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Somatic Experiencing, Trauma and Treating Eating Disorders

Article Provided By: Megan Ross, PhD candidate, LPC, R-DMT, GL-CMA – Trauma Therapy Coordinator at Timberline Knolls Residential Treatment Center

An eating disorder is rarely the result of one factor. However, it is not unusual for physical or psychological trauma to be involved.

The definition of trauma or what constitutes a traumatic experience is vast. Trauma can result from something as seemingly minor as childhood bullying or an experience as catastrophic as violent rape.

Trauma is the emotional and physiological aftermath of an event; it is not the event itself, it is the individual’s experience of the event. For example, imagine two young women witnessing a terrible accident in which a person is killed. Later that day, one of these women meets a friend for coffee and tells her all about the horrific accident; she then goes on with her life. Although she was impacted, this woman was not traumatized by the event. The second woman’s experience is radically different. Due to myriad factors such as past experiences or a predisposition toward depression, she suffers extreme trauma. In time, her inability to cope with painful thoughts and emotions could manifest in a multitude of psychiatric issues including a food-related disorder.

Somatic Experiencing and Eating Disorders

When trauma is at the heart of an eating disorder, somatic experiencing (SE) often proves a valuable therapeutic tool. SE Is based on the notion that trauma is a physiological, not psychological condition; therefore, the body must be included in therapy.

When a woman or girl experiences trauma, survival energy not unlike what is seen in the wild, becomes trapped inside her body. SE strives to discharge, and therefore, neutralize this negative tension. As the therapy progresses, pent-up physical energy is often released in the form of trembling, sweating, crying, and even yawning.

In turn, physiological changes take place, in the form of new neuro pathways being created in the brain. It is these neuro pathways that ultimately lead to changed behavior.

Just as many factors contribute to the development of an eating disorder, many therapeutic strategies, such as SE, can contribute in a very positive fashion to its eradication.

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