Understanding Somatic Expressions of Trauma : Future Focus Counselling & Consulting

Trauma can leave a profound imprint not just on the mind, but also on the body. As a therapist and clinical counselor, I often see how unresolved trauma manifests physically—a phenomenon known as somatic expressions. This blog aims to explore the connection between trauma and physical symptoms, and offer insights into therapeutic approaches that address these somatic expressions.

The Body Keeps the Score

Bessel van der Kolk’s seminal work, “The Body Keeps the Score,” aptly encapsulates how trauma impacts us on a physiological level. When a person experiences trauma, their autonomic nervous system (ANS), which regulates involuntary bodily functions like heartbeat and digestion, can become dysregulated. This dysregulation can lead to a range of physical symptoms that might not immediately be recognized as related to trauma.

Common Somatic Symptoms

Somatic symptoms of trauma can vary widely but often include:

  • Chronic pain and headaches: Pain that does not have a clear medical cause can often be a manifestation of trauma.
  • Gastrointestinal issues: Including irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), which can be exacerbated by stress and emotional turmoil.
  • Fatigue and sleep disturbances: Insomnia or nightmares are common, as trauma impacts the brain regions involved in regulating sleep.
  • Heightened startle response: A constant state of hyperarousal can make individuals jumpy and easily startled.
  • Unexplained neurological symptoms: Such as tremors, numbness, or poor coordination.

The Role of Somatic Therapies

Somatic therapies are therapeutic approaches that emphasize the body’s role in the psychological healing process. These therapies are based on the understanding that the mind, body, and spirit are interconnected and that healing one aspect can promote overall recovery.

Somatic Experiencing

Developed by Dr. Peter Levine, Somatic Experiencing is a therapeutic technique that helps regulate the ANS by focusing on bodily sensations rather than solely on emotions or thoughts. This approach is grounded in the idea that trauma symptoms are the effects of energy that has been “stuck” in the body following an overwhelming event. Through gentle and controlled exposure to the physical sensations associated with traumatic memories, patients can gradually begin to process and release this trapped energy.

Body-Mind Integration Techniques

Techniques such as yoga, tai chi, and qigong can also be powerful tools in integrating the body and mind post-trauma. These practices emphasize slow, mindful movements that help restore the body’s rhythm and balance, providing a physical anchor to the present moment which can often be therapeutic for those who feel disconnected from their bodies.

The Importance of a Trauma-Informed Approach

In therapy, a trauma-informed approach is essential. This approach acknowledges the prevalence of trauma and understands the vast ways in which it can affect health—physically, emotionally, and mentally. A trauma-informed therapist recognizes the signs and symptoms of trauma in clients, integrates this understanding into all facets of practice, and avoids re-traumatization.


As we continue to deepen our understanding of how trauma affects the body, the importance of addressing somatic symptoms in therapy becomes increasingly clear. For many experiencing trauma, traditional talk therapy may not be sufficient. Incorporating somatic approaches can provide a more holistic path to healing. By recognizing and treating the physical manifestations of trauma, we can offer comprehensive care that addresses the full scope of an individual’s healing needs.

For anyone experiencing these symptoms, remember: your body is not your enemy; it may actually be your most valuable tool in the healing process. Seeking support from a professional who understands the intricate links between the body and trauma can be a crucial step towards recovery.

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I am licensed to practice in Washington State and the following Canadian Provinces: Yukon, British Columbia, Northwest Territories, Nunavut, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Newfoundland.