As infants, we use touch and body language to constantly receive and communicate messages in the absence of words. And according to trauma expert Peter Levine, author of Waking the Tiger, nonverbal communication is no less important in adulthood.
But the importance of touch, movement, and body language is often overlooked in our clinical work, Levine says, since therapists tend to focus on words and emotions. Treating trauma without looking at how it manifests in the body, he adds, shuts clinicians off from a wealth of knowledge about how clients are coping, and a direct pathway to healing.
Here, Levine explains how focusing on the body gives people with PTSD a voice for their suffering, and shares a clip from an actual session where he uses body-focused interventions to treat a traumatized combat veteran.
Peter Levine, PhD, is the developer of Somatic Experiencing. He’s written a variety of books, including Waking the Tiger and In an Unspoken Voice. He’s the recipient of the USABP lifetime achievement award for his contribution to trauma.
Combining a focus on the body with talk therapy isn't impossible, Levine says. "The bottom-up process can be engaged and merge with cognitive and emotional approaches. But just talk leaves the goal of restoring emotional wholeness unmet." As Levine demonstrates, building rapport and communication and treating the body can go hand in hand, and give clients a tangible report of their own progress.
"After we use interventions that embrace the body, clients often remark that something in them has shifted. They seem more grounded. More settled. More alive. That's the nature of trauma transformed: a greater capacity to feel and to be."
To investigate trauma, we have to be able to talk in the language of the body and the brain." In this FREE CE video, Levine explains how you can do this in your own clinical work.
Stay tuned for more of Levine's clinical wisdom in our upcoming video blogs!
Did you enjoy this video? Check out our articles on Trauma, or read more about how trauma treatment has evolved over the past 25 years in Janina Fisher's "Putting the Pieces Together." You might also enjoy Mary Sykes Wylie's, "The Long Shadow of Trauma," in which we confront why childhood abuse may be our number one public health issue.