Ilene Smith is the author of the book Moving Beyond Trauma: The Roadmap to Healing from Your Past and Living with Ease and Vitality. She is a certified professional coach and Somatic Experiencing practitioner. She lives in Arizona.
Q: Why did you decide to write this book, and how long did it take you to write it?
A: I decided to write the book because I felt there was a need for a book that would educate, empower and guide people through the process of trauma healing and body- based therapies. There are so many great books out there on trauma, but most are geared towards professionals.
I started writing the book two years ago. It took a long time because I developed a series of assessments for the reader to map out their own nervous system functioning.
Sarah Melancon, Ph.D., and I thoroughly combed the existing research to make sure our assessments covered the most relevant aspects of the nervous system. These assessments can be used on their own or with a therapist to help an individual create a deeper understanding of their own functioning.
Q: How would you define Somatic Experiencing, and what impact did it have on you?
A: Somatic Experiencing (SE) is a body therapy modality used to heal trauma. When an event happens too fast and we do not have the time or ability for self-protection or defense, this survival energy gets stuck in our body as an incomplete biological reaction.
This stuck energy is what causes trauma symptoms and the nervous system to lose its ability to maintain a state of balance. The trapped energy from the traumatic experience causes the nervous system to rush to a state of fight, flight, or freeze.
SE works to help bring the nervous system back on-line by helping the individual restore their sense of safety. This can only happen when the body has a “biological completion” and the trauma energy has the opportunity to reintegrate back into the body.
When I went back to school in my early 40s for a degree in mental health counseling, I knew I wanted to work with trauma.
I was introduced to SE during my internship at an eating disorder clinic and felt as though SE was complimentary to talk therapy. I also felt as though it was the missing link for trauma healing.
I became a student of the work as well as a patient because I believe you can only take a client as far as you are willing to go yourself. I was experiencing great results personally and began applying the principles of SE with my clients.
The results were phenomenal. Clients with eating disorders and addiction were moving away from their maladaptive behaviors and finding deeper and more meaningful connections with themselves and others.
I feel strongly and passionately that the body and the nervous system need to be part of the healing process for real and everlasting change.
Q: You write that talk therapy "can be a distraction...It distracts us from what we're feeling." Do you see a role for talk therapy in addition to Somatic Experiencing therapy?
A: I believe talk therapy is important in helping individuals create a deeper understanding of oneself and how the past may be impacting present functioning. However, I believe talk therapy becomes detrimental when a person continues to retell their story over and over without creating a different relationship with their past.
SE is different as it works with the body’s most primitive instincts to help integrate trauma memories into the body. When this occurs, a person will experience a greater sense of safety within themselves.
In other words, a person gains a sense of mastery over themselves and their feelings. It is a knowing that you can handle and tolerate what you are experiencing. Resilience is a byproduct of knowing you have the internal resources to survive and this is what we teach the body through the process of SE.
Q: What do you hope readers take away from the book?
A: I hope readers will leave with the understand that where they are today may not be their fault. My desire is for the reader to recognize that the same brain and body that allowed them to survive is the same brain and body that will allow them to thrive in their life today.
I give the reader tools to work with their body and nervous system and ultimately create a life of healing, ease and vitality.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I am getting ready to write another book about my own personal journey of grief and healing. I lost my husband suddenly four years ago and if it was not for the somatic work that I had been doing prior to his death, I don’t believe I would have managed through the grief as well as I did.
It was the first time in my life that I allowed others to support me. I didn’t disconnect and I was able to allow for the layers of grief to peel away one by one.
Q: Anything else we should know?
A: If you want more information on Somatic Experiencing check out my website www.ilenesmith.com. If you are interested in finding a Somatic Experiencing Practitioner in your area go to www.traumahealing.org.
--Interview with Deborah Kalb