The Biology of Trauma

Trauma is not just a psychological event, it has a biological impact as well. When a traumatic event occurs, the body’s stress response is activated, and adrenaline, cortisol and other stress hormones are released into the body. A lot of other things occur in the brain memory processing as well and quite often there is a type of structured “wiring” of the brain that happens as a result of experiencing a trauma.

Trauma responses are natural

This is a natural response, which the mind and body system works towards protection against future threats in future. But when the traumatic event is not properly processed, the body remains in a state of high alert and the stress response is not turned off. This can then result in ongoing symptoms such as anxiety, sleep disturbances, irritability, and other physical and psychological symptoms.

The work of Dr Scott Lyons (1), a licensed psychologist and somatic psychotherapist, provides valuable insights into the connection between the body and trauma, or the “biology of trauma” so to speak. Lyons believes that trauma is not just stored in the mind, but in the body as well. He notes that traditional talk therapy approaches do not address the physical symptoms of trauma, and that body-centered therapies or somatic therapies are necessary to help people fully heal from trauma.

The work of Vincent Felitti and others (2) highlights the importance of addressing trauma at its root cause (eg: adverse childhood events), as it has a profound impact on physical health as well as psychological well-being. For example, he discovered a strong correlation between obesity and childhood sexual abuse, where he claims that in a large study 55% of adults suffering long term obesity problems report being molested as a child.

Dissociation and Physical Health

Dissociation occurs when a person disconnects from their thoughts, feelings, memories or sense of identity. They may know they are consciously instigating it, or it may be triggered by natural process of the mind/body based on a survival instinct of protection that was developed. Although there are known “dissociative disorders include dissociative amnesia, depersonalization disorder and dissociative identity disorder (DID), many of us without such a diagnosis have experienced dissociation. It could be as simple as forgetting the name of a person that was perceived as causing you too much emotional pain during an incident or period of time.

What can happen during dissociating is that the person in “disconnecting” from the traumatic experience, also disconnects from their embodiment, detaching from their senses and presence with their body. We are not talking about daydreaming to escape the boredom of a classroom, but a survival instinct kicking in to avoid pain or danger.

What happens when you dissociate for too long? Too much dissociating can slow or prevent recovery from the impact of trauma or produce the symptoms of post- traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and lead to physical symptoms such as unexplained chronic pain. Effects of dissociation can become a problem by disrupting day to day life.

Somatic Psychotherapy and Trauma Healing

Somatic psychotherapies offer a way to address the physical symptoms of trauma and support the healing process to “embody” again after the trauma has for too long “disembodied”.

Somatic Psychotherapy and Trauma Healing

Those therapies focus on body awareness, regulation, and movement to help clients process the physiological impact of traumatic events. By bringing attention to the body and its sensations, clients can learn to recognize when their bodies are in a state of high alert and develop tools to regulate their nervous system. An example of such a therapy is Embodied Processing.

Like other contemporary psychotherapies, emphasis is placed on the uniqueness of the individual, and the qualities present in the particular therapeutic relationship formed by each therapist-client dynamic. The basis of somatic therapy is guided by several philosophies and more recently by research in Infant Development, Neurobiology, and Attachment theories.  The common agreement is that:
• mind and Body are not separate entities but mutually influencing aspects of the overall organism, and
• there is an innate capacity of the human body mind to move towards healing and growth given the appropriate therapeutic environment.
• interpersonal interaction in the form of respectful, safe and appropriate relationships positively and directly influence and mediate/regulate the body mind.(3)


Sequencing and Grounding

Sequencing and grounding are two key concepts in somatic psychotherapy that are useful in the treatment of trauma. By allowing the tension and energy related to trauma to move through the body, sequencing helps to release the physical symptoms of trauma. Grounding, on the other hand, helps to calm the nervous system and anchor the client in the present moment. Both of these concepts are rooted in body awareness and support the healing process.


Grounding is crucial for regulating the nervous system in times of trauma or emotional overwhelm. The importance of grounding is a means of reducing stress and promoting emotional regulation. It can be done with the use of the powerful imagination and with the right type of guidance by a therapist.

Ogden believes that trauma can be stored not only in the mind but also in the body. By bringing awareness to body sensations and movements, clients can process and release trauma stored in the body. Sequencing is a key part of this process, as it allows clients to move through the physical sensations associated with their trauma and to release tension patterns related to the freeze, fight, or flight responses in the body. Through sequencing, Ogden argues, clients can gain greater self-awareness, regulation, and resilience, allowing them to heal from the effects of trauma.


Sequencing is a process in which clients are encouraged to explore and understand the movement patterns in their bodies, including those related to their experiences of trauma. The goal of sequencing is to help clients release tension patterns and emotional responses that are stored in the body, allowing them to process and heal from past traumatic experiences.

Peter Levine emphasizes the importance of following the body’s natural movement impulses in order to release tension and trauma. He argues that in the face of traumatic events, humans have an innate survival response that includes physical sensations and movements. These responses can become stuck and cause tension patterns in the body.  If you have ever seen a wild animal only just escape attack from a predator you will often notice that the animal “shakes it out” and then gets back to normal daily activity. Through the process of sequencing, Levine believes that clients can access and release these blocked responses, leading to a resolution of the traumatic experience.

The Value of TRTP

With the work of Scott Lyons and Vincent Felitti in mind, it is clear that addressing trauma at its root cause and addressing both the psychological and biological impact of trauma is key to long-term healing and well-being. Effective therapies for addressing the psychological impact at the root cause include Root Cause Therapy (RTC) and The Richards Trauma Process Therapy (TRTP). TRTP is not an ongoing therapy and but a three stage process completed in one month with life long benefits. Read more about TRTP here.

Want to know more?

If you would like to know more about Integrative or holistic therapies that have been shown to be effective, book a complimentary phone call to discuss your needs, or contact Mind Renew with your questions.

(1) Dr. Scott Lyons is a body-based trauma expert, Doctor of Osteopathy (Spain) and Mind-Body Medicine specialist

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