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What is Sensorimotor Psychotherapy (SP)?
Sensorimotor Psychotherapy (SP) is a type of somatic therapy, also known as a body-centered talk therapy. This means that we talk about not only what’s on your mind, but also how your body is telling the story in real time.
SP treats shock trauma, complex trauma, current issues, and childhood wounds and insecurities that are carried into adulthood. Whereas trauma refers to the way the nervous system holds onto stress and incomplete survival responses, childhood wounds and insecurities have more to do with pain of unmet emotional needs for attunement, understanding, and support. These unmet emotional needs often lead to negative beliefs about oneself, others, and the world. Although developmental issues have lesser impact on the nervous system, the impact of these events, and the meanings we formed of those events, shape our bodily patterns nonetheless (the way we walk, talk, posture ourselves, and own space in the world).
Plainly talking about what happened to you in the past won't always help you feel better.
In Sensorimotor Psychotherapy, as we reflect on your past and present experiences, we study how the components of your internal experience map out and organize themselves in the present moment. These components include thoughts, emotions, bodily sensations, memories, impulses, and patterns of movement, holding tension, and sensing with our 5-sense perceptions. This "internal mapping-out" is referred to as your organization of experience, and it is this here-and-now exploratory process that allows you change how you feel and respond to life events. In a sense, exploring what's happening for you now is more important than retelling what happened to you then.
Here's an example:
As Sara* begins to talk about her very critical boss, I reflect how her shoulders tense up, her voice gets meeker, and the familiar thought, “I’m not good enough” arises. In exploring this organization of experience, we further discovered memories of feeling belittled as a child, along with unexpressed impulses to stand up for herself to childhood authority figures. By studying this impulse carefully, we found the words and the posture that fit the desire to stand up for herself. But as she postured herself more upright and got ready to express those words while envisioning her childhood figures, what also arose was fear and the sensation of tightness and pulling back in her chest, along with the thought, “I’ll get hurt if I try to defend myself.” I asked if she could sense that holding back in her body right then as she spoke. Spontaneously, this awareness evoked grief and sadness. I reflected to Sara* that her sadness had a quality of compassion to it. Over the course of therapy, Sara* was able to connect with that younger, more vulnerable part of herself in a way that fulfilled unmet emotional needs, which had the unintended but welcomed effect of speaking candidly (respectfully) with her boss. She eventually got that raise she believed she deserved.
(*Sara = pretend name)
This example shows that transformation comes, not from analysis or insight, but primarily through exploring your experience on multiple levels (thoughts, emotions, sensations, movement patterns, etc). Sometimes change happens when we voluntarily practice new ways of being once your organization of experience is brought to awareness. In Sara’s* case, we experimented with what it was like for her to voice herself to her boss when she tensed-up her shoulders versus when she dropped her shoulders and straightened her posture.
Resourcing is the practice of balancing your nervous system so you can land in your body and manage your emotions. By exploring what happens in your body in relation to a specific issue, we can find the precise resource to help you manage that issue. For instance, I reflected to Erica* that her shoulders crouched up, her whole body leaned forward, and her hands touched her temples whenever she spoke about her work challenges. We took a moment to explore what else was happening in her body in that moment (e.g., shallow breath, racing thoughts, nervousness in chest, and little awareness of her lower body). This information helped us figure out that an important resource for her would be to lean back in her chair, drop her shoulders, and breathe into her feet using the breathing techniques she learned in previous sessions. We then had her experiment with speaking about her work issues from this resourced position versus the pre-resourced position in order to notice the difference. This experiment helped her become aware of the body aches she had been ignoring and how slowing down/relaxing are actually triggers for her anxiety -- something we were able to address at a later time once she felt grounded.
Together, you and I will discover how your body can become an important ally and resource for you (even if you don’t believe it’s possible now!).
Are you curious to see how Sensorimotor Psychotherapy, as part of an integrative treatment approach, can help you? Let's connect today!
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