We live in the age of post-traumatic stress. September 11, 2001, was a vivid confirmation
of this fact. We see it written on the bodies and imprinted in the craniosacral systems of
our clients. It is epidemic and is changing the way biodynamic craniosacral therapy is
Trauma is a challenge to the coping mechanisms of the mind and body. It triggers
fight / fright responses in the body.
Shock occurs when the mind Ė body resources are overwhelmed.
Traumatization is repeated shock that is driven deeper and is compressed into
oneís body and brain. This creates a memory pattern of distress in the right hemisphere of
Shock Affects are the expressions of embodied shock and trauma. They occur over
oneís life span as a disruption between the linked cohesion between parts of the self
especially sensation, imagination, behavior, emotion and memory. The cumulative pattern of
shock affect in a person is called a trauma schema.
Resources are anything brought to a situation involving traumatic stress that
helps resolve it.
Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapy is a crucial resource in the treatment of shock
Traumatization to the craniosacral system occurs when shock and trauma is recapitulated
over the life span. The core link may be a traumatic birth experience, then a broken arm
in childhood, then several car accidents, etc. These repeated traumas are layered
throughout the body and nervous system and recapitulate the core link. As you see in the
next chapters, oneís natural ability to cope or be resourced and to orient to reality is
Resources are anything we bring to a situation to resolve it. Resources are external-friends,
family, nature and internal-journalizing, art, meditation, prayer, etc. Resources may
frequently be lost in cases of sexual abuse, rape, surgery, car accidents, and orthopedic
injuries. Even witnessing violence on TV such as millions of people did on September 11,
2001, is shocking to the nervous system. Other resources include safe sensation or areas of
strength in the body, visualizing a safe place or contacting a safe person who is a
resourcing friend. All of these are found within the soma and psyche as well as within oneís
social and cultural milieu. The key word here is safety. Safety as a felt sense in the body
is lost in trauma. Therefore, the most important resource is safety and anything associated
with safety especially the therapist.
There is also another type of resource called a survival resource. It is much deeper and
more primitive than our usual resources. A survival resource is a primal defensive
strategy such as dissociation, contraction or immobilization. These survival mechanisms
are found deep in the limbic system of the brain or in the tissues and fluids of the
embryo before there was a nervous system. They must be respected by the therapist. As a
principle, Biodynamic Craniosacral Therapy looks for the health and meaning within the
survival resource without challenging it, which can lead to retraumatization of the
patient. So to begin with, therapists must have a deep understanding of resources and the
lack thereof in many clients.
When the bodyís natural resources are overwhelmed, at least three physiological events
occur: the first is called hyperarousal. The sympathetic nervous system speeds up the
right hemisphere of the brain, activates bodyís memories and triggers strong physiological
reactions such as the fight / flight response in the body. Emotional flooding,
claustrophobic thinking and confusion characterize the internal experience of hyperarousal
since the right hemisphere is non-verbal. The right hemisphere is where memories of shock
and trauma are stored and consistently get activated when someone re-experiences traumatic
stress. Past traumas and shocks are stacked in the right hemisphere of the brain, as
compressed experience, like poker chips. It is hard to find a patient with only one
trauma in her life given its pervasiveness in the culture. When the emotional intensity
of a shock or trauma memory begins to flood the body, it may have the affect of
re-traumatizing the patient by placing her, once again in a situation where she feels
helpless and overwhelmed. Therefore, it is vital to come into relationship with shock and
trauma without physical collapse or psychological disintegration. I ask myself questions
while Iím working such as: How has the shock affected the whole body? Where is the health
in all of this? When we are able to hold these non-verbal questions, we create a container
for different healing possibilities.
The second shock affect involves dissociation. Dissociation is the failure to
neurologically integrate sensory experience from the body. Among other things, the right
hemisphere of the brain is responsible for monitoring the totality of the bodyís sensorium.
Dissociation involves a profound activation of the parasympathetic nervous system that is
usually a learned response to infant and childhood traumatic stress. The common theme in
dissociation later in life is a partial or complete loss of the normal integration between
memories of the past, awareness of self-identity, misinterpretation of body sensations and
control of bodily movements.
Dissociative disorders and the study of its neurobiology are important for two reasons.
The first is because of the overwhelming speed and volume of information that confronts
the body and nervous system in the modern world. The second reason is the sheer magnitude
of prenatal and perinatal neglect and abuse that contribute to disorganized attachments
between infants and their primary caregivers. The first dissociation is contemporary and
the second dissociation is developmental. The latter was set in place before, during and
after birth. This means that oneís body and behavior has maladapted because of shock and
trauma when brain development was primarily focussed on the dyadic regulation of emotions
(with a primary caregiver) exclusively through the right hemisphere of the brain. This
damages a personís ability to self-regulate the autonomic nervous system not only with
other people but also when alone throughout life. Furthermore, there is a much greater
susceptibility to post-traumatic stress disorder in adulthood.
