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Bodyworker Tips

"Red Lights" For Bodyworkers
Recognizing The Signs Of Unresolved Shock In The Physiology

Some bodyworkers may be able to tell, when they touch tissue, whether there is trauma there or not. For others, that ability may come with time and experience. But few bodyworkers (unless they have had formal training in some kind of trauma resolution modality) are aware of the visual signs that may signal that their client is suffering from unresolved trauma in the physiology.

When working with a client, you may find that this unresolved trauma may be activated by the treatment being provided. Any methods/treatments which focus on release alone could be problematic for a client who has been traumatized. In fact, energetic release alone can, in some cases, lead to re-traumatization because the physiology is not, at the present moment, able to contain the amount of energy that is released.

Supplying bodyworkers with a "bulleted list" in terms of what to look for in order to determine if their client may be suffering from unresolved trauma in the physiology is a difficult - if not impossible - task. There are several reasons for this:

  1. Healing in general, and healing trauma in particular, is not a linear process. It is simply not as "black and white" as a bulleted list implies.
  2. Detecting whether you are working with a client who has unresolved traumatic imprints has to do with a series of signs that can be picked up while "tracking" the client. "Tracking" is the active, receptive capacity of the therapist to notice and follow the client's inner and outer experiential process, and organize this information conceptually and intuitively. If you are not trained in a trauma resolution modality such as Somatic Experiencing, you may not have developed the tracking skills required.
  3. As is always the case, the therapist has his or her own subjective experience. What he or she may be perceiving may not be reflective of the reality of the client.

Nonetheless, my first-hand experience - as a client before I became a therapist and before I had any Somatic Experience training - compels me to at least attempt to give bodyworkers some possible "warning signals". My experience as a client compels me to help educate, at least to some small extent, those bodyworkers who have not, to date, received any formal training in recognizing the signs of unresolved traumatic imprints.

Even one of these signals might indicate that your client could benefit from methods (such as Somatic Experiencing) which are specifically designed to resolve traumatic imprints. But generally, one might want to look for more than one indicator before carefully suggesting a trauma resolution modality.

One might also want to consider the degree of repetitiveness in the client's response. A client may, for example, have an extreme emotional reaction when working a particular area of the body. Or a client may tremor for a few moments after working a particular area of the body. But doing so consistently, time after time, with seemingly no resolution, might be a signal that there is an unresolved traumatic imprint.

In the end, every case will be slightly different and your response to your observations will ultimately depend on your relationship with that particular client.

Indicators Of Shock Locked In The Physiology

  • Flushing of the skin, especially around the neck, throat, and upper chest
  • Extremes of hot or cold - sometimes fluctuating from one extreme to the other. A client might also break out in a cold sweat when you work a particular area.
  • A pattern of disassociation that indicates little awareness of behavioral patterns. These behavioral patterns might include, for example, impulsive movements or habitual ways of moving. For example, a client may hold their head and neck up after a practitioner's hands are removed, with no awareness that he or she is doing so.
  • Dissociation when you work a particular area of the body. This dissociation might manifest as:
    1. going into a sudden sleep when their body stops responding to your touch;
    2. mentally "leaving"; the client no longer seems present to what is occurring;
    3. the client may be incapable of feeling what you are touching.
    These are just a few of several possibilities.
  • Impulsive movements that the client is unable to consciously control. A client may, for example, blink their eyes excessively. They may be aware of this, but unable to control it. Or work in a certain area may consistently elicit considerable twitching or trembling which the client cannot consciously control.
  • Limited awareness of sensation in parts of the body that may have been included in traumatization
  • The client is lying down, but reports dizziness, or the room spinning, during or after a part of the body has been worked
  • Inability to remember events, traumas, or injuries (but reports what happened according to what they have been told by a doctor or someone who witnessed the event)
  • Nausea after working in an area of the body
  • Work in an area of the body that elicits a powerful emotional response. A client may, for example, experience sudden fear or anger when you work a particular area.
  • The client experiences a sense of paralysis when you work a particular area of the body
  • The client stops breathing or begins hyperventilating
  • The client experiences a closing of the throat; the tongue is tense and tight
  • The tissue in a particular area, instead of accepting your touch, actively pushes you out. Note here that there may be any number of reasons why the tissue may "push you out". This can happen independent of whether there is trauma or not. It may, for example, occur when the bodyworker comes in with a touch that is too hard or insensitive. In these cases one might respond by reducing the amount of pressure and then sense whether the tissue starts communicating with you again (instead of pushing you out).
  • The tissue in a particular area is flaccid and unresponsive.
  • A significant history of repeating traumas to which the person assigns little or no importance (for example, a series of car accidents or falls)

For a more detailed discussion of trauma, see Dr. Peter Levine's book Waking the Tiger (readily available in bookstores). For more information on Somatic Experiencing (including articles written by Dr. Peter Levine and training information), go to http://www.traumahealing.com.

This document was a collaborative effort on the part of Lael Katherine Keen (Certified Advanced Rolfer, SE Practitioner, and SE Faculty Member), Bob Alonzi (Certified Advanced Rolfer and SE Practitioner), and MCHI's own Lori A. Parker, Ph.D. (Feldenkrais Practitioner and Somatic Experiencing Practitioner).

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