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Legendary trauma pioneer Peter Levine PhD talks with Til Luchau about how bodyworkers might recognize trauma, and, how can they be most helpful with its effects. Along the way, Dr Levine reflects on topics such as his own training with Ida Rolf (the originator of Rolfing® Structural Integration), scope of practice considerations for bodyworkers, self-care and much more.

Scroll down for the full video and transcript! 

Topics:

- Introduction to The Thinking Practitioner Podcast (0:00)
- Sponsorship by ABMP (1:20)
- Sponsorship by Advanced Trainings (2:40)
- Introduction of Dr. Peter Levine (3:30)
- Dr. Levine's background and work in somatic experiencing (4:30)
- The role of the nervous system in trauma (7:00)
- The importance of the vagus nerve in trauma response (9:30)
- The difference between healed and unhealed trauma (13:00)
- How bodyworkers can recognize and address trauma in their clients (15:30)
- The importance of creating safety and connection in the therapeutic relationship (19:00)
- The role of bodyworkers in addressing trauma (22:00)
- The importance of self-care for healthcare professionals working with trauma (26:00)
- The role of ritual and ceremony in healing trauma (30:00)
- The impact of trauma on the world and the importance of addressing it (35:00)
- Resources for learning more about trauma and somatic experiencing (38:00)
- Closing remarks and sponsorships (40:00)

Resources:

Sponsor Offers:

About Whitney Lowe  |  About Til Luchau  |  Email Us: info@thethinkingpractitioner.com


(The Thinking Practitioner Podcast is intended for professional practitioners of manual and movement therapies: bodywork, massage therapy, structural integration, chiropractic, myofascial and myotherapy, orthopedic, sports massage, physical therapy, osteopathy, yoga, strength and conditioning, and similar professions. It is not medical or treatment advice.)

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        Til Luchau                          Whitney Lowe

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Full Transcript (click me!)

The Thinking Practitioner Podcast:


Episode 108: Trauma & Bodywork (with Peter Levine)

Whitney Lowe:

Welcome to The Thinking Practitioner Podcast.

Til Luchau:

A podcast where we dig into the fascinating issues, conditions, and quandaries in the massage and manual therapy world today.

Whitney Lowe:

I'm Whitney Lowe.

Til Luchau:

And I'm Til Luchau. Welcome to The Thinking Practitioner.

Whitney Lowe:

Welcome to The Thinking Practitioner.

Til Luchau:

Hi, I'm Til Luchau, and The Thinking Practitioner Podcast is supported by ABMP, Associated Bodywork and Massage Professionals. ABMP membership gives professional practitioners like you a package, including individual liability insurance, free continuing education, and quick reference apps, online scheduling and payments with Pocket Suite, and much more. ABMP CE courses, podcasts, and Massage and Bodywork Magazine always feature expert voices and new perspectives in the profession. Like my co-host, Whitney Lowe, myself, Til Luchau, and you, a thinking practitioner listener can save on joining ABMP at abmp.com/thinking. Today's in-house sponsor is Advanced Trainings: Are you ready to take your skills to the next level? Come visit us at advanced-trainings.com with innovative self-paced programs ranging from one hour certificate courses on the most common client complaints to our comprehensive CAMT certification program. We offer practice changing learning events with industry leading instructors and a supportive learning community that will take your work to another level.

Plus, for a limited time, Thinking Practitioner, listeners can enjoy a special offer. Sign up today at advanced-trainings.com and get a free month of our amazing AT subscription. Explore our extensive library of courses, cancel at any time, and keep your credits all from just $20 a month once you renew with the first month free for TP listeners. Enter Thinking subscriber at checkout for this limited time offer. Plus, coming at the beginning of the coming year, we have another live online course, our principles arm, wrist, and shoulder course. We're featuring that on the homepage. Coming up, our walking workshop with Robert Schleip on the Camino de Santiago and more retreats in the works. Stop by our website. Check it out. Visit advanced-trainings.com today.

