After working for 5 years with traumatized adolescents, I reflect on how movement has supported growth out of traumatic patterns and into new self-identities.
While counseling's standard approach usually focuses on verbalizing or writing about past trauma, I've cautiously stepped into the movement world of my clients and joined them in a journey to discover an identity that isn't solely defined by fear and guilt. In that process, I've learned that many of the discoveries not only support healing from trauma, but also help with empowerment.
Ogden, Minton, and Pain write in Trauma and the Body that "for traumatized individuals, the debilitating, repetitive cycle of interaction between mind and body keeps past trauma 'alive,' disrupting the sense of self "(3).
Feelings and thoughts of paranoia, worthlessness, anger, etc. influence the body's actions and create a lens in which the individual views their environment as well as themselves. Identifying where in the body certain emotions or sensations are and giving them a name, purpose, or movement starts to peel away the mystery and allows for body awareness.
When a person understands what an emotion feels like in their body, then they are quicker to identify when it manifests. Exploring how the emotional sensation shifts with different stimuli starts to offer a sense of control for the individual.
Many times, the sense of discovery moves from the surface of the skin to deeper sensations in the same way that the individual's ability to process their trauma deepens.
While the individual gains insights about their body, the connection to the mind is also explored. The individual starts to notice how certain thoughts and sensations stop momentum while others support it, and begin to evaluate what may be needed in different environments. These patterns of understanding lay the groundwork for processing their trauma.
Most adolescents don't have the coping skills in place (even with more body awareness) to move their trauma without it being triggering or potentially re-traumatizing; however, finding a movement support that embodies the opposite polarity of the individual's trauma patterns allows for an openness in exploring vulnerability by creating strength as well.
Eventually, individuals are able to advocate for their own movement needs to help cope. The greater awareness of their bodies and using movement tools to counterbalance their traumatic responses creates a sense of confidence and assertiveness.
Every individual works at a different pace. The body can be a very scary place, especially with trauma. But, by working layer by layer adolescents are able to become more aware of their whole bodies and empower themselves to not be defined by their trauma. I always have clients create a movement phrase that reflects their new definition of themselves as they work through their trauma.
Many of them like to end sessions with their phrase as a reminder of how far they have come. I always encourage them to remember that the dance isn't over, and that they can continue to evolve their identity movements as they grow.
Ogden, P, Minton, K, and Pain, C. (2006).Trauma and the body: A sensorimotor approach to psychotherapy. New York: W.W. Norton & Company.
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