The first part to healing trauma within the body comes with identifying where the emotion is being experienced within the body. Recognition is the start to healing. The client needs to feel safe within the therapeutic relationship and learn how to transfer that feeling of safety into their everyday life by using self-soothing techniques. Dr. Peter Levine, Ph.D is the originator and developer of Somatic Experiencing and the director of Somatic Experiencing Trauma Institute, says that it is important to give tools for emotional regulation and self-soothing for those who have experienced trauma, so that they do not become dependent upon the therapist for soothing and an inner sense of safety. The first step is becoming attuned to our feelings and the place we are feeling that emotion within our body.
The first exercise is putting your right arm under your left arm pit and the left hand on the right shoulder, then taking a moment to feel what is going on inside of your body. Shut your eyes and allow yourself to feel and fully experience the moment. The benefit of this practice is to help the person become aware of the idea that the body is the container of all the sensations and feelings of each person. A good time to put this exercise into practice is when a flashback is happening or when someone has been triggered by a smell, word, sound, taste, or touch. When one realizes that the body is the container, and they can feel safely soothed and contained within, then the emotions will not be as stimulating or overwhelming as they have been before.
Squeezing your muscles or tapping all over the body can be helpful in a person’s sense of boundary because in trauma – especially sexual trauma – there is a hole in someone’s boundary not having a sense of where they begin and end. This hole comes from the powerlessness and loss of control and protection of their entire being. The aim for the therapist is to initially touch the client with their presence. According to Seigel (2015) “presence is a way of keeping trust alive and keeping connections strong and communication wide open (p. 250).” Presence is cultivated by allowing whatever arises to come and gives flexibility to move with the client in the path that they need to go without judgement or predetermined manipulation in a specific direction. Presence is simply being fully in the moment with the client, feeling with them, observing while being aware of their nonverbal reactions and responding accordingly. With a client of sexual abuse the person has lost their autonomy, the ability to govern themselves or maintain internal emotional homeostasis, thus a partnership of the counselor client relationship is crucial for the client to gain back their own autonomy. The root meaning of therapist is “fellow traveler on a journey” this is the essence of the healing that takes place within the relationship of the counselor and client. It is a process that must be taken together, but gradually the tools are building up the client to govern their own inner emotional state.