Dr. Peter Levine, it's a pleasure to have you here on The Thinking Practitioner Podcast. You are the developer... I'll introduce you a little bit, and then we'll talk some. You are the developer of somatic experiencing. You almost need no introduction in our field because you've had such a big impact on our understanding of the nervous system and on the body and how we pace and think about our work, and even the therapeutic of beneficial effects of our work. Your bio describes you as being a naturalistic, or somatic experiencing or there being a naturalistic and neurobiological approach to healing trauma with practitioners in over 40 countries. You hold doctorates in both biophysics and psychology. You are the founder of an advisor to the Somatic Experiencing Institute, the founder and president of the Ergos Institute of Somatic Education. You are the author of several bestselling books on trauma, including Waking the Tiger, which is published in over 30 languages and was revolutionary when it came in because-

Peter Levine:

Right.

Til Luchau:

... we only had Judith Herman's book [Trauma and Recovery].

Peter Levine:

That's right.

Til Luchau:

That's what we all had to study as part of our training. And then all of a sudden, we had you opening our eyes and bringing so much more dimension to it. And then your most recent book... What's the title of that? I don't see that here.

Peter Levine:

An Autobiography of Trauma: A Healing Journey.

Til Luchau:

Autobiography of Trauma: A Healing Journey.

Peter Levine:

Yes.

Til Luchau:

Yes. I first met you at the Esalen Institute. I had to think back on it. It's probably 1984. I was climbing down off the roof of the Rolf Room where Ida Rolf was named in honor of Ida Rolf.

Peter Levine:

Right.

Til Luchau:

And you were teaching a workshop in there, and I interrupted your workshop, because I was actually sleeping outdoors under the stars as my job there and enjoying this beautiful view. And one morning, I slept late and your workshop had started. So I climbed down off the roof. I remember that. That's how I first met you. And then later I got to study with you some there. And you came and very kindly taught in a program I was coordinating at the Rolf Institute and you taught part of our therapeutic relationship training. This would've been the early 90s by then.

Peter Levine:

That's right.

Til Luchau:

Yeah.

Peter Levine:

Them were their days. Them were their days.

Til Luchau:

Those were the days. I put on Facebook that I was going to have the opportunity to talk to you and ask you some questions and-

Peter Levine:

Sure.

Til Luchau:

... said, "Anything you want to know from Peter Levine? This is an amazing opportunity." And we got a lot of great questions, a lot of great ideas. And I'll go ahead and put the link in the show notes. But I have really just two main questions for you today and a few variations. Really, how would us, as body workers, as hands-on practitioners be likely to recognize trauma? And how can we in that capacity be most helpful?

Peter Levine:

Okay. When I started developing the precursors of somatic experiencing in the late 60s, I was fortunate enough to not know, because trauma as PTSD wasn't really in the literature for another 12, 13 years. And so I fortunately didn't know that trauma was supposedly an incurable brain disorder that could be at least best managed by medications and by helping people change their negative thought, their negative beliefs. And so-

Til Luchau:

That was the common view at that point.

Peter Levine:

That was the common view. Exactly. Well, right, especially when the definition of trauma as PTSD occurred in the early 1980s. So anyhow, as a person who is trained, in a way, to read bodies, and that I owe dearly to Ida Rolf, because I studied with her in 1969, was really a very important part of my learning, of my education. So what happens when we're frightened or feel overwhelmed, or we go outside and we see somebody's been injured or somebody's fallen off a roof, and we go... We don't exhale, right? We go inhale and we get stuck there. If we're bracing against being hit, say by a caregiver, a parent, and that becomes chronic, then we start protecting ourselves like this.

When we see injury, our guts go "yuck." Actually Darwin, in his book The Emotions in Man and Animals, first wrote about that nerve in the 1860s, and he called it the... What did he call it? The pneumogastric nerve, because it connects with the guts and connects with the lungs. That nerve-

Til Luchau:

Now better known as the vagus nerve.

Peter Levine:

The vagus nerve. And the vagus nerve. And he was... By the way, interject anytime you want. I always enjoy more of a dialogue kind of thing.

