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Peter Levine goes further than Bessel van der Kolk on the importance of body memory

Peter LevinePeter Levine goes further than Bessel van der Kolk on the importance of body memory.

Peter Levine’s work on body memory of trauma has a devoted following.  His is a more practical, methodical, and focused version of Bessel van der Kolk’s speculations about trauma’s embeddedness in the body.  Van der Kolk wrote the forward to Levine’s Trauma and Memory: Brain and Body in a Search for the Living Past.  It reads,

For well over a century we have understood that the imprints of trauma are stored not as narratives about bad things that happened sometime in the past, but as physical sensations that are experienced as immediate life threats — right now. (loc 90)

Or as Levine puts it,

It is crucial to appreciate that emotional memories are experienced in the body as physical sensations. (p 22)

The practice

Levine works by observing the position and attitude of the body, seeing where the tension lies, and working on that body part almost like a physical therapist, helping it to relax.   “Expand” is his term. The difference is that Levine does this body work while talking with his patient about the trauma he or she experienced.  It’s a good idea: talk about your trauma while your therapist works on your body to help it relax.  In this way, psyche and soma and integrated.  In practice, it doesn’t work so well, primarily because Levine focuses entirely on trauma confined to a single event manifested in a particular bodily contraction, as he calls it. 

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