In a therapy session, psychologists often notice that teenagers may become visibly upset even if their tone is even and the story they are telling is well-organized. This phenomenon often puzzles psychologists, who struggle to find strategies to help teens with trauma work through these body memories, especially if they are not entirely aware that they are experiencing these physical sensations. At blueFire Wilderness, we use a variety of experiential therapies based on principles of somatic experiencing to help teens address the physical symptoms of trauma outside of structured therapy sessions.

How is Trauma Stored in the Body?

According to neuroscientist Antonio Damasio, emotions emergy only after the brain registers physical changes in the body. Through his research, he discovered that recalling an emotional event from the past causes us to actually re-experience the visceral sensations felt during the original event. This suggests that our physical bodies may retain memories more accurately than our minds can. 

On a physical level, teens are more likely to describe feeling a knot in their stomach, someone touching them, or losing feeling in certain parts of their body as they talk about negative events that they claim did not bother them. This suggests that regardless of how they describe their reaction to the event, the way their body responds when retelling the story hints at how they truly felt. 

What’s The Difference Between Negative Memories and Traumatic Memories?

Psychiatrist Bessel van der Kolk helped conduct a study comparing how people recall benign experiences and traumatic experiences and noticed the difference between the ways in which participants described these events.

When asked about an event in their life that they will always remember but that is not traumatic, participants struggled to focus on specific sensory details of the events. When asked about traumatic events, participants struggled to recall the sequence of events and other vital details that might, say, help them file a report.

He concluded that traumatic memories are more likely to be recorded as brief schemas of our sensory experience rather than a rational progression of events, as the emotional side of our brain is more likely to be activated than the rational side of our brain during these experiences. These findings help explain why many survivors experience memory loss or repress important details even though they may continue to experience other symptoms of trauma.

Taking an Experiential Approach

We believe that reclaiming agency, or the feeling of being in charge of one’s life, begins with awareness of our body and the way our body feels. From there, teens are better able to explore why they might feel that way and how to feel better. 

Our therapists recognize that talking through traumatic memories can be difficult for teenagers who may not understand exactly what happened or what should have happened in a different context. For many teenagers, processing trauma may retraumatize them, as they’ve tried to bury memories with a variety of coping mechanisms. Experiential therapies try to address these memories in a more subtle way and are focused on helping teens more forward.

Many types of experiential therapies use a sensorimotor approach that aim to help teens identify sensory information blocked by trauma, accept that this energy is part of their experience, and to explore ways to release this blocked energy. 

Some of the ways we help teens work through traumatic body memories include:

  • Somatic Experiencing helps teens identify what they’re feeling in their bodies while talking about certain experiences.
  • Yoga helps them connect their movements with their breath and strengthen their mind-body connection.
  • Adventure Activities empower teens to seek out healthy social activities that help them face their fears head-on and build confidence in their ability to overcome challenges they may face.

blueFire Wilderness Can Help 

BlueFire Wilderness Therapy is an adventure-based program for teens ages 11-17 who struggle with mental health issues and addictive behaviors. Wilderness therapy removes students from the distraction of peers, devices, and demands of life and allows them to heal in a supportive and nurturing environment. Clients will be able to focus on themselves and become more aware of their troubling behaviors. BlueFire gives them the skills and tools they need to combat these behaviors and be on their way to a happy and healthy life. We can help your family today!

Contact us at 1-844-413-1999.


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