Decades ago, the founder of psychodrama, Jacob Moreno said, “the body remembers what the mind forgets.” He was speaking about how trauma gets stored in our bodies on a cellular level.
Recent research is validating Moreno’s earlier statement.
Bessel van der Kolk, a pioneer in trauma research, showed through brain scans that when one is traumatized, there is increased activity in the limbic system area of the brain. This is the area where trauma memories are stored, and they are stored differently than other memories.
The symptoms of trauma show up with flight, fight, or freeze responses such as panic and body sensations, flashbacks, and feeling on edge or easily startled.
At the same time, another part of the brain, the frontal cortex, shuts down when trauma memories are activated. The frontal cortex helps us integrate our experiences and is the more rational part of the brain. It includes the functions of reason, speech, and emotions.
When we are triggered by a trauma memory, we feel like the trauma is happening again in the present. We cannot express ourselves with words and we can’t think clearly. Like a deer caught in the headlights, we need relief from these painful memories.
Psychodrama and creative arts do just that. They help integrate our emotions with our rational thinking. With experiential therapy, we are able to release some of the painful memories stored inside of us, often through a catharsis where buried feelings are almost expelled from our bodies.
Bessel van der Kolk realized that trauma memories do not heal through traditional talk therapy. Experiential therapies help re-engage our rational thinking.
As a psychodramatist, I am always scanning for trauma responses in clients. I believe one of my roles is to help clients stay in their bodies and get to a place where they can express all of the emotions associated with a trauma. This inner child work is crucial to releasing trauma, for a client to safely say what they were not able to say when the trauma originally happened.
When trauma starts to be released from the body, clients often need to move their bodies, shake, or sob. I have witnessed the shift in clients when the frontal cortex starts working again and they can integrate their emotions. There is almost a halo-like quality around them and their facial expressions completely relax. This is the magic of psychodrama and experiential therapy.
Jacob Moreno intuitively knew that trauma needs to be released from the body long before science could validate this fact. Psychodrama and action methods help to do this by freeing up different parts of our brains. We are then better able to live more integrated, spontaneous, and fulfilling lives.
van der Kolk, B.A. (1994), The Body Keeps the Score: Memory and the Emerging Psychobiology of Post Traumatic Stress, Harvard Review of Psychiatry, 1, pp. 253-265.
Kisiel, Blaustein, Spinazzola, Schmidt, Zucker, van der Kolk (2006), Evaluation of a Theater-Based Youth Violence Prevention Program for Elementary School Children , Journal of School Violence, Vol. 5 (2), pp. 19-36
©2012 by Valerie Simon, LCSW, CP