SOMATIC ART THERAPY
Healing the Somatizations of Trauma
To go in the dark with a light is to know the light.
To know the dark, go dark. Go without sight,
And find that the dark, too, blooms and sings,
And is traveled by dark feet and dark wings.
When we have been traumatized in life, we feel both isolated and in pain. What we do is to bury the memory and feelings in the ground of our bodies which, Candace Pert suggests is the “unconscious mind.” It resides there in the dark, dormant, waiting to be germinated and released into new growth. How then, do we journey into those dark places where our conscious awareness can bloom and sing?
As a Somatic Art Therapist and Transpersonal Counselor, it is my role to prepare people and accompany them as they undertake this inner-healing journey. I do this by creating a container of sacred space where they feel safe and held, not only by me but by their own spiritual guides and inner healers. We then together begin a bodymind process, by means of movement, visualization, and the creative arts. Awakening each person’s awareness of their bodies and their imaginal capacities enables them to follow the trail of their own imagery to the stored experiences, which then they can release and transform.
The creative arts process allows them to create in hard copy what is internally experienced; consequently, they can distinguish themselves from the trauma and begin to work with the metaphor or imagery of that traumatic memory as a separate entity. They learn to relate to, dialogue with, transform or manipulate, destroy or recreate a new image; in other words, they feel empowered to handle the trauma instead of being overwhelmed by it.
During a traumatic episode (i.e. car accident, rape), a person falls spontaneously into an altered state where the memory of the event is then stored in holographic imagery. This is called “state dependent learning” or the storing of traumatic memory in the psycho-physiological state in which it was received. Simply put, this means that when we get hurt, we store that memory in our bodies and hold it there until it can be processed and released. If we don’t get the opportunity to do this, as in the case of childhood abuse, we continue to hold the information in a somatic condition, like pain, anxiety, headaches, paralysis, nightmares, or we shut down all feeling as a strategy for coping with the painful memory.
So, even though your broken leg is mended, there may still be residual pain, anxiety or discomfort in another area of your body with a seemingly unknown origin. Clarissa Pinkola Estes expresses it like this:
“The body remembers, the bones remember, the joints remember, even the little finger remembers. Memory is lodged in pictures and feelings in the cells themselves.” (Women Who Run With the Wolves)
Complete healing requires focus not only on the physical level but on the emotional, mental and spiritual levels of the event as well. The old paradigm of the body-mind split is truly dead; we must realize and accept that what happens to us emotionally affects our physicality such that when we hurt our bodies, our psyches are also impacted. In order to do this, we must connect our imagination with our physical pain and understand the language of our bodies.
The symptoms we encounter contain the needed learning, which is encoded in our cells by an electrochemical system of peptides and receptors. Thoughts, feelings and sensations are absorbed into our cellular structure when specific peptides link up with their unique receptors and transmit the information as images. Candace Pert speaks of these peptides and receptors like two voices striking the same note and producing a vibration that rings a doorbell, opening the doorway to the cell. This causes a biochemical event that dramatically changes the state of the cell.
In shamanic terms, we trance into an altered state through movement and art process and retrieve the imagery of the memory that has been stored in our body. Physical symptoms become the indicators to where inner work needs to be done in order to bring about healing and a return to homeostasis of the organism following trauma. By using the chakras as entry points, we activate the nodal or hot spots in the body where there is already a high concentration of peptide and receptor activity. Using visualization we release messages throughout the body, sending oxygen and nutrients to the cells in need, and thereby ease symptomatology.
Part of the visualization process involves the use of archetypes as images of lost energy or memories to be released. Through the retrieval of archetypes, we gain access to parts of ourselves that have been trapped by the trauma. We then bring them into consciousness and begin a relationship with them, eventually integrating these energies into our conscious repertoire of available choices of behavior and feeling.
So what was once a painful roadblock becomes a catalyst for change and a rich opportunity to learn more about the amazing journey of life in a human form. By following the messages in the body and unlocking them using the creative process, we can embrace our lives and enlarge our experiences and understanding.
Berry, Wendell (1998). Selected Poems. Washington, D.C.: Counterpoint.
Estes, Clarissa Pinkola (1992). Women Who Run with the Wolves. New York:Ballantine Books.
Pert, Candace (1997). Molecules of Emotion. New York: Scribner.
Meagan Pugh, Doctor of Ministry, ATR-BC. has researched the use of the creative arts to identify and heal the somatization of trauma in the body. She integrates movement, ritual, and a variety of art media, theories of mind and imagery research with physical healing, the practice of Somatic Experiencing, the science of Medical Intuition, studies in Transpersonal and Symbolic therapy, 25 years of counseling and teaching experience and her own healing journey.