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I’ve Studied Trauma For 50+ Years: Here’s 3 Things You Should Know About Healing

Jason Wachob
Author:
June 09, 2024
Jason Wachob
mbg Founder & Co-CEO
By Jason Wachob
mbg Founder & Co-CEO
Jason Wachob is the Founder and Co-CEO of mindbodygreen and the author of Wellth.
Peter Levine
Image by Peter Levine
June 09, 2024
We carefully vet all products and services featured on mindbodygreen using our commerce guidelines. Our selections are never influenced by the commissions earned from our links.

You’ve probably heard that trauma is stored in the body—but if that’s true, how do we work through it?

According to Peter Levine, who holds a double PhD in psychology and biophysics, healing trauma involves more than just mindfulness or talk therapy. It requires tapping into the physical sensations, hence his focus on mind-body healing. 

Levine has studied trauma for over 50 years and has written a handful of books about his mind-body healing approach, the newest of which outlines his personal growth story, An Autobiography of Trauma: A Healing Journey. 

To come, three of the many lessons Levine has learned about true trauma healing, straight from our fascinating conversation on the latest episode of the mindbodygreen podcast

1.

Trauma is not just stored in the mind

Levine coined the Somatic Experiencing method to heal trauma, which entails focusing on how the body stores trauma and, thus, how to release it through bodywork. But first, you’ll have to find out how trauma shows up in your body because everyone is different.

Oftentimes, you may not know how trauma affects you until you’re in a situation where it’s triggered. For example, if you’re in a conversation with someone, otherwise unprovoked, and you get angry, your gut tightens up, or your shoulders become tense, this could be a replay of trauma—"Of things the body has done many, many years ago, but it lies dormant, ready to be activated,” Levine says. 

You may ask yourself, “Where is this coming from?” Perhaps the conversation or the person you’re talking to reminds your subconscious of an experience that was traumatic.

Even without intentionally responding to that reminder, your body and subconscious may be on high alert, causing you to respond grander than you would otherwise. 

Unexplained emotional reactions are just one of the many signs of unaddressed trauma in the body—but one worth taking note of and exploring when it takes place. 

2.

There’s great power in active imagination 

During our conversation, Levine brought up a fascinating personal story about active imagination in which he had conversations in his mind with a figure who wasn’t standing in front of him in real life, but these conversations delivered great healing lessons. 

We’re used to seeing active imagination play out in children—what some may call “imaginary friends,” but it’s quite powerful for adults to be able to tap into an open dialogue in their imagination—be it with a past family member, friend, or mentor. 

When you have these open conversations, you’re able to dive deeper into your mind because of it, which may help you uncover and work through unresolved trauma. 

“It's a way of the unconscious and conscious minds to meet each other,” Levine says. 

Want the latest and greatest from leading well-being experts? Subscribe on Apple Podcasts.

3.

Healed people heal people

“With the right tools, trauma doesn't have to rule,” Levine declares. One important tool in the toolbox is the help of a guide—be it a therapist, healer, or a close and trusted friend. 

But before committing to the journey with a guide, you should be sure they’ve already gone through their own healing journey. 

“It’s so important, at least initially, to get some guidance from someone who’s experienced and who’s done their own healing work,” he says, adding, “I would never work with someone who hasn’t done their own healing work—it’s just likely to be either ineffective or re-traumatizing.”

Now, this doesn’t mean you can’t confide in a close friend who's on their own healing journey for comfort and shared conversation. But when it comes to putting trust in a guide, Levine strongly suggests finding someone who’s walked this path on their own before so they can guide you with confidence and experience. 

The takeaway

Levine’s extensive knowledge of trauma comes from both lived experience and his work as a psychologist.

He emphasizes that trauma is stored in the body as well as the mind, that active imagination holds great healing power, and that trauma healing guides must have their own healing experience.

To learn more about his mind-body approach, tune into the latest episode on Apple Podcasts

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