Trauma is perhaps the most avoided, ignored, belittled, denied, misunderstood, and untreated cause of human sufferingPeter Levine
Somatic refers to the physical body and somatic psychotherapy considers perception of the dynamic processes in the body to be of primary significance to therapy. One important guiding fact behind somatic psychotherapy is that conscious perception takes much longer to register a response to stimuli in the environment than it does for the autonomic nervous system to respond to the same stimuli. Said another way, your body reacts much faster to experience than the mind. The body, over time, can get conditioned to experience stress, pain, or danger in response to neutral stimuli, causing powerful stress responses to benign events before the mind can make an adjustment to the situation. Stress, pain, and danger basically become a perceptual habit of the unconscious nervous system, eventually transforming it into a stress-perceiving apparatus that evaluates events without the modulation of critical consciousness. After years, even the character of the individual can begin to organize around these stressful defense processes in the body leading to a defended and armored personality.
Somatic Therapy expands conscious awareness of bodily responses to stress, thereby reducing the gap between fast automatic responses and slow conscious responses to stimuli. Making more room between stimulus and response allows the body to uncouple from habituated stress responses so that it can orient to the safe aspects of its environment in present time as opposed to replaying the stressors from the past.
Somatic Psychotherapy works directly with the autonomic nervous system to decondition it from pain or stress and re-condition it to joy, freedom, and safety. This therapeutic approach can also go beyond the historical stressors of the individual body by understanding that the organism has a natural inclination to evaluate neutral stimuli as being dangerous because such a valuation is evolutionarily conservative (if you assume that a sound in the bush is not a saber tooth tiger you could be dead). A Somatic approach to therapy is unique because it can powerfully work with this deep negative evaluation bias in the body to achieve its therapeutic goal of the organism feeling safe and joyful.
One way of training the autonomic nervous system to feel more positive flow states, feelings of self-efficacy, and experiences of calm strength is by directly exercising it through mental imagery, or mental rehearsal as it is called in Sports Psychology. Disciplined mental imagery is a form of self-directed neuroplasticity (brain re-wiring) that stimulates neural connections in the brain and the autonomic nervous system so that what is visualized is more likely to be a reality. Therefore, mental rehearsal is an important part of the Somatic Psychotherapy arsenal for achieving lasting positive changes in the body and mind. Visual rehearsal sequences are given regularly so that the client can practice on their own to uncouple their nervous system from any exaggerated stress or danger responses and re-sensitize it to responses more conducive to peak experience.
Physical, emotional, and relational trauma can produce a neuropsychological situation where the pain of the past intrudes into the present to negatively influence perception, thinking, and behavior. Trauma is an immensely powerful form of psychobiological learning regarding safety. The body and mind learn defenses for warding off specific dangerous and painful experiences to create as much safety as possible in an unsafe situation. The primary defensive strategies of fighting, fleeing, and freezing are initiated as safeguard neurological programs and once these programs are triggered in the body, along with their accompanying molecular maelstroms, they forcefully move the organism towards safety. The nervous system thus learns to defend itself forcefully and because nature is conservative, it prepares for intrusions in the future. These defensive strategies are so old and powerful that they can begin operating like an autoimmune disorder in present time- forcefully distorting perception so that a benign event can become a dangerous intrusion to attack or defend against.
Learning in the brain involves structural neural networks. When a traumatic event happens, the event gets wired in as a memory network whose functional goal is to, first and foremost, remember the situation to ward off dangers similar to it in the future. If the body and mind do not come back to a sense of robust safety after a dangerous traumatic event (or reside perpetually in mild to moderate states of danger or stress) then the body will continue to grow the neural network that functions as a forceful protector. New associations with present day stressors are made, wiring together with the network of traumatic memories. If the defensive memory network continues to grow without being offset by other networks stimulated by robust experiences of safety, it will begin to dominate perception by gradually rendering current neutral events as more and more unsafe. Reality then becomes something to perpetually defend against on a subtle or profound level.
Trauma resolution therapies such as EMDR, Cognitive Behavioral Imaginal Exposure for PTSD, and Somatic Experiencing reduce the influence of forceful defensive memory networks born by single event traumas or ongoing physical, emotional, or relational traumas. Trauma resolution processes generate a robust sense of safety so that neural networks which render current events safe can be stimulated to grow. As these networks come online, then traumatic memories can be attended to and processed. The processing of trauma often involves the slow and safe entry into trauma memory networks so that they can be re-encoded as new memories connected with the robust safety generated by the therapeutic environment. Gradually the traumatic memories take up less real estate in the brain and the networks rendering current events as safe fire and wire together to create a more robust neural ecology that is more conducive to happiness and creativity.
Somatic Doctor Coaching uses a coaching model as opposed to a therapeutic model which means that there is not a diagnose and treat paradigm as in psychotherapy. In contrast, the coaching model focuses on the collaborative mapping of goals and the crucial motivational dynamics needed to achieve desired values and outcomes.
SomaDance is an expressive arts therapy built on the foundational principle that therapy can be achieved through the cultivation of creative expression.
Dr. Tierney also offers Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapy (BCST), a therapeutic touch paradigm grounded in the manual techniques of Osteopathy. BCST uses stillness and quiet contemplation to treat overstimulated nerves, chronic pain, and trauma. Brian taught BCST internationally for 10 years and has been a practitioner for 20. Craniosacral Biodynamics offers an environment of serenity that is strongly conducive to meaningful and effective psychotherapeutic work.