Sensorimotor Psychotherapy (SP) is a deep, body-oriented approach which tunes in to the body’s innate drive to find completion and heal itself below the level of cognition and narrative.
Developed as a result of the latest advances in neurophysiology, Sensorimotor Psychotherapy is based on our current understanding of how our nervous systems respond to trauma. Pat Ogden, the founder of SP, combined this with her clinical observations of the disconnection between mind and body in trauma clients and her understanding of yoga and dance.
SP makes a useful distinction between the wounds we receive in childhood (Developmental Trauma) and traumatic injury. It combines a variety of approaches to help the client find some resolution. Pat Ogden describes a number of Character Strategies which we form around the core wounds or ‘missing experiences’ in our development. Mindful observation of these and their manifestation in our bodies, beliefs and behaviours allows the client to experience a sense of what they really needed from caregivers or peers in an atmosphere of safety, respect and compassion.
Traumatic injury is most often experienced by the body and the somatic symptoms of trauma, anxiety and dissociation reflect this. Through the achievement of mindful attunement to the body and tracking the sensations (rather than paying attention to the story which can often loop or become clouded and stuck) clients can get a sense of what the body requires to defend or protect themselves.
What does it look like?
Sensorimotor Psychotherapy is an experiential rather than a cognitive therapy. This means that the emphasis in SP is very much on tuning in to your body’s experience rather than talking about what happened. This can take people some time to get used to as we are so used to thinking about and trying to work things out intellectually.
After an initial period of assessment, a client experiencing Sensorimotor Psychotherapy will learn the valuable skill of tuning in to his or her body and validating and responding to the various needs highlighted there. We teach a variety of somatic resources involving simple breathing techniques or small movements which enable a client to identify whether their body requires more or less activation in order to bring them into a ‘window of tolerance’. We build a confidence in mindfully noticing sensations and tracking them through to a sense of completion. Developmental work involves many of these skills in conjunction with greater emphasis on relationship and attachment and on updating and bringing into consciousness those familiar patterns we grow to observe when our character strategies become triggered.
Working with traumatic injury may involve experiments with forming protective or nurturing boundaries. It may also involve identifying a truncated defensive response which was unable to complete at the time of trauma due to overwhelm or a lack of power or opportunity. Gently and with complete consent we explore movements or the discharge of pent-up energy from the trauma. Such transformation leads to what are termed ‘Acts of Triumph’.
At The Oxford Development Centre we individually tailor our therapeutic work to each person’s needs and Sensorimotor Psychotherapy might be embedded into a range of other therapeutic approaches that our therapists consider to be helpful for their clients.