Following are frequently asked questions about Generative Somatics and the Somatics and Trauma training.
For Q & A about the Healing Sex DVD project click here.
- What is trauma? What is social trauma?
Traumatic experiences are experiences in which people feel or are at risk of death or extreme loss of connection. They are experiences that tear the fabric of safety and relatedness, sending people into reactions of protection and survival that can last for a lifetime -- becoming the typical symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. While I do not think of these reactions as a "disorder" people can suffer greatly inside of the symptoms of surviving trauma.
Traumatic experiences can vary widely including; intimate violence, community violence, social isolation or shunning, sexual abuse, social violence like war and political torture, and degrading systems built into the social fabric like racism, poverty, sexism or homophobia.
In this approach, we feel it is essential to look at social and systemic trauma along with the individual experiences of trauma. An individual can heal themselves from their personal experiences but they still live within the context of contemporary society in which ongoing trauma in an inherent part. Our family, community and social settings continue to influence and impact our experiences. The integration of working with both personal and social trauma is important in this work.
- Why look at resilience when dealing with trauma?
Resilience is the ability to somatically (holistically) respond to and renew ourselves during and after trauma. It is the ability to shift our physiology and self from traumatic alert response to a calmed, cohesive state with a positive vision for the future. Resilience allows for both safety and connection to be re-established. Resilience strategies are automatic when threatened on both the personal and collective (group) level. We are fundamentally resilient and creative beings.
There are both individual and community practices that support resilience. In this work we explore the personal resilience strategies that help during and after trauma and explore the familial and cultural practices that create resilience. Based on studies of resilience factors some of these include: spirituality, a strong relationship with animals and or nature, creativity and art including music, movement and visual arts. Other more relationship based resilience strategies include: being able to help others both during and after the trauma, making greater meaning of the traumatic experiences (I can contribute something positive because I have been there, or there was a greater purpose), and being positively connected to at least one other person.
Resilience is as automatic in us as our survival responses to trauma. We can learn about our own or community-centered resilience strategies and practice them consciously in the process of healing.
- Is healing possible?
Healing is possible. I tell survivors of trauma, "You're here. You survived. That means you're more powerful than what happened to you." Victimization is a terrible thing. Surviving and then healing has pain as a part of it, but the trauma does not need to run you and your life. A holistic and somatic approach to healing trauma allows for the automatic survival reactions to change and for you to get to choose and design you life based on the things that are important to you and the people you love.
Healing trauma, rather than avoiding or managing it, is possible through this Somatic approach. Many people try to "understand" what happened to them, or "put it behind them," but to truly feel at home and safe again, connected to yourself, others and place, takes healing the experience through your psycho-biology. The body remembers and will continue to react from trauma, until this is processed through the body/mind/sprit.
- How big of a problem is sexual trauma?
The statistics of people who have experiences sexual abuse from incest to adult rape are shocking. One in three girls and one in six boys are sexually abused before their 18th birthdays. One in six women and one in 33 men are sexually assaulted or raped as adults. These statistics cross class and cultural within the US, there is not one group who sexually abuses while others do not. Most sexually abused children know their perpetrator (65-80%). Denying sexual abuse and its impact on people is a typical response to trauma, "If I can't stand that it happens, I will pretend it doesn't." By doing this, however, people perpetuate the silence and non-accountability that lets sexual abuse go uninterrupted. When we begin to have real conversations with each other about our experiences of abuse, the statistics come to life. All of us know someone who has been sexually abused, and without necessarily realizing it, most of us know someone who has sexually abused another.
Traumatic experiences have life long impact, even on those people who are the most resilient. Sexual abuse can cause depression, anxiety, a lasting feeling of shame and of being "bad," difficulties with boundaries, harmful drug use, aggression, rage, grief, dissociation, numbing, running from issues, and over-functioning. People often struggle with sex and intimacy, and lack a sense of belonging in themselves, families and communities. Many people try to set up their lives to avoid feeling the pain of the trauma. Although this is natural, this unwittingly defines the rest of their lives and choices. By trying to avoid their hurt, attempting to feel and find safety again, their lives become fenced in by it.
The good news is that we have a profound and innate capacity to heal. Often we need this capacity woken up and supported so that healing can take over surviving.
- What makes Generative Somatics and the Somatics and Trauma course different from other somatic or trauma training programs?
What is unique about the Strozzi discourse and Generative Somatics is the three components of change work: somatic awareness, somatic bodywork and somatic practices.
