DEALING WITH LOSS: Step 5
Loss, Trauma and Somatic Therapy
On the opening page of Love in the Time of Cholera, Nobel-winning author Gabriel Garcia Marquez set down one of literary fiction’s most arresting images of death: He writes that a character who commits suicide “had escaped the torments of memory.”
The flip-side is that when the person who dies is one of our own, their death — however it happens — logs a new memory of torment for we who remain living. Peter Levine, a biophysicist who became a renowned psychologist and author, goes further. Any death, divorce, or loss is not just a physiological trauma but a physiological trauma to your nervous system.
“Because traumatic events often involve encounters with death, they evoke extraordinary responses,” writes Levine. “The very structure of trauma, including hyper-arousal, dissociation. and freezing, is based on the evolution of predator/prey survival behaviors. The symptoms of trauma are the result of a highly-activated, incomplete biological response to threat, frozen in time. By enabling this frozen response to thaw, then complete, trauma can be healed.”
Levine founded an exciting new branch of mind-body therapy called Somatic Experiencing which promotes that thawing process by combining elements of medical hypnosis, gestalt therapy and healing-touch techniques like Japanese reiki. The patient gradually discharges the trapped chemicals and hyper-activity in his or her nervous system by recalling and re-enacting vignettes of the loss or other trauma. After peeling off several layers of the trauma in a series of somatic sessions, the nervous system is re-regulated.