Social workers are widening their approach to their work, and alternative treatments such as somatic treatment are being used to help social workers help clients who are dealing with stress or trauma. Somat, the root for somatic, means “body.” Somatic therapy studies the body in order to offer therapeutic healing. Somatic psychology was developed by Pierre Janet before Freud started practicing in the early 20th century, but its practice has become more and more prevalent in the 21st century.
How the 21st Century Developed Somatic Therapy
With the development of technology, social workers have been reinventing their approach to their work from implementing Facebook to developing new ways of helping their clients. Developed in 2005, Somatic Experiencing (SE) is a somatic approach to helping clients deal with trauma. The method focuses on the biological response of clients to trauma and leads social workers to help their clients by understanding how the body is physically responding to a traumatic event. SE depends on neuroimaging studies that show how trauma affects cortical and subcortical processing of information.
Developed by Laurie Leitch and Elaine Miller-Karas, Trauma Resiliency Model (TRM) was inspired by SE and it’s been used in disasters to help stabilize emergency settings. The treatment works by unlocking “stress memories” that are trapped by the body in stress situations. By helping the client to face these traumatic emotions earlier on, you can help him or her to avoid the recapitulation of these emotions down the road.
How Social Workers Use SE/TRM Therapy
The SE / TRM session would work through observation of a client’s skin, muscle tone, breath, expression, and posture. The social worker relates these patters to the memories the client has connected to the traumatic event. By bringing up these emotions, you help to unblock the sensations that were originally intended for the flight or fight response but were trapped. The social worker will be able to observe the release of these pent up emotions as the client trembles, cries or even starts laughing uncontrollably.
SE / TRM treatment has been tested and used on Hurricane survivors who were experiencing PTSD. The studies showed that those who participated in an SE / TRM treatment group experienced less disruptive trauma than those who did not receive treatment. In fact, often social workers will even treat other social workers who have likewise experienced trauma. For example, studies were done on SR/TRM treatment used after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. The results showed that the treatment group experienced significant decreases post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms.
Using alternative treatments such as SE /TRM treatment is a useful tool for social workers who deal with clients who have undergone a traumatic event. Treatment can happen in a short amount of time, so it makes it a particularly useful tool when dealing with a mass disaster. Started more than a century ago, somatic therapy has resurged recently and social workers are finding it helpful in treating clients after particularly stressful events.
Robert Neff has seen and written about many traumatic events. He knows just how important the social services are when helping people recover. If you would like to have a career helping the victims of a crisis check out Case Western University and the social work degrees offered there.