surfing event where they faced their fears and allowed themselves to feel their bodies in the water. I watched as these brave individuals trusted us enough to hold their breath, balance on surfboards and ride laughing into shore.
I asked one person what that was like to face the waves without being able to see visually. Do you know what he said? He said, “ I listen to my body, face the fear and then let my mind join in for the ride”.
I love that. Even though visually limited, he could feel the surfboard, trust the volunteers and experience the joys of wave-riding. Among the cheers and support of volunteers it was truly a magical experience to see people face their fears and enjoy a day of fun, freedom and new experience.
In essence that is what we are as clinicians. We can be humble guides, responsive teachers and emboldened trailblazers in helping those with trauma and fear find release from imprisoned places of emotional and physical trauma. And learn to help our patients face their crippling fears to find emotional and mental freedom.
As Susan David has said in her best selling book “Emotional Agility”, “ COURAGE IS FEAR WALKING” Let’s be those practitioners that help our patients feel re-connected. And find new ways to walk again with courage.
To learn more about SokyaHealth’s Pilates trauma program call us at 1-877-840-6956.