Traditional Counseling vs. Somatic Experiencing: Which one is more effective to treat trauma?
Your mental health is not all in your head. In fact, much of your trauma is stored in your body.
You know the pattern well. Something happens that triggers memories of a past experience and activates the trauma response. You get muscle tension, rapid heart rate, and the nerve sensations you’d associate with fear. Your body tells your brain you’re in danger and sends signals to the amygdala, the part of your brain responsible for the “fight or flight” response. Your amygdala then begins hijacking your conscious mind and replacing your inner narrative with lots of anxious thoughts.
When you’re stuck in this cycle of fear and anxiety, trauma counseling can help you break free from its grip. For many people, trauma counseling is much more effective than traditional counseling because it gets to the root of the trauma stored in your body.
Top Down or Bottom Up? When Your Thoughts are Not the Influence
Traditional psychology takes a “top down” approach, meaning it assumes that the thoughts up in your mind control the sensations down in your body, and therefore, changing your thoughts will cure your mental health problem. The most common form of this therapy is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) which aims to help you replace negative thoughts, patterns, and beliefs with more positive interpretations.
Sometimes though, particularly when you’ve experienced a lot of trauma in the past, some of your anxious and unsettling mental health patterns are really coming from the “bottom up.” Your body is telling your mind to panic and influencing your thoughts in the process. Trauma counseling works on this whole cycle of intrusive memories and sensations to help stop the dysfunction at the source in the body.
What You Can Expect from Somatic Experiencing
Like CBT is a form of traditional therapy, somatic experiencing is one of the modalities of trauma counseling. Somatic experiencing helps unstick the fight or flight response, release the built-up nervous energy held in the body after a traumatic event, and return your body and mind to feelings of safety. This process takes guidance and practice. You’ll build up tolerance to distress and begin to perceive sensations and feelings without becoming overwhelmed and while staying safe and anchored in the present moment.
The ability to take on a mindful approach to sensations in the body could prevent trauma in the body from ever getting the opportunity to overwhelm the mind. Most people seek traditional therapy at the stage when the mind is already overwhelmed, and the negative thoughts start. Yet for some people, trauma counseling could help before those negative thought patterns even arise and serve as a much more effective treatment.
Find a Therapist Well-Versed in Trauma Counseling
Psychotherapists are becoming increasingly interested and well-versed in trauma counseling, but most still follow traditional therapeutic models. Look for a qualified therapist that can help you apply the right tools to achieve your therapy goals. By treating your body along with your mind, you’ll have a holistic practice for better well-being and mental health.