How can touch therapies help with developmental trauma?
“Touch, when applied appropriately, safely, and ethically, can be useful to repair attachment ruptures, promoting healthier and more accurate interoception, creating a sense of safety and connectedness, supporting better access to co-regulation and self-regulation, and repairing chronic somatic shame. Touch can help clients identify and more fully develop appropriate boundaries and to experience a sense of agency when determining how, when, and what type of touch occurs. Touch can, in part, provide what was not received during the early developmental phases.”
- Kathy L. Kain & Stephen J. Terrell
Developmental trauma occurs when a person experiences intense stress, adverse or traumatic events over a period of time during their childhood or teenage years. This can include events such as physical, sexual or emotional abuse, neglect, poverty, family dysfunction, bullying, being exposed to violence or other catastrophic events. In many cases this kind of trauma is systemic or intergenerational in nature. The effects of these experiences are cumulative, meaning that each experience adds up until the individual reaches their breaking point.
In most cases the effects of developmental trauma persist into adulthood, often resulting in complex post traumatic stress disorder. The physical effects of developmental trauma include increased heart rate, high blood pressure, difficulty sleeping, chronic fatigue, headaches, digestive issues and chronic tension or pain. On the mental and emotional side, it can lead to feelings of intense fear and existential terror as well as depression, anxiety, anger outbursts, flashbacks to traumatic memories, difficulty concentrating and making decisions, low self-esteem, social isolation or withdrawal from relationships and difficulty feeling joy or pleasure (anhedonia).
The Importance of Touch During Early Childhood
The quality of a child's relationship with their primary caregiver can leave a lasting impact on their social and emotional development. Proper nurturing and attention can help them grow into well-adjusted adults. However, when a child's needs are not met, they may experience attachment disorders that can be detrimental to their future.
The Attachment Theory emphasizes the importance of secure attachment, where children feel loved and valued. Without this foundation, therapeutic intervention may be necessary to help them heal from these attachment wounds. Attachment wounds can leave deep emotional scars - wounds that can be inflicted in early childhood or later in life due to neglect, abandonment, or loss of a significant attachment figure.
The power of touch cannot be underestimated, especially when it comes to our earliest experiences outside of the womb. Skin-to-skin contact is a crucial aspect of co-regulation and lays the foundation for learning how to interact and connect with others. As we grow, positive touch experiences with our caregivers help us develop important skills such as self-regulation, empathy, and social awareness. Studies have shown that reliable access to this type of touch not only deepens our understanding of others, but also helps us become more attuned to our own emotions and well-being. Touch can literally set the groundwork for a lifetime of resilience and connection. It plays a vital role in shaping our autonomic nervous system and enables access to the ventral parasympathetic physiology.
Caring and attentive caregivers provide the foundation for our resilience as neglect, including lack of skin-to-skin contact, can have severe negative impacts. Our stress chemistry is compromised, our immune system weakened, and our ability to regulate emotions and physical responses is impaired. It is essential that we understand the essential role of touch in our development to ensure healthy lifelong outcomes.
Healing Developmental Trauma with Touch Therapy
Healing developmental trauma is a complex process that may take time, but recovery is possible with the support of a qualified therapist. One very effective way of treating developmental trauma is touch therapy.
Touch therapy offers many benefits such as:
It is an attachment-focused and neurophysiological approach to hands-on healing that aims to regulate not only the physical self but also the emotional, intellectual, and spiritual aspects of the individual. Interestingly, experts suggest that touch is the missing language in the field of developmental trauma. With years of talk therapy failing to provide clear solutions for such individuals, Somatic Psychology began to explore new ways of holistic healing by using a bottom-up approach to releasing trauma from the nervous system.
According to Allan Schore's groundbreaking research, it appears that individuals who have experienced developmental trauma often had caretakers who were unavailable during a critical window of time in their early lives. This time period, which includes both pregnancy and the first six weeks following birth, is essential for the development of a healthy attachment system. By understanding and addressing this early experience, it may be possible to help individuals heal and overcome the effects of developmental trauma.
Somatic memory is a powerful force, firmly storing all of our traumatic experiences within our physical being. With Schore's theory emphasizing the irreplaceable significance of early relationships and injuries, it's clear that touch can act as a profound communicator in addressing those non-verbal traumas.
Touch therapy offers an avenue of healing, providing the opportunity to restore a ruptured system and overcome these deep-seated wounds. With the simple power of touch, the body and mind can begin their journey towards wholeness and recovery. As the client embarks on their journey towards a transforming state of being, they feel a newfound sense of harmony and safety within their physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual self. The profound connection fostered by touch therapy between the clinician and client empowers and catalyzes this progress. These remedial measures are crucial for the client to mend and recover from early setbacks.
As the therapist uses their skilled touch to explore the client's bodily systems, they ignite a powerful connection within their autonomic nervous system. With focused attention and genuine care, the therapist can unlock a deep sense of resonance within the client's body, helping them to achieve greater physical and emotional alignment.
The effects of developmental trauma on the human mind can be devastating to perception and imagination. Our survival instinct often hinders our ability to heal in these instances, but by approaching developmental trauma with nonjudgmental curiosity, we can begin to ease the pain. Touch therapy not only provides physical comfort but also helps in transforming lives. Instead of pathologizing the client's condition, the practitioner can redefine what a healthy state means and work towards it. This approach nurtures the body's natural healing capacity and empowers the client to achieve a healthier, happier future. By bridging the mind-body connection, touch therapy can offer a holistic approach to healing from early trauma.
During touch therapy sessions, clients are encouraged to use physical contact to explore their thoughts and feelings while receiving support from the therapist. Through this process, clients can gain insight into their innermost emotions and begin working through them more effectively in a safe and nurturing environment.
Somatic Experiencing: My Approach and What to Expect
In my practice, I create a secure and nurturing space for my clients, employing a gentle, holistic, and deeply attuned approach. I value the uniqueness of each individual and strive to align closely with their specific needs and goals. By combining different modalities, I aim to provide a comprehensive experience.
Throughout our sessions, you can expect kindness, compassion, and a strong emphasis on deep listening. I firmly believe in the transformative potential of connecting with your body, relationships, and inner selves to foster an authentic and empowering journey.
If this resonates with you, I encourage you to reach out and explore the possibility of working together. Schedule a free consultation call today or contact me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. Let's embark on this transformative path together!
List of references:
Kain, K., Terrel S. (2018): Nurturing Resilience: Helping Clients Move Forward from Developmental Trauma - An Integrated Somatic Approach. Berkeley: North Atlantic Books.
Narvaez, D., Panksepp, J., Schore, A., & Gleason, T. (Eds.) (2012): Human Nature, Early Experience and the Environment of Evolutionary Adaptedness. New York: Oxford University Press.
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