We all experience trauma at some point in our lives. Trauma disrupts the normal functioning of the nervous system and a dysregulated nervous system does not always return to baseline when the traumatic event is over. The trauma is then essentially stored in the body and can be re-experienced, causing a range of somatic symptoms (bodily sensations) Sensorimotor Psychotherapy (SP) developed as an approach to treat these unprocessed traumas and the resulting symptoms.
SP is a body-inclusive approach. It promotes the notion that underneath the conscious verbal story of the trauma lies a somatic narrative full of information that can lead to healing. Sensorimotor psychotherapy harnesses the innate wisdom of the body by exploring and identifying the somatic impact of past traumatic experiences, as well as learning to track bodily and emotional responses when triggered.
There are 6 guiding principles to sensorimotor psychotherapy – organicity, non-violence, unity, mind-body-spirit holism, mindfulness, and relational alchemy.
Organicity refers to the internal wisdom we, as living beings, all have. This core principle of SP means the therapist is not “healing” their client. Instead, the client is encouraged to recognize the capacity they have within them to grow, change, and heal themselves. Nonetheless, SP is a collaborative process - the therapist offers support and guidance to promotes the client’s self-exploration and personal empowerment.
The work done in sensorimotor psychotherapy is not forceful. It is centered in non-violence, which means criticizing or pathologizing are never a part of the process. Symptoms are not viewed as negative, but rather signals of our internal systems. SP encompasses a spirit of non-judgment, compassion, and acceptance as a way to create a safe space conducive to change.
As humans, we are all part of a living organic system of interdependent parts. Unity recognizes that while we are all interconnected beings, we are also composed of different parts – influenced by other individuals, communities, and larger systems. Sensorimotor psychotherapy promotes exploration of the individual self, through improving self-perception, recognition, and self-advocation. Achieving a more unified and holistic sense of self allows for increased personal welfare, healthier relationships, and an overall sense of wellbeing.
SP works with emotions, thoughts, and the body together, based on the premise that they are all connected. Addressing the mind, body, and spirit holistically, rather than in isolation, can shed light on the impact each one of these parts has on the others (i.e. – how thoughts affect emotions, which then affect physical sensations and behavior). Through mind-body-spirit holism, growth and healing are integrated in a more profound and cohesive way.
Mindfulness is at the heart of SP. Mindfulness refers to the practice of turning one’s awareness to the present moment. Mindfulness is used to help a client pay attention to certain aspects of their experience with compassion and curiosity. This promotes a greater sense of awareness of patterns, responses, and habits.
Additionally, SP clinicians use mindfulness to attend to the client’s body language and breathing patterns, as a way to gain insight into how the body responds to specific thoughts, emotions, and memories. SP also uses relational mindfulness to help clients to build mirror neurons and provides a sense of safety as they explore their authentic self.
Sensorimotor psychotherapy recognizes the impact relationships (especially early childhood relationships) have on our beliefs about ourselves, others, and the world in general. Although these beliefs are often developed subconsciously, they influence our behavior and responses. Rather than recognizing this intellectually, SP supports understanding this on a bodily, felt-sense level. Through shifting the felt sense, a client can begin to transform their connections to self and others.
Through sensorimotor psychotherapy, clients can discover and change unhelpful patterns (both physical and emotional) that impede functioning. SP helps clients cultivate their strengths while providing enough challenge to inspire growth and long-lasting change.
*Zen Institute’s clinical director, Pallavi Gupta, MA, LPC, is a certified advanced practitioner of Sensorimotor Psychotherapy. She was personally trained by Dr. Pat Ogden, founder of Sensorimotor Psychotherapy. Pallavi has been in the mental health field for over 20 years and specializes in treating trauma with a combination of Sensorimotor Psychotherapy and EMDR.
After suffering from severe anxiety, depression, trauma, and addiction for 30 years of my life, just a few years ago, I figured out the secret of happiness!
I’ve read thousands of books, and I’ve done 17 years of professional work as a psychotherapist. This is the moment I’ve been waiting for… to share the secret of happiness with you! Are you ready to hear about it?
Everything in this world falls into two categories: Things under my control and things not under my control. Do you agree?
