I attended a workshop entitled "Divided Mind, Divided Body: Interventions for Working with Dissociated Parts in Traumatized Individuals" by Kathy Steele, MN, CS and Pat Ogden, Ph.D. The workshop was about doing therapy with dissociative survivor clients integrating talk therapy and a body-oriented therapy called sensorimotor psychotherapy. While the workshop was about adult clients, there were a few themes relevant children. First, the workshop talked about an important factor worsening the impact of trauma, and often leading to dissociation, is the inability of the body to act -- being frozen during traumatic experiences. When unable to fight or flee, the body freezes -- but freeze mode is like having your foot full force on the gas and the brake at the same time. Therefore, in addition to emotional, cognitive manifestations of trauma, people have enduring somatic effects in their body from these childhood experiences -- patterns of how trauma shows itself and lives in the body. Part of the idea of sensorimotor psychotherapy (totally oversimplified) is that people are made aware of and asked to tune into their bodily sensations and take action with their body that was kind of action they would have wished to do at the time of the traumas.
Second, is the idea of every persons "window of tolerance." All of us have a "window of tolerance" of arousal or feelings we can tolerate or manage. Above this window of tolerance is is hyperarousal (often associated with body's danger response) and below the window is hypoarousal (numbness, deadness, etc). Traumatized children and adults have narrow windows of tolerance and quickly go out of the window, sometimes rollercoasting between hyper and hypoarousal. Our job is to help them and teach them to get back into the window. Much of the therapist job is to urge clients toward the "edge of the window" so they feel some affect, but not push them out of the window when they feel out-of-control. This is the true art of being a trauma therapist, walking this fine line. Body oriented therapies often talk about the "pendulation" of the the body's physiology. In normal development, infacts and children experience stress and are comforted by attachment figures -- the arousal up and comes down, up and down. Children learn to regulate their own stress over time. In unhealthy development, a child is stress and not soothed so the bodies smooth pendulation up and down never happens -- they get stuck in hyperarousal or hypoarousal mode -- and don't know how to return their body within window of tolerance. In our moment to moment attuned interactions with traumatized kids we are reteaching them and their bodies this pendulation.
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