What is Sensorimotor Psychotherapy®?
Sensorimotor Psychotherapy® was developed by Pat Ogden and is based on the latest discoveries in neuroscience, mindfulness and attachment theory. It is a holistic approach for the treatment of trauma and attachment issues. A Sensorimotor psychotherapist will gently and mindfully encourage you to be curious about the movements and sensations within your body whilst you safely explore your thoughts and feelings. The principles of Sensorimotor Psychotherapy® are particular important for the treatment of trauma, aiming to prevent re-traumatisation whilst aiding you to develop new and safe resources. This approach enables you to focus on all aspects of your life including physical, mental, emotional, spiritual and relational.
Recognising the link between the body and psychological issues, Pat Ogden joined somatic therapy and psychotherapy into a comprehensive method for healing the disconnection between our bodies and our minds. In 1981, after co-founding the Hakomi Institute, pioneered by Ron Kurtz, Pat Ogden founded her own school which is known today as the Sensorimotor Psychotherapy Institute® (SPI) and is now to be found world wide.
Often when trauma occurs we simply don’t know how to process it. We aren’t usually taught how, nor repaired or reconciled appropriately afterwards. Trauma is often too overwhelming for our brain and our bodies to process and if we haven’t managed to discharge or repair the trauma following it's occurrence we continue to carry it, trapped within us.
Attachment trauma as well as physical trauma can both be addressed. Many people, particularly those who have long term difficulties who might otherwise have not been able to recover successfully from traumatic situations, or find peace in their lives, have found that the sensorimotor approach allows them to find relief. Often this is because our experiences in early childhood are essential to our wellbeing and leave a legacy of conscious and unconscious patterns of behaviour. Some of these legacies may be nonverbal, unknown to us and detrimental to our development and ability to feel safe in the world. They may affect our behaviour, our body and our posture and create difficulties in our ability to connect deeply with ourselves and others.
Healthy attachment occurs when a caregiver provides comfort, affection, and basic needs on a regular basis and with consistency. This is how we learn to feel safe in the world and in our relationships with others. Poor attachment however, is when a caregiver has inappropriate responses to our distress, they might miss to understand and may lack in sharing affection. There might be experiences of abusive emotional behaviour or the absence of a care giver. All of which can create a legacy of developmental trauma and leave us feeling unsafe in the world, within ourselves and in relationship with others.
Trauma associated with poor attachment can lead to a wide range of issues from developmental and relationship issues to serious disruptions such as dissociative disorders, depression, anxiety disorders and post-traumatic stress disorder. Attachment trauma may also cause a greater susceptibility to stress, difficulty regulating emotions, co-dependency, impulsive behaviors (OCD), social isolation, trouble sleeping and difficulty with attention (ADHD). As well as guilt and shame.
Research now shows us that our bodies have memories too; trauma that stems from past experiences can leave us feeling ill, overwhelmed, anxious and out of control. We recognise now that trauma is not only registered in our minds but also in our bodies and when it is not integrated it can have an enormous effect on our nervous system. During a traumatic event our body’s nervous system kicks into action enabling us to either fight or flee. Unfortunately when this is not possible, for instance when we are very young or perhaps during a car accident or other threatening situations, our bodies are unable to carry out the desired plan of action – we aren’t able to fight or to run away. This activates a different nervous system response and instead we freeze – leaving the trauma unfinished and trapped in our bodies. This in turn leaves us with unresolved emotional and physical tension, a sense of stuckness or an unconscious state of reliving the experience of terror. We are left with debilitating and re-occurring symptoms that we then might label as depression or anxiety; or we may develop strategies to cope such as OCD, working long hours, illnesses or addictions. We may have outbursts of anger and frustration, or an inability to form healthy relationships might occur alongside this hidden trauma.
There are so many symptoms that can derive from a dysregulated nervous system and our bodily responses can be incredibly overwhelming. These sensations and tensions may seem to have no clear relationship to our narrative memory or sometimes memory of the difficulties we experienced doesn’t exist at all. While traditional talking therapies such as cognitive therapy are a part of trauma treatment, these methods often miss to address the more implicit, nonverbal elements of trauma. Sensorimotor Psychotherapy is designed to incorporate all the elements needed to process unresolved trauma.
A Sensorimotor session may seem slightly different to a traditional talking therapy session, you may be gently interrupted and asked questions such as what body sensations or movements are you aware of as you are talking? These questions are an integral part of the work; learning how to mindfully track and notice your body creates the foundation needed to enable the discharge of the trauma energy stuck in your nervous system. You are also likely to be encouraged to challenge your beliefs, particularly limiting beliefs or those of self-judgement. Being curious about and challenging your habits, behaviours and beliefs can enable you to gain a more positive view of yourself as well as creating great change.
Sensorimotor Psychotherapy® offers great opportunities to learn and you will have a chance to be introduced to some important tools and resources that will enable you to master your nervous system. This means increasing your ability to manage your self, your body, your emotions and your behaviours.
By paying attention to body responses such as your breathing, heart rate, tension, posture and other bodily sensations you will learn how to notice when your nervous system is over or under-activated and when it is at an optimum level. Sensorimotor Psychotherapy is a safe, gentle approach and in a bid to avoid re-traumatisation it is only once this optimum level of awareness is achieved that you would then move on to processing your trauma memories. Creating a safer, more gentle opportunity for your body to release frozen trauma.
Throughout therapy important time will be given to integrating the changes that are occurring in your awareness, your body, your thoughts, your emotions and behaviours. This reinforces the work you are doing and ensures it is practiced and implemented into your day to day life.
With careful and sound practice the new found integration you can achieve can relieve symptoms and increase your ability to find peace and joy.
Please visit our resources page for advice on how to manage symptoms.
If you are interested in this approach please see individual profiles for more information.
What problems can this therapeutic approach help with?
This trauma informed approach can help you with all kinds of issues including:
Trauma and extreme trauma
PTSD - post traumatic stress disorder
Dissociative Identity Disorder
Bereavement and loss
Compulsions and addictions
Divorce and relationship difficulties
Work stress and relationship difficulties
Health issues and pain management