The third affect is closely related to dissociation is the withdrawal and contraction of
oneís physical energy. Withdrawal causes either a freezing response or a collapse in the
body. Whether one gets stiff or goes slack is genetically programmed in the individual as
a survival response generated by an overactive sympathetic nervous system or conversely
an overactive parasympathetic nervous system or both uncouple from their reciprocal
function and are simultaneously overactive. Immobilization of physical energy causes the
body and mind to fragment and lose its cohesiveness. Mental and physical experience becomes
disorganized. We are able to feel some parts of our body and the world around us but not
others; it also changes oneís behavior. Basically, the parts of the body donít feel like
they fit together. Typically withdrawal and immobilization occur in the extremities of the
body, the arms and the legs. It is here where the fight/ flight mechanism is thwarted.
A patient may report parts of her body being numb or having no sensation at all. Other
patients report brief episodes of intrusive pain and sensation.
How does a therapist work with this appropriately? It is important to establish a verbal
contract regarding the use of touch with a patient. This provides a boundary for the
relationship. It also involves the need to be ethical by informing the patient of the
therapistís exact training and experience and how it is brought to the therapeutic
relationship. Further, it is essential to enter into a dialogue about the quality of the
touch and what feels comfortable. I regularly ask my patients; Are you comfortable? In
this way, the therapist is able to assist the patient in reassociating with resourced
sensations that underlie emotional states. This integrates the left hemisphere, which is
responsible for maintaining an accurate connection to outside reality. This ability is
diminished to a greater or lesser degree of trauma.
Only one layer of shock and trauma is worked with at one time. We must move slowly to
integrate the left hemisphere with the right. Touch and boundaries are constantly
renegotiated in order to avoid retraumatization of the patient. The therapist becomes a
skilled observer of all the effects and nuances at the edge of the patientís trauma schema.
It is the skill of staying at the edge that allows the patient to self-regulate and helps
her to develop an unbiased witness, both of which hare damaged in trauma. The therapist
is merely listening to the patientís story as it is told through the fluids. This builds
resources in the body, reconnects the two hemispheres of the brain and creates wholeness
in the patient.
In this regard, it is important for the therapist to be able to evaluate how ready or
prepared a patient is to contact her shock and trauma issues. Criteria to look at
The patientís capacity for body awareness. Is her intention inside or outside the body?
The patients capacity for containment (making space for strong emotions).
The patientís ability to maintain boundaries by not moving prematurely into deeper issues.
What emotional age is the patient functioning from?
How available her witness self to her? Has she formed a relationship between the
situation and an internal unbiased observer or fair witness?
The resolution of shock and trauma comes about through reassociation to sensation in the
therapeutic relationship. Therefore, exquisite sensitivity to the patientís state of both
sympathetic and parasympathetic activation is required. One of the most powerful tools
the therapist has is to verbally bring awareness to the value of the patientsí shock
affects such as contraction and withdrawal, rather than trying to challenge or remove
them. Biodynamic craniosacral therapy helps the patient reassociate to sensations around
and underneath the survival resources in the body. This transforms the survival resource
into a healing resource. This means that rather than thinking about emotions or
impulsively acting them out, one identifies with the sensory experience of the body and
is able to talk about it from a witness perspective rather than relive it. This uncouples
the sensation from the intensity of the emotional state. There is a big difference between
saying: ďIím angryĒ and Iím noticing the sensation of anger coming up right now.Ē I also
ask the patient to focus on the edge of body sensation rather than the center of the
emotions that ultimately, the patient can witness her experience and have body sensation
be a resource.
The skills of pacing and slowing in biodynamic craniosacral therapy require the ability
to track the mutual unfolding experience of both the therapist and the patient during the
session. This tracking skill becomes an artistic ability to see and listen with presence
and bearing witness to the clientís pain and suffering. Tracking a deep listening also
involves sensing the sacredness of the therapeutic space, which means the therapist
symbolically, places his ego outside the office room. This is called establishing right
distance and creates a matrix for empathy and compassion to ripen in this relationship.
Making a boundary in this way decompresses the nervous system and is a critical antidote
when encountering shock and trauma.
Healing trauma is a slow process. It involves working with the overall schema in small
increments. I am frequently asked if we are ever able to successfully resolve trauma.
The answer is yes, however it is important to remember that trauma does not disappear
forever from our body and consciousness but rather that the memories and physiological
states loose their debilitating power over us. We will no longer feel like a prisoner in
own body. To get to that place involves growing and developing resources so that the
antidotes for traumatic stress are readily available now and we are therefore empowered
to lead our lives to their full potential today and tomorrow. This empowerment not only
is reflected in our own life, but also radiates out to those around us and ultimately to
the society as a whole. Finally, healing trauma involves stopping it at its source with
better prenatal care; saner birth practices and teaching parents to be better at what
they do by being better resourced. Together, these measures will improve our capacity to
love because after all, love heals all things, especially shock and trauma. Love is the
This is a Multidisciplinary Clinic
SPECIALIZING IN: CRANIOSACRAL THERAPY FOR INFANTS, CHILDREN AND ADULTS
THERAPEUTIC MASSAGE FOR EXPECTANT MOTHERS WITH A SPECIALLY DESIGNED TABLE FOR MOTHER'S COMFORT & A SUPPORT STRAP