Sensorimotor Psychotherapist Bryan Maynard shares his personal journey to address his childhood trauma by listening to his body.
By the age of six, fighting had already become a way of life for.Bryan Maynard. Growing up in Appalachia, he was raised by an abusive father and surrounded by a cultural imperative to fight for honor.
The trauma of that time became a distinct part of Bryan’s DNA. Anxiety filled his daily life and he began to repress the anger he felt toward the family life that hurt him deeply.
“When you are terrified of the people who you want to lay against their chest and should receive their comfort,” Maynard said. “There’s an energetic storm of wanting to reach for safety and shutting [that impulse] down that tornadoes inside your nervous system.”
Maynard survived that trauma and moved away from home. But, it wasn’t until he listened to both his mind and his body that he was really able to address his past. In this episode of Powering Health and Wellness with RPM Rehab, Maynard shares how he went from a patient of sensorimotor psychotherapy to a practitioner.
Addressing the trauma
For years, Maynard tried to adapt to his trauma by being task-oriented. He was driven to succeed as an athlete, then later in his career – but he wasn’t taking time to address all the residual anger he carried around.
The more he tried to ignore his trauma, the more the urge to be violent bubbled up in him.
“It’s just right under the surface. It’s right there,” he said. “I was anxious all the time. I was having headaches. I was having back pain…I had gastrointestinal issues. I had trouble sleeping because of the pain.”
He began going to counseling – where the mantra was ‘Change your thinking and your feelings will follow’. He tried it for more than two years including time as an in-patient. But, the symptoms of his trauma just kept coming back.
“I got some bandaid with that counseling,” he said. “But I could not change those physiological reflexes by just changing my thinking.”
At the age of 40 – facing the possibility of divorce – he began to look for other solutions. As he was studying psychotherapy, he started to look for something that addresses the whole person.
That’s when he found what he was looking for: sensorimotor psychotherapy. He finally had answers for how the trauma affected his physical self, not just his emotional self. As he experienced sensorimotor psychotherapy himself, it validated everything he felt throughout his life.
“It was like…we had walked into some sacred room in my body that said ‘Let me tell you what it was really like’,” Maynard said. “But not with your brain – not your talking brain. Let your body talk.”
What is sensorimotor psychotherapy?
Sensorimotor psychotherapy is an approach to trauma treatment that takes the whole person into account. It takes the time to break down the physical impacts – not just emotional pain – that Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) can have on an individual. The approach is useful for victims of traumatic accidents and injuries as well as psychological trauma.
At the center of the practice is the connection of thoughts and physiological reactions.
“The observing part of the brain goes offline,” he said. “And you’re triggered, and now your body actually knows something while the other systems are not allowed to talk.”
In this body-oriented approach, the mind isn’t pitted against the body. Instead, a therapist is attuned to the physical reactions of the patient and shares those experiences.
“In that shared state, [the pain] reorganizes somatically,” Maynard said. “At a level where it’s like ‘Oh, I kind of think I understand what it feels like for someone to take care of me.’ Which I had never had before.”
Some trauma is just too deep to be verbalized or understood by our thinking brains. But as a patient experiences a constriction in their throat or pain in their chest, it speaks for them.
Trauma in the body
When someone experiences trauma, it buries deep in their bodies. It’s in their neurons, in their subcortical thinking, in their muscles.
And, trauma doesn’t look the same for everyone. A spectrum of experiences fits into that small word.
“You don’t have to have a story like mine to have your sub-thinking, your brain stem, hold shame,” he said. “We don’t work just with PTSD, we work with the daily stuff that happened.”
We all carry things that can have an impact on our bodies. It doesn’t have to look like Maynard’s story to merit treatment. Negative feelings around our identities pervade our culture.
“Shame is underestimated,” he said. “It’s not just ‘at my core identity, I don’t feel like enough.’ It’s visceral.”
To learn more about this show, follow this podcast wherever you listen to your audio content. And join in the conversation by visiting us online at rpmrehab.com/podcast.