Somatic Experiencing: Primary Therapist Highlights Importance of Building A Sensory Vocabulary

MG 7984 1 1When we experience something really intense or scary, that trauma can become a part of us. It stays deep within our bodies. This is why you often see people who have had traumatic experiences struggling with issues like digestive problems, cramping, and asthma. The idea is that there is a very physical symptom to trauma. In order to help students relieve these symptoms, I often utilize somatic experiencing techniques.

What is somatic experiencing?

Somatic experiencing is a form of therapy which addresses the physical symptoms associated with trauma-related experiences. I utilize somatic experiencing for students struggling with smaller forms of trauma, low self esteem, and mild eating disorders. These students often express somatic complaints. For example, I see a lot of these students dealing digestive issues. They may complain about cramps and stomach pain.
With these students, somatic experiencing is an effective way of helping them overcome physical symptoms. I help them develop a sensory vocabulary which helps students make sense of what is going on in their bodies. The theory behind building a sensory vocabulary is that once you begin to tap into what’s going on with physical symptoms, you can shift those negative feelings away from your body.

Changing habits, improving symptoms

After developing a sensory vocabulary, I help students identify ways in which they can change their physical habits in order to relieve symptoms. Students struggling with low self esteem often show up to therapy sessions hunched in on themselves. They may look down on the ground and not raise their head during the entirety of the session. For these students, I may ask them to make small changes. Things like putting their chin up and holding their shoulders back while they are speaking. Something as small as that can make a huge difference in the mental state of a student.
By making these small changes, students  begin to pay more attention to the physical cues they are sending themselves through their posture and other physical habits. Paying attention to these cues can help students speak with more confidence and make healthier decisions for themselves.

Connection to Yoga and Meditation

Kaitlin Kertesz, MSW, LCSWA, Family Therapist at Trails, “Yoga Katie”,  also uses techniques associated with somatic experiencing in the work she does with families at family workshops. During yoga and meditation sessions, she asks families  to do a yoga pose and say a phrase. She then asks them to change their pose and say the same thing. From there, parents and students are asked to notice how they felt after changing from pose to pose while they were saying the same phrase. This is a great example of the ways in which changing your physical cues can affect the way you feel overall.
In my opinion, developing an awareness of your senses is just as important as being aware of your emotions. By forming a sensory vocabulary, students can adapt their physical cues to help transform the way they feel.

Trails Carolina can help

If your child is struggling with emotional and behavioral challenges such as trauma or low self esteem, Trails Carolina can help.
Trails Carolina is a wilderness therapy program for young people ages 10-17. Learn more about Trails by calling 800-975-7303 today.

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Jeremy Whitworth

As Executive Director at Trails Carolina, a leading wilderness therapy program for youth and teens, I oversee operations and collaborate with our leadership team. Since 2022, I've also hosted the Common Ground Podcast for parents: With a background in Wilderness Leadership and Experiential Education, I've managed adventure-based therapeutic programs across the US and Canada. My experiences in competitive athletics and adventure sports have honed my leadership, risk assessment, and decision-making skills, which I apply to running a successful business like Trails Carolina.

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Trails saved my daughter’s life. Amanda is an amazing human and a brilliant therapist. I am so grateful to her, Science Steve, and the other wonderful people who could reach my daughter at a time when I could not.

Margot Lowman August 2022

Great life changing experience for our son. After becoming addicted to gaming during covid he was very depressed. At Trails he experienced the wilderness, Science Steve, learning survival skills and top notch therapy and support etc… I highly recommend! This gave our son and our family a renewed family bond full of love and excitement about his bright future.

Winnifred Wilson July 2022


Outstanding clinical work and superb staff! There’s a great culture at this company and it shows with how they engage with families/clients.

Kristin Brace June 2022


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