There are five things that are outside of our control! What are they? Other people’s thoughts, other people’s feelings, other people’s behaviors, the past, and the future. For example, maybe someone puts you down, someone gets upset with you, someone does something that hurts you, and you unconsciously get stuck in the things that happened in the past or the things you imagine that might happen in the future.
Now, look back at the last 12 months. How much time and energy have you spent trying to control those five things that are absolutely outside of your control? Now, take a look… How much time do you have left to control the things that are absolutely under your control? I bet not much!
The truth is that you have the power to choose! You can choose to focus on things under your control or not under your control. No one can point a gun at you and say that you have to focus on the things that are absolutely outside of your control. Even a prisoner gets to choose to focus on the things that are under his or her control and live a happy life!
So, the question is, why are we trying to control the things that are absolutely outside of our control? It might be because we do it out of unconscious habit. The consequence is that we are going to be frustrated, angry, and feeling completely powerless all the time!
Make a commitment today: Don’t waste your time and energy focusing on the things that are outside of your control! You might ask, “What do I do when I recognize something that bothers me that is one of those five things? My answer is, “Let go.”
How do we let go? Here are two pieces of advice for you...
1. Live your life like water:
Why water? Water is the strongest and softest substance in the world, you can never use a knife and cut the liquid form of water in half, you will never see water going upstream by itself, yet water always finds its way out! Water will never have a head-on collision with someone. Water is humble, gentle, and wise. Let me ask you, what are you made of? Yes! Water! 73% of the body weight of an infant is water. Live your life like water, accept the reality, and love what is. It’s a guarantee that you will live a life that is happy and peaceful.
2. Be present:
The definition of Zen is that “There is no reality outside of here and now.” When you spend the current moment stuck in the past or the future, your life is slipping away right in front of you. I remember in 1988 when I saw my mom lying on a hospital bed, paralyzed from a stroke. I realized that there was not much difference between my mom and me. Physically she was paralyzed from head to toe, and all she could do was blink her eyes. Emotionally and spiritually, I was paralyzed because I couldn’t help but keep going to the past and the future, and the consequence of that was feeling completely helpless and powerless. This eye-opening experience inspired me to create this tool to help you be present. I call it “3 boxes”.
Imagine there are three boxes in front of you. On the left, the box represents the past, on the right the box represents the future, and the box in the middle represents here and now.
If you want to experience shame and guilt, which box do you focus on? The past! If you want to experience fear, which box do you focus on? The future! If you want to experience love, peace, and joy, which box do you focus on? Yes, the answer is Here and Now! Just that simple!
In reality, the past is done, you can’t go back to fix it no matter how remorseful you are. The future is not here, but you can scare yourself to death by thinking about the worst scenario and all kinds of “what ifs.” You will end up being paralyzed by this kind of neurotic fear. This neurotic FEAR stands for “False Evidence Appearing Real”!
If you use this moment and focus on your past and/or your future, you are creating a life that is delusional because “There is no reality outside of here and now.” So, why would you create a life that is delusional? Why would you choose to spend time being paralyzed? Do you have the power to choose to be present? Yes! Absolutely yes!
The untrained mind will constantly take you to the past and the future. That is why it is very difficult for us to stay present. Here is a simple exercise you can do to stay present: Identify everything in your surroundings in a very quick fashion. You will notice that your anxiety goes down, simply because at the moment no one is attacking you, your house is not on fire, you are OK exactly where you are!
Over the years, I have searched for the secret of happiness, and I have discovered that the secret of happiness is linked to living a meaningful life. With everything I have learned in my life, my conclusion for the meaning of life is: All of us are here on the earth to learn the following three things: love, forgive and create. We are here to learn how to love ourselves and others, forgive ourselves and others, and to take full responsibility to create a life just the way we want it!
Now that we have chosen not to waste our time focusing on the things that are outside of our control, we get to focus on the things that are absolutely under our control. What are the things that will bring us happiness? Love, forgive, and create the life just the way we want it!
In closing, I would like to share with you my favorite quote: “Love is that I am everything, wisdom is that I am nothing, between the two, my life moves…”
Blessings to you!
Jenna Jarrold, MS, LAC, NCC