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Working with Chronic Illness and Physical Symptoms


According to an evolving hypothesis supported by current scientific research, chronic symptoms may reflect problems in nervous system regulation. This perspective suggests that there are common factors in the origins of disease (life events, stress, trauma are all factors that influence the nervous system, for example) that are broader than a diagnosis. Consequently, Somatic Psychology is tailored to the individual rather than to the symptom.

Individuals with a history of trauma, including multigenerational trauma (overwhelming events that have occurred in parents' or grandparents' lives, for example), may experience a variety of physical as well as emotional symptoms. Chronic illness may also be influenced by such family experiences.

Individuals may seek somatic psychotherapy to specifically address or work with stress, strong or highly variable emotions, certain symptoms such as pain, and/or trauma. Trauma arises following life events that are experienced as life-threatening and overwhelming. Although certain events are more likely to be overwhelming, it is the manner in which an event is perceived rather than the nature of a specific event, that affects risk for symptoms. Events that carry a high risk of being perceived as overwhelming or threating can include surgery, accidents, loss, near death experiences, near drowning, abuse or neglect, combat/war, and exposure to environmental catastrophes such as earthquakes, floods, and hurricanes, to name a few.

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