Til Luchau:

All right, great.

Peter Levine:

So anyhow, this nerve, which I think he actually realized... I've been trying to take some time to go over that book again to see if I can find this particular piece of information. But in any case, that nerve is the largest nerve in the body, and it goes from the back of the brain, the brain stem, down through the diaphragm and connects to all of the visceral organs, and also to the heart and the lungs.

And that nerve, and this is something that has not been known, really even today by many people, is that 80% of those fibers are afferent. In other words, they're going from the guts back up to the brain.

Til Luchau:

Taking information up to the brain.

Peter Levine:

Exactly. Feeding it. Yeah. And so if something happens and we go ugh. So that signal gets registered as injury in the brain stem. Then it goes down into the organs, but then it gets sent back from the guts back to the brain where it becomes amplified. So we first start with oh, and then it gets amplified ugh. And then after a period of time, it becomes fixed as the symptoms say, for example, of irritable bowel, which is, again, very common for people who have had trauma histories. So the key is to break these feedback loops that I've just described so that they're not continuing to send messages back to the brain that says that the threat is not over, so to get a new signal from the guts.

And so a lot of my work initially was to find out what does it take to change that feedback loop from a positive feedback loop with negative consequences to sending back the all clear signal. So again, that was the beginning of my understanding. Also around that time, I studied animal behavior, animals' behavior in the wild, or wild animals in their natural environment and see how they shook off encounters with stress. And indeed the great majority, because most prey animals might be predated many times in a day, yet the observations that I made, or using other people's observations, is that they don't have the same kind of trauma symptoms that we do or they wouldn't survive, or the species wouldn't survive. So that brought information to me. Another thing, actually, that was important in developing my work, I had the opportunity to work with NASA, developing ways to measure stress of the astronauts as they took off, and then went into zero gravity. Because most of the astronauts did very well. They were resilient. But some of the astronauts would actually start throwing up when they went into zero G.

And this is not just unpleasant, it could cause a critical malfunction in the electronics. So they really wanted to know initially, what's the first signal that you get that something like that could be happening. So again, I applied that also to my clients that it was developing at the time, so that they also could have that resilience that bouncing back that clearly we saw and the astronauts and in the wild animals.

Til Luchau:

So that's really clear, the signal. It's this feedback loop, you said, the signal from the brain to the body that escalates into a feeling of things are just not okay. I can imagine if you're floating around a space, your guts are giving all kinds of strange signals and your brain's getting all kinds of different activities. But even in our clients, we are, in many ways, telling the body that things are okay with our hands, with our voice, with the environment.

Peter Levine:

That's right. Exactly. With our hands, with our voice, with meeting, their rhythm with our rhythm, connecting human to human, mammal to mammal.

Til Luchau:

And we're going a little out of order here because one of my questions was, what's the difference between healed and unhealed trauma?

Peter Levine:

Well-

Til Luchau:

You just gave a clue there, I think.

Peter Levine:

Yeah. I think unhealed, untreated, and unhealed trauma has a profound effect on our health, not just on our mental health, but on our physical health, and to a large, large degree. And trauma that's been healed, that's been transformed, on the contrary, also leaves people very often in high degrees of empathy and care and sensitivity. It's kind of, in a way, ironic because when it's unhealed, it's a completely destructive force. When it's healed, it's a completely constructive force. There's a saying in the agnostic gospels. If you bring forth that which is within you, that which is within you will be your salvation. If you do not bring forth that which is within you, then that which is within you will be your destruction. And I think that really applies to trauma and to the need. You don't have to look very far, just turn. We will lose on. And you see this prevalence of violence almost in every direction, and that kind of violence very frequently leads to violence years later.

Til Luchau:

The question, is a traumatic event itself the trauma or is it the way we recover from trauma or not? Is that the injury?

Peter Levine:

It's not in the event. It's in the body. It's in the nervous system. It's definitely not. Yeah.

Til Luchau:

The bouncing back idea, I think is in there.

