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The many masks of my dysregulation and the value of Somatic Trauma Therapy 

Updated: Apr 8

Psychotherapists and psychologists will tell you that self-disclosure in a therapeutic relationship is a big ‘No-No’. This is seen as a boundary crossing that disrupts the dynamics necessary for a secure way of working that maintains the client-therapist relationship. 

Even though I am not a psychotherapist or a psychologist, I still adhere to a self-disclosure policy (as recommended by my professional association SMTO) as a means of separating my working life from my personal and ensuring that my relationship with my clients remains exactly that - therapeutic. 

In saying that, writing this blog entry is the type of self-disclosure I believe to be therapeutically valuable. I believe that better therapeutic relationships and outcomes can come from my clients knowing I too am human and that I will and do respond when a client asks me ‘Are you going somewhere for Christmas?’. Answering that question won’t make the work we’ve done together collapse and fold in on itself. I also don’t believe that my clients knowing I’ve struggled with anxiety and depression will burst a supposed bubble of perfection they might have about me. 

As a side joke, I will share that when I asked my psychotherapist earlier this month if he was staying in Edinburgh for Christmas he responded with the Freudian-ready-made ‘I wonder what has led you to ask me that?’. Those familiar with psychoanalytical cul-du-sacs will find this amusing.

For those of you considering doing some form of trauma healing in a somatic way (i.e. through the body; sōma means body in Greek) then carry on reading. I want to share with you the difference Somatic Trauma Therapy has made in my journey of healing.

The first time I saw a clinical psychologist I was 16 years old. I also took my first antidepressants at that age. I had started self-harming and became severely depressed for what my mother swore to be absolutely no reason. She thought I’d gone insane when she saw the cuts in my arms. Since my late teens I have continued to engage in psychotherapy on and off, I’ve taken medication when I felt I needed it and talked to friends and family about my problems as best as I can and let them support me the best they can. Learning how to co-regulate with others continues to be an essential part of my recovery.

I added the nonspiritual side of Yoga to my mental health first aid tool kit over 15 years ago and adopted it as a regular practice (the spiritual bit I added 7 or so years ago). I’ve gone to the gym on and off for decades (mostly to improve or maintain physical appearance). I try to follow my Mediterranean diet as best as I can and I don’t eat red meat. I take supplements despite the dodgy scientific evidence for them. I take probiotics. I don’t drink and I don’t do drugs. My spiritual searching is as old as my bones and this too has brought reassurance and solace in times of need. 

I can talk about my trauma pretty well now too; I can talk about intergenerational trauma, my identity, internalised homophobia and the many -isms that went along with the homophobia as well as my own adverse childhood experiences (ACEs). That’s what long term therapy does to you. I’m also pretty good on the many CBT workbooks I’ve accumulated throughout the years and I’m familiar with the advice any psychotherapist might give me (though regular therapy still helps me to identify blind spots and continues to be an essential part of my healing).

Yet, sometimes, I still feel as awful and as hopeless as I did the first time I sat across from Dr. Richard back in the early 2000s. (I regularly feel awful despite the fact I can be a therapist too. Both things can be true and it’s particularly important to dispel the myth that psychotherapists, psychiatrists and all other types of healers/therapists have all their shit together all of the time.)

Why is it that I can intellectually know something about my trauma and, yet, still not ‘feel’ it? Still not feel any different? I can know something in my head but my body is estranged from such knowledge. I know I should feel safe but I don’t feel safe. 

Perhaps, this is a feeling or a story that is familiar to you. 

I should pre-empty that I’m not going to advocate for Somatic Trauma Therapy as a cure for all traumatic problems and mental illnesses. I don’t believe this to be the case. I’m a holistic practitioner and at the core of my profession is the belief that many things will help towards healing and that there’s no one miracle thing that will take your problems away. There’s an infinite number of healing modalities out there - indigenous, natural, medical, religious, non-religious, scientific, non-scientific, bogus and many others. I believe they all can work together to heal you (unless you are being taken advantage of by an unethical professional!)

In 2020 I discovered a modality of healing called ‘Somatics’ and was coming across a lot of polyvagal theory stuff online (I use the word stuff because at this point it really was just ‘stuff’ I was finding on Instagram reels and posts - I suppose the algorithm did find me in the end!) and decided to have my first Somatic Trauma Therapy session with a professional. That first session was nothing short of a revelation. 

