Have you ever felt at a loss for words to describe your feelings?
Neurobiological research finds that some negative emotions – especially those involving extreme stress from grief or trauma – are processed in an “evolutionarily older” part of our brain that cannot be reached through verbal or even cognitive processes. This means some emotions are so intense and difficult to process that we literally “have no words” for them. We can’t even “wrap our minds around them,” so to speak.
For emotions like these, experts recommend we take a different approach to heal, starting with the body and physical sensations—instead of the mind.
Movement therapies, sometimes called somatic therapies, include a broad range of mindful movement-based practices used to treat the mind, body and spirit concurrently. Examples include dance/movement therapy (DMT), yoga and EFT (emotional freedom technique) tapping therapy.
Dance/movement therapy (DMT) uses movement to access hard-to-reach emotions.
“It’s about finding the places inside that you might not know or have chosen to deny, and giving a voice to the experiences and emotions,” said board-certified dance therapist Erica Hornthal, MA, LCPC, BC-DMT.
Researchers state that DMT allows the person to be creative and explore their unexpressed emotions using movement improvisation, authentic movement and “body dialogues,” all of which work to strengthen self-confidence and create space to consciously process the subconscious conflicts.
The American Dance Therapy Association has a directory where you can search for a board-certified dance/movement therapist (BC-DMT) in your area.
There’s been a lot of buzz about the mental health benefits of yoga for a while now. But are these claims substantiated? According to research into the effectiveness of yoga as a treatment for symptoms of PTSD, the answer is a resounding yes. Scientists have found that yoga significantly reduces PTSD symptoms and helps individuals “tolerate physical and sensory experiences associated with fear and helplessness and to increase emotional awareness and affect tolerance.”
Here’s why: The controlled breathing patterns of yoga (pranayama) turn on the parasympathetic nervous system, which puts the brakes on your stress response system. And mindfulness meditation is well known for its impact on numerous physical and psychiatric conditions. But interestingly, for those who have suffered trauma, research finds that postures, or asanas, help these individuals observe and tolerate uncomfortable physical sensations so they can disconnect these sensations from emotional reactions related to the trauma.
If you’re interested in working one-on-one with a therapeutic yoga specialist, visit the Yoga Medicine website to find a teacher or schedule a virtual consultation.
You can also look on the International Association of Yoga Therapists website for a yoga therapist near you.
Emotional freedom technique (EFT)
Although the exact mechanisms of how EFT works is not well understood, researchers believe it combines complementary and alternative approaches such as acupuncture and hypnosis with conventional Western psychiatric treatments like exposure therapy and cognitive restructuring.
In essence, EFT pairs a brief psychological exposure to the “trigger” (e.g., worrisome or anxiety-provoking thought) with a simultaneous “tap” on a specified acupoint. Scientists believe that tap sends an inhibitory electrical signal to the limbic system (the emotional center) of the brain that basically tells it to calm down (i.e., reduce limbic hyperarousal). The rapid-fire repetition of the tapping is believed to be more effective and more powerful than relaxation-based repetitions.
As always, these methods are not intended to be medical advice, or to be used in place of medical advice. Please always consult a medical provider with any mental or physical health concerns.