Peter Levine:

Yeah, the resilience.

Til Luchau:

Yeah.

Peter Levine:

Resilience is critical. Actually, my doctoral dissertation basically was on resilience. It wasn't called resilience at that time, but can we help our clients who have been traumatized to restore that resilience to come back with more compassion to self and others? These are the things that are the positive side of trauma, only trauma that's resolved. Because if it's not, as I say, it leads to all kinds of physical problems, physical and emotional problems. And it also leads to... You see this kind of thing where these wars go on every 15, 20 years because when the children who had trauma become then adults, of course many will suffer physical problems, but many will also be victims of their own violence and violence towards others. So I think it's the most misunderstood, belittled form of suffering in the human condition. And again, ironically, that is also one of the most powerful catalysts for opening to, in some cases, spiritual dimensions.

Til Luchau:

Has the potential to really open us up and to add meaning.

Peter Levine:

To open us up or to shut us down. Yeah.

Til Luchau:

Okay. So if we can get really practical, what advice would you give the body workers about signs or situations where they want to put on their trauma lens or their trauma sensitivity? Is that a fair question?

Peter Levine:

It is. It's not necessarily trivial to answer. But the body is a snapshot of what has happened to us in the past. That was actually one of the things that Ida Rolf really taught. But it's a snapshot of responses that got stuck. So I've gone back to that first example. So if we were hit, for example, as a child, our shoulders start to go up and protect themselves. They'll stay there until they get a message that it's okay to let down. Now, one of the things I think is especially important for Rolfers is that sometimes we maybe push on the muscles, and maybe push on the muscles too hard because the body needs to know that it's safe, that it's safe again. So that's really essential to really be gentle, to take time to let the body speak to you.

So I just had a class, postgraduate class with my students, and a number of them were body workers, but a number of them were psychotherapists. And I had them both just put their hands on the person's shoulders and just sit there and wait. And that's one thing that often are impatient. We don't wait. We want to go in and change that tension, those muscle tension. But that doesn't work, because if it's too hard, it responds as it responded in the past, by bracing. So we have to really come in a much more mindful, delicate way rather than really trying to get into the muscles and making the muscles leg valve.

Til Luchau:

You were describing a trauma response of the shoulders going up, and you said we could just, maybe if I'm just thinking physical level, maybe I'm going to push the shoulders down.

Peter Levine:

Talk to the shoulders with your touch to say, "Here I am. I'm with you. I'm just going to stay here and support you so that you can let go." That's the type of message we want to convey in our hands to the other person's bodies.

Til Luchau:

You were creating waves at their Rolf Institute when I was first teaching there with these ideas. They're not such radical ideas, but they're fundamental, and you were questioning our explanations. And I remember at some point, tell me if this is a false attribution, but someone said Peter Levine has some calculations that show that the force we use couldn't possibly change fascia in the way we think we are, and that the changes must be due to something else. And this started a number of us on an inquiry, including Robert Schleip, my mentor there, on this big fascia inquiry.

Peter Levine:

Right. Actually, I am just thinking in the last few years, I think that Ida Rolf was largely correct about the fascia. But again, the question is how to approach the body, including the fascia because it's not... I think this is also Dr. Rolf's theory as well. So when we've been protecting ourselves for a long period of time, it would be very non-conductive for the economy of the body to keep the shoulders up and to use neuromuscular energy to do that. So arguably, what the fascia does is it shortens itself. And so when it's shortening, then it's going to need to be also lengthened again. But again, the question is how and when. So I would say it's a general rule when the body go of some of the holding, some of the nervous system holding, then also we can do a little bit, starting much more gently, of course, and then just start stretching some of the fascia out so the body can return to where it's supposed to be.

Til Luchau:

When you say that you're thinking now she was correct in ways that maybe you weren't thinking before, is that what you're talking about, that there is a role for the physical part of the body in reinforcing these shapes and patterns?

Peter Levine:

Yes, indeed, of the fascia itself. The fascia itself. But we have to also be aware of the body's response, the nervous system response, the neuromuscular response.