That day it became clear to me that throughout the 36 years of my life I’d recruited an incredible amount of energy to avoid my own body. I’d gone to therapy for thousands of hours in an effort to make sense of my trauma, my family relationship, my identity, my addiction. And this is of course extremely helpful but I wondered how much of it had been an attempt to escape my body into my head? I’m a doer. I have a low threshold for pain (physical and emotional) and take a lot of comfort in knowing something is being done about something else that is causing problems. I’m quick to implement dieting routines (not to lose weight), yoga daily routines, finding specialist psychotherapists, signing up for courses, 30-day meditation challenges, lessons of all types, and finding specialist consultants. I question medical professionals to exhaustion as I always need to be informed (not a bad trait to have). I can obsessively read self-help books until the cows come home (which, let’s admit it, they never do). I’ll be on Google digging medical research papers before a doctor can finish printing their prescription.

I’m also prone to black and white thinking so I’m going to take the opportunity to say that these were strategies I’ve developed to survive (you’ll have your own!). That is worth noting and being thankful for. These strategies help me stay sane! But like all strategies, they can be both helpful and unhelpful. Good and bad. Sometimes great, sometimes, well, not so great. There’s immense value in taking stock and evaluating if and when they stop being helpful. Especially when unhelpful strategies show up masquerading as a health positive activity. Let’s admit it, it's far easier and more socially acceptable to hide poor mental health behind obsessive Munroe climbing and early morning jogging than it is when you’re gambling your mortgage money away.

I’ve avoided my body for such a long time. My body, like the body of so many others on similar journeys healing from trauma, is a site of war. Wars fought, wars being fought and wars still to be fought. Unpleasant sensations and feelings are almost always avoided and brushed aside by talking about the problem (to the psychotherapist or the friend willing to listen), sitting on the Yoga mat/working out (I should feel better by the end of it), meditating (I should also feel more centered by the end of it) or cleaning, going for a walk, shopping, watching TV or engage in the distractive wonders of sexual activity (that bad feeling should definitely be gone when I’m done with this one!). The activity doesn’t really matter here and these things aren’t bad! Who wants to feel bad at the end of the day? There’s immense value in escaping your body, especially when the body doesn’t feel safe or you don’t know how to make it feel safe again. These activities aren’t a sign that you’ve been doing anything wrong but somatic work did make me question ‘What would the body have to say if it felt safe enough to speak?’. ‘What would happen if I stopped trying to make myself feel better all of the time and just listen in?’

As the tears rolled down my face in that first Somatic Trauma Therapy Session (not everybody cries during a session; it’s not the gold standard response!) I realised how much my body had been craving for attention. Finally, I’d stopped dispensing energy to avoid it and listened to what it was saying and, let me tell you, it spoke with profound richness. 

The thing is of course that the body doesn’t just speak once like some prophetic oracle. The body speaks all the time and human beings move from regulation to dysregulation all the time too. Every day. What Somatic Trauma Therapy can do for you is teach you the skills to identify when dysregulation happens in your body and help you move to a state of regulation which, yes, you can learn. You can learn to hear it on a daily basis and meet its needs because to ignore it (and especially for prolonged periods of time) can lead to poor (and sometimes chronic) physical and mental health. Somatic Trauma Therapy doesn’t promise a cure but it promises the body the opportunity to speak without words to achieve nervous system regulation whilst processing old and new trauma. The trauma can’t be erased but we can move through it in a different, more healthy, caring and kind way. 

And remember, every little helps. If you feel like you’ve been avoiding your body, that your body is filled with unpleasant sensations you’d rather not notice or don’t know what to do with them, then Somatic Trauma Therapy may just be useful for you - alongside everything else you’re doing, be it psychotherapy, CBT, DBT, shamanic journeying, taking medication or something else entirely! 

Perhaps somatic work isn’t for you at all, now or ever and that’s ok too. There’s plenty of other ways to reacquaint yourself with your estranged body. 

I wish you well in your journey and that you find what you’re looking for.

If you’re interested in doing this modality of therapy with me, please check this page

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