Healing the Trauma Body (part 5)

By | July 19, 2012

Affects of Trauma

What is affected by trauma? The whole organism! Merriam-Webster’s definition of organism is “a complex structure of interdependent and subordinate elements whose relations and properties are largely determined by their function in the whole.”4 It’s not just muscles, bones, ligaments, blood, or fascia. It includes brain tissue, thoughts, beliefs, ideation, self-image, attitudes, and worldview – body and mind, emotions, intellect, and spirituality. In essence, trauma creates a ‘fracturing’ of our coherence in navigating life and leaves us fragmented and disembodied.

Resolving Traumatic Wounding

Structural Integrators have a special opportunity in providing resolve from traumatic wounding for our clients. The father of somatic psychology, Wilhelm Reich, was a protégé of Freud; unlike other psychodynamic analysts who focused on the ‘talking cure,’ he was most interested in the underbelly of relationship between patient and analyst. He was emphatic that there were two bodies/two animals in the treatment room and that the human animal is what is prone to psychopathologies (not the human mind). He used breath work and manipulation of the patient’s body to elicit strong emotions and release neurotic behaviors, a way of working with ‘shape to affect state.’ He was well aware that body armor or defenses were at the root of psycho-emotional dysfunction; through his methodologies, many patients were liberated from their chronic suffering. He stated that one’s body shape indicated how the person handled or organized his/her charge . . . meaning his/her instinctual drive and life force, which he called “orgone.” 

I’m sorry that Rolf and Reich did not meet and collaborate on their findings. Although Rolf emphasized the need to organize human structure (form), she did not elaborate on the psychological and emotional history that would arise from her manipulative techniques. Furthermore, classical Rolfing work oriented toward mobilizing the tight and bound structures (hyperaroused) with little, if any, guidance on how to work with the numbed and collapsed structures (hypoaroused). In my early days as a practitioner, I was overwhelmed with the issues that arose in my clients that my Rolfing training had not prepared me for – strong feelings and emotions, memories, thoughts, fantasies, body contorting, involuntary gesturing, etc. I needed help and sought support and guidance from Levine. 

A practitioner’s ability to resolve trauma requires one to know his/her own states of hyper- and hypoarousal. This view is supported by Rolf’s saying, “The Rolfer’s ultimate laboratory is his/her own body.” My masters’ thesis “Intersubjectivity and the Practice of Rolfing” examines and confirms that the Rolfer is working within an intersubjective field of relationship, whereby the practitioner is feeling the client as the client is feeling the practitioner. A primary component of this alliance is the emotional bond that is formed and the regulation of feelings between client and therapist. We can no longer objectify our clients as needing fixing but rather establish a rapport of explicit and implicit communication, whereby there is a co-regulation of dysregulated states. 

The idea of co-regulation has its genesis in the study of mother/infant behavior and is described in the maternal attachment literature as where the caregiver provides safety, containment, attunement, and resonance for the infant’s sensory and feeling needs so that it may go on being. Dr. Allen Schore, one of my mentors in graduate school and a pioneer in the field of psychoneurobiology (mind/brain/body), and Siegel, a pioneer in the field of interpersonal neurobiology (intersubjectivity), concur that the regulation of emotion is the essence of self-organization. Siegel further elaborates on this notion when he says, “Lack of mental well-being may often be a result of emotion dysregulation.”5 According to their findings, a therapist (practitioner) serves as an external psychoneurobiological regulator of the client’s disavowed body/mind states. In simple language, we as Rolfers ideally empathize with our clients while providing a co-regulatory field of relationship: “Perhaps the most striking evidence of successful empathy is the occurrence in our bodies of sensations that the patient has described in his or hers.”6 The ability of the practitioner to empathize with the client’s highly charged emotional state and/or a state of dissociation and numbing collapse may not be easy. That is why I urge all those in the helping professions to do their own therapy, to know their inner states of suffering expressed as hyper- and hypoarousal. Otherwise, a practitioner will become confused, disoriented, and activated in working with dysregulated affective states of their clients. Remember:  “. . . it is the response, not the traumatic event, that is critical.”7 Healing and resolving traumatic wounding requires a ‘witness,’ one that can meet the person and guide him/her through his/her survival mechanisms. I contend that trauma theory is a regulatory theory.