That's right. Again when I was there in the 90s, you were coming in and doing in services with us, both in my class, but also with we as a faculty. How did you get involved with the Rolf Institute and where did that fit in your own development professional life?

Peter Levine:

As I said, I was really still very much bonded, attached with Ida Rolf. I was one of the people she allowed to call her grandma. And I presented some of my work, and she said, "Peter, you have it, but not all of it." But to her credit, she allowed some of my understanding of the nervous system, of how trauma gets large in the body to be part of the education. So a number of the people who were there at the time, I remember Peter Melchior, Michael Salveson, I think... I don't remember who all the people that were there. Bill Smythe.

Til Luchau:

Yes. Yes.

Peter Levine:

And they really incorporated both. And kind of interesting, because I was just talking to Bill just about 40 minutes ago. We keep in contact from time to time, and his hands are the hands that I like to be in because he knows about presence. Peter Melchior knows about presence, knows about presence and connection and how absolutely crucial that is in being gifted practitioners.

Til Luchau:

Did you work as a Rolfer? Did you actually do the 10 series and do that process?

Peter Levine:

I did. I did. I did. But at the same time, of course, I was developing my other work. I just completed, like you mentioned, my last book. I don't know last book, my most recent book. It's called An Autobiography of Trauma: A Healing Journey. So it's about my healing and one of the chapters, one of the sections are the foremost important women in my life. And Ida Rolf, of course, was one of them.

Til Luchau:

That's great. Fascinating.

Peter Levine:

And really, really-

Til Luchau:

Any of the others deserve mention here?

Peter Levine:

Sure. I'm glad to. Well, the first person that really woke me up was a woman named Charlotte Selvers.

Til Luchau:

Oh, of course. I studied with her. I was blessed to be able to study with her for a couple of years at Esalen.

Peter Levine:

Oh, okay. Well, that's wonderful because she and her husband, Charles.

Til Luchau:

Charles Brooks.

Peter Levine:

Yep. Yeah. Charlie Brooks. I came to do a workshop with the Zen monks. Quite frankly, I didn't know I had a body. And during that time, she would have us do the most stupid things like putting a stone in her hand and walking around and feeling the weight of the stone, the texture of the stone, the feeling of the hand holiness, just driving me crazy. I remember watching-

Til Luchau:

That's the whole curriculum right there. What you just described, that would be a day.

Peter Levine:

Yeah, that's right. Exactly. Exactly. And one time, my eyes caught one of the zen monk's eyes, and I said, "How is this for you?" And he said, "Big headache." But after the, I think it was the second day, it was sunset, and I walked out from the church on the top of O'Farrell Street, and I looked across at the lights of the San Francisco, of the city, and it was the most beautiful site I had ever seen. So I realized something had happened. And so that really helped me.

Til Luchau:

She really elegantly stood for the richness of experience itself.

Peter Levine:

Yes, indeed. Without interpretation. Without interpretation.

Til Luchau:

Without interpretation.

Peter Levine:

That's right. And so that was an important influence. And then after that, I worked with a woman, most people don't know of her, Magda Proskauer. And she was a physiotherapist, but also trained as a Jungian analyst. And I worked with her for at least a year, maybe a year and a half, two years. And again, it was also an awakening. Then my next teacher was Dr. Rolf, and she taught me to see things as they are. Actually, I have some two beautiful pictures of Dr. Rolf in the autobiography. And I look at those pictures now with fondness, with fondness and appreciation. Also, one of the photographs is of her working with a baby, with an infant. And she encouraged me to work with babies and children, which I did. And actually, I learned a lot working with children, a lot about how our bodies hold and how our bodies can release.

Til Luchau:

And perhaps how to pace the work because kids won't stand for it if it's not right.

Peter Levine:

Right. Yeah. How to pace the work, how to really be in contact. Because if you're not in contact with a child, they know that immediately. You're not going to get any worse. So you absolutely have to be present with them. And over the years, I've worked with many, many children and have a great debt of gratitude to Dr. Rolf. The fourth woman-

Til Luchau:

Fourth woman.

