Whether you’re personally working to release and heal trauma within you, or you’re a practitioner helping your clients to work through trauma, touch is an incredibly powerful and simple tool.
I recently had a fascinating conversation with my long-time colleague Jane Shaw where we explored many approaches to working with trauma through touch.
We’re both Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapists (and we teach alongside each other on the Body College BSCT training), where touch is the foundational gesture of support.
Here are some of the key points about how to work with touch to heal trauma that we explore in the episode:
One: You can re-pattern traumatic experience of being touched through slow, safe touch.
If someone has been traumatised by touch, it can be easy to withdraw and shut down our capacity to connect as a protective mechanism. As practitioners, we can work to gently open up the senses again and find a way to touch so that clients can wake up their bodies, like a butterfly unravelling.
Two: We have two fundamental bodily gestures: expansion or contraction. Trauma often creates a contraction.
We’re either expanding, opening, moving towards, exploring, seeking and reaching for the horizon, or on the other hand we’re contracting and moving away. We can feel this in others; sometimes we can sense that people are curling up and making themselves small, or disappearing from their body, particularly where there has been trauma.
When I’m working with a client, I’ll often explore through touch to discover whether this person has the possibility of expanding, or is instead stuck in a pattern of withdrawal.
Three: Touch can empower someone who has experienced trauma to find their agency.
We can work to take back control by working with touch in specific ways, such as inviting contact or asking contact to stop, which can support the release of deep feelings related to trauma. It can help people to redevelop their boundaries around touch.
Jane describes a way of working with touch and agency in a clinical setting:
• Ask the client to become aware of what’s happening with their body when they lie on the table (assuming they’re ok lying down)?
• Tell them that you’re about to bring in touch, and ask them to check in with how their body feels.
• Bring in some simple touch, such as a hand on the shoulder or the knee.
• Sometimes people will notice a contraction here, or conversely as letting go and an opening, or sometimes they don’t notice anything.
• See what you notice in their body in terms of opening or contracting.
• Invite the client to tell you when to touch and when to stop, slowly and gently – Jane has seen huge releases happen when someone simply is able to ask her to remove her hand.
Four: We need to be creative in supporting people to describe the subtle sensations in the body when it comes to trauma.
• Give clients a drop-down menu of what’s possible that helps them orient and feel their body. For example, does it feel hot, cold, soft, dark? Do you see colours? Are you hearing something?
• Give people a comparison: invite them to clench their hand and then open it, to notice the difference. This will help them to engage with the subtle sensations throughout their body. When people are really lost to feeling and their body feels alien and hard, encourage them to ‘find some grunt’ – some strength, some agency, some power. Work with strong contractions or quick movements, and invite them to reflect afterwards: the comparison between the contraction and the relaxation is an invitation to feeling.
• Share some possible words to describe what they might be feeling, to help them find their own language, and then reinforce their words.
You can listen to the full podcast with Jane here: Episode four: Biodynamics, Trauma and Touch with Jane Shaw
Jane and I will be teaching on the first module of the new Body College Art of Touch BCST Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapy Training together, starting this October in London. You can find out more and join us here >>
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