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What Is Sensorimotor Psychotherapy?

Sensorimotor Psychotherapy is a body-centred psychotherapy that makes it possible for clients to discover the habitual and automatic attitudes, both physical and psychological, by which they generate patterns of experience. This gentle therapy teaches clients to follow the inherently intelligent processes of body and mind to promote healing. It is particularly helpful in working with the effects of trauma and abuse, emotional pain, and limiting belief systems. Through the use of simple experiments, unconscious attitudes are brought to consciousness where they can be examined, understood, and changed. A synthesis of somatic therapy and the Hakomi Method of Body-Centred Psychotherapy developed by Ron Kurtz in the 1980's, and from which it evolved, Sensorimotor Psychotherapy has gained international acclaim.

The Hakomi Method has its roots in Taoism and Buddhism and is based on simple, non-violent experimental techniques that evoke and process experience in mindfulness. In the mid 1970s, as an apprentice of Ron Kurtz and a student of various body therapies, Pat Ogden became intrigued by her clients' pervasive dissociation from the body, which resulted in a variety of psychological issues. At that time, most approaches separated somatic therapy from psychotherapy. Pat Ogden wanted to blend the two approaches into a more effective tool for healing mind-body dissociation and thereby alleviating the ensuing psychological problems. With her private practice as her laboratory, and with Ron Kurtz and her colleague Bill Bowen as consultants, she worked to join body therapy with the Hakomi Method, and Sensorimotor Psychotherapy was born.

"Only one therapy I know of reaches as deeply into the body as it does into the mind, and by reaching for both, touches the soul."
-Ron Kurtz, Founder of the Hakomi Method, on Sensorimotor Psychotherapy

Influenced by such leaders in the field as Bessel van der Kolk, Peter Levine, Judith Herman, Emilie Conrad, Allan Schore, Onno van der Hart, Ellert Nijenhuis and Kathy Steele, as well as by the functioning of the body itself, the Sensorimotor Psychotherapy faculty began to study the differences between their clients' responses to trauma and their responses to developmental injury. They reached the following conclusions: developmental injury occurs from dysfunctional family dynamics that lead to the formation of limiting psychological belief systems, and traumatic injury is due to perceived life-threatening events that overwhelm boundaries and leave victims feeling helpless and out of control. This insight evolved into the formulation of a therapeutic method that differentiates those approaches, both somatic and psychological, that mend traumatic wounds from those that resolve developmental issues. Particular emphasis is placed on the relationship between trauma and developmental issues.

Sensorimotor Psychotherapy is now known for differentiating these two kinds of injury and working with the interface between them. In Sensorimotor Psychotherapy, the body is viewed as a living source of intelligence, information and change. The body, its sensations, and direct sensory experience are referenced throughout the therapy process. Sensorimotor Psychotherapy is based on and committed to principles of mindfulness, non-violence, organicity, unity, and mind/body holism. By proceeding slowly, gently, and non-violently, an atmosphere of safety is created in which the client's defences can be examined and willingly yielded, rather than confronted and overpowered and new resources, especially somatic resources, can be developed.

"Since re-living of trauma often occurs in the form of physical sensations, which, in turn, precipitate intense trauma-related emotions of terror and helplessness, learning how to manage and uncouple physical sensations from trauma-based emotions has emerged as one of the essential aspects of the effective treatment of PTSD. Pat Ogden (originator of Sensorimotor Psychotherapy) is the undisputed master of teaching clinicians how to work with physical sensations to help people beyond their trauma. For me, her work has opened up a whole new dimension of effective therapy."
-Bessel van der Kolk, MD, Editor of Traumatic Stress

"Pat Ogden's compassionate presence creates a healing container where clients come to grips with past trauma. As she attenuates the therapeutic process, she demonstrates meticulous care in tracking and modulation to help clients heal and integrate the depths of the psyche."
-Emilie Conrad, Founder of Continuum



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