Peter Levine:

Yeah, the fourth. So there were four, was a woman named Mira Rothenberg. And she wrote a book which I republished, called Children with Emerald Eyes. I talk about it in my book. And she had a way of connecting with children at the core level of where they were stuck. And these was seriously disturbed kids and autistic kids. And she really taught me to trust my guts when I'm with a person, as she did with her. And I mentioned just a couple of her cases.

One was a child named Peter, by namesake, and the other was about a boy who... He was the youngest child at the time to survive being in an incubator, and he was completely shriveled. And she said, "By all means, he was..." What did she say? I think she said kind of bluntly, he was ugly, and she connected with this child. And I was working with my students at the time, and these were mostly psychotherapists, and I talked about how important it is for our later development, for what has happened to us in the very earliest parts of our life, which would be in utero and around birth. And then one of my students brought in this book by hers during when they were alive, and I immediately found out how to contact her. Now, remember, it was not easy to contact people like you do today.

You go online and... So I don't know, somehow I found her and we connected, and we've been together... She died a few years ago, sadly. But whenever I would be coming back from Europe, I would stop in New York and I would spend some days with Mira in her house in Brooklyn at Snopes Hill, and she became one of my dearest, dearest friends. She was tough. You don't mess with her, but she knew where kids, where they were hiding, and she knew how to coax them out from those citadels. So those are the four women who have made it a vitally important influence on my life, on my work, and on my life.

Til Luchau:

I see a child in a picture and behind you there.

Peter Levine:

Oh, okay. Okay. That's actually the very last page of my autobiography. That's a picture of me when I was about 18 months old. And that's kind of my return to that innocent child and in preparing for my last days on earth to connect with him, to be with him. So thank you for noticing. Yes.

Til Luchau:

Oh, what a poignant reminder there. The bookends of our life, the beginning and reconnecting we all hope to be able to do.

Peter Levine:

Bookends. I like that one. I'm going to use that if you're okay with it.

Til Luchau:

Of course.

Peter Levine:

The bookends of my life. It was really good.

Til Luchau:

Back to the practicalities. How can we as body workers be most helpful when we have clients who may be dealing with unresolved trauma?

Peter Levine:

Yeah, yeah. First, to connect, and that means first to connect with ourselves, and then connect with the other and spend time together. For me, years ago, I was talking to Bill Smythe, a very good friend, became a very good friend. And he said that when he sees a client, the first or even second session, he doesn't have them lay down on the table. He really gets to meet them, talk about what they want, what they need, if they have a sense of things that have happened to them in the past which are holding them back. So we make some connection in that way. And I think that's, in a way, a good rule, not just looking at the structure, the body structure, but looking at really the history as it's portrayed in the body structure.

Til Luchau:

So taking time to get to know the person, it really takes it out of that subject object separation tool.

Peter Levine:

Right. And you just start working with the child, working with a person that has been traumatized as a child, it's very likely they're going to do what they've done, which is to defend themselves. So you want to kind of create the possibility of some degree of safety, because trauma is about the opposite of safety. It's about threat, not about safety at all, and how to help create it. And my teaching about that actually occurred when I was a child and my father was, long story, was the object of the mafia and the mafia was threatening the life of my family. So we didn't have that sense of protection. And so a thing that I say is that trauma isn't just what happens to us, but trauma is what happens to us in the absence of the present, empathetic other. And I didn't have that time. And that's, I think, one of the reasons why it led to such a great trauma, and probably also, in a way, what led me on my path for understanding trauma and for helping people heal, doing my own healing, but helping other people heal.

Til Luchau:

You said trauma is what happens in the absence of the empathetic other.

Peter Levine:

Other. Yes.

Til Luchau:

So it's a interpersonal context that I can rest into, that I can feel safe within, that because they're going to [inaudible 00:33:54]

Peter Levine:

And we can do that. We can do that initially by being with the person, by being with the client, by contacting their bodies, sometimes just doing some body awareness. What do you notice? What do you notice in your shoulders?

Til Luchau:

So you're connecting with ourselves. We're connecting with the person. We're creating safety. We're helping them connect with their own bodies.

Peter Levine:

That's right. And find some degree of relative safety because there is no such thing as absolute safety. That's why-

Til Luchau:

Relative safety. Okay.

Peter Levine:

Or safe enough.

Til Luchau:

Safe enough. But create safety not as a state, but as a possibility or a shift or a quality that could be present, even if other things are present too, maybe.

Peter Levine:

Exactly. Exactly.

Til Luchau:

That's great. Anything else?

Peter Levine:

Yeah. So again, as body workers, if... Again, another thing that I think is important is when we have a person laying on the table and we're standing above them, that actually triggers signals of non-safety, because again, we're programmed. If there's something above us looming towards us, we're programmed to respond that as threat. If you think about a bird of prey is coming from above, above down. So again, we want to find way that we're not standing above the person when they're laying down, so that we might be sitting first, and then having them get on the table. So little things like this can actually make quite a difference,

Til Luchau:

The physical modeling that we have, the ways that we're physically in relationship and create that-

Peter Levine:

Exactly.

Til Luchau:

... possibility or that relationship quality.

Peter Levine:

That's right. That's right.

Til Luchau:

Okay. So you work with body workers. As you mentioned, you work with a lot of psychotherapists.

Peter Levine:

Correct.

Til Luchau:

I have friends who are in both professions who count you amongst their key mentors. At what point might body workers be out of their scope of practice around working with trauma?

Peter Levine:

Yeah, that's an important one. That's really an important one. At least there's not an absolute boundary, but there is a boundary. And when you're really, really delving into the... I really had such a difficult time saying this in the way I want to say it and convey it, but when we start probing and asking them more and more about their traumas, I think that's the time when we may go over the boundary as a body worker, because you can't say, "Well, we don't address their traumas," because somebody who's touching the body is addressing the trauma as it's large in the body, and I think we have to keep it in that level, in that dimension.

Til Luchau:

But there's something in the probing or the map of where the boundary is when I'm reaching or pulling something or inviting something that is about the trauma that might be not body work at that point.

Peter Levine:

That's right. But again, at the same time, when you're with another person, with their body, you are working with the imprint of trauma as it is on the body. And I think that's the key. And that's where I am comfortable in teaching both body workers and therapists, but also to not just go over that boundary, or at least many people who were body workers after working with me, have decided to get like an MFT or LCSW degree or a psych degree. And also, and this is kind of an interesting thing, when I was starting to teach SE, one group of my students said they should only be taught to psychotherapists, the psychologists and psychiatrists.

And I disagreed with that. I thought that was a mistake because they're not the only ones that deal with trauma. And so I really convinced them at the time to be open to what's going on in the here and now in the body. That was another thing with Ida Rolf, which I speak fondly of in the autobiography. She would demonstrate on her model, and so she would do the first hour. And we were scared of her. People were scared of her. I wasn't so much scared of her. So then I think there were two Rolfers in Big Sur at the time, Peter Melchior and Jan Sultan. So we would buy them beers at the Esalen bar. In exchange, we would prod them. And what does the second hour look like? So we were ready to say. When she said, "Well, what should I do?" we were ready to say. So we came in, and the model stood up and she said, "What do you see?" And so some of the people talked about not what they saw, but what they heard from Peter and Jan.

Til Luchau:

How did that go?

Peter Levine:

Well, I'll tell you how it went, poorly. I She became more and more impatient, and we were all getting kind of scared.

Til Luchau:

Yes.

Peter Levine:

And we said, "Well, we need to work with the internal malleolus and the relationship to the shoulders. And she said, "No, what do you see?"

Til Luchau:

What is actually in front of you now?

Peter Levine:

What's exactly in front of you? And that's one of the greatest gifts that I got from Dr. Rolf, and which I describe in the autobiography, is how do you see