Many other somatic approaches to trauma share our dedication to identifying and working with fundamental somatic awareness. That is, including the body and feeling sensation as a key source of information and change. Generative Somatics also uses somatic awareness to assist people in moving from the normal dissociative states that trauma brings, to being present and at "home" in themselves. Through being able to feel a wider range of both sensations and emotions two things happen- 1) protective reactions built to avoid feeling the pain of trauma begin to shift giving the survivor more choices and 2) people are able to allow more life and engagement through them.
We teach specialized somatic bodywork that allows the practitioner to deal directly with the contractions and hyper-arousal left in the body after trauma. It is truly a "body up" change process, as opposed to the cognitive "mind down" approach. We know that the body's automatic responses to trauma bypass the neo-cortex, or thinking mind, and settle directly in the body. Engaging directly with a survivors' body is therefore a means of engaging directly with the trauma and its effects.
The third component of the Somatics and Trauma program is somatic practices and skills building. Traumatic experiences force survivors to adopt certain behaviors and practices oriented around their survival; this instinct is natural and positive because it enables the survivor to continue on in the world immediately following the abuse. However, over time these survival responses become mal-adapted or simply unnecessary. They contribute to survivors' grief and confusion over their trauma, and can ruin their chances of moving forward into a positive life.
This course helps survivors learn or re-learn skills and behaviors to replace the unhelpful survival instincts. These skills and concepts include recognizing appropriate boundaries, mutual connection, self-trust and trust in others, affirming and building on one's values and relationships, and the ability to take a stand for what you care about.
The Somatics and Trauma courses combine fifteen years of work within the Strozzi lineage with extensive study and practice in individual and social trauma. There is currently a dearth of effective, transformative means to work with trauma; while trauma is a pervasive reality in our world both individually and socially. If we are going to confront and transform this painful truth, we must have proven, effective tools, like Somatics, at our disposal.
- How does trauma impact people? Why is it so hard to change?
When threatened by harm or trauma humans have automatic, intelligent reactions that are designed to protect us. These reactions are not just psychological or physical, but an intricate mind/body/spirit response designed to keep us whole and alive. These automatic reactions can be most easily understood as fight, flight, freeze and dissociative responses. We also respond relationally to protect connection. This may look like becoming more submissive, aggressive, isolated or reaching in relation to others. These reactions have evolved over thousands of years and are designed to ensure both our bodily survival and our relationship to others. Humans are social animals and depend upon relationships and connection as essential to our survival. Trauma negatively impacts safety and connection-- our survival responses are trying to ensure or re-establish safety and connection.
While they may not seem all that useful any longer, reactions such as freezing up, shame, aggression, anxiety, panic, isolating, struggles with intimacy and trust, and sexual issues, are normal after trauma. We will both psychologically and biologically do what it takes to survive, even when it means turning ourselves inside out, or continuing with what are now harmful behaviors.
These responses to trauma also get generalized. It is like the body says, "That happened once, it can happen again. Stay alert, don't trust." These deeply somatic reactions cannot be changed by thinking about them differently. The conscious part of the brain does not run these reactions. In fact survivors can become more and more split between their thinking self and their feeling self, in an attempt to control traumatic reactions. This mostly leads to more of a sense of dissonance and dissociation. Working with the soma or psycho-biology access the parts of the self and brain most engaged in these survival reactions and supports the processing and release of trauma.
- Why a mind/body or holistic approach to healing from trauma?
"Somatic" means "mind-body." Many forms of psychotherapy primarily use the higher cognitive functions of the brain including talking and meaning making. While this is useful, the parts of the brain most active during and after trauma, and for our survival, are not the neo-cortex and speech centers--these parts of the brain often show little neuronal activity during trauma. Somatics integrates the body, emotions, thinking and meaning making into the healing process. Through the body we can directly access the parts of the brain most involved in trauma (reptilian brain, stress centers and limbic brain) and the corresponding chemical and muscular responses in the rest of the body.
After trauma many people can "intellectually understand" or make sense of what happened to them, while their reactions, behaviors and emotional experiences continue to be similar to those fueled by trauma. People come to a clear understanding of what happened to them, but without shifting how the trauma manifests itself in their bodies, people have a hard time reacting differently, or truly healing from their abuse.
What Generative Somatics offers are processes and interventions that match the psycho-biological reactions to trauma - so that we are using the right tools for the job.
- Why do you encourage people doing community and social justice work to train in Somatics and Trauma?
While it might not be a purposefully therapeutic setting, people working in social justice and community activism are interfacing with individual and systemic trauma all of the time. Often people in this work are not trained in the impact of and normal reactions to trauma, while they usually have a deep understanding of the social oppression and social norms causing harm. Training in somatics and the psycho-biological impact of trauma can help people in this work to better leverage individual and community resilience, design programs that address their constituencies' experiences with trauma and support healing, and develop campaigns and action that take into account the typical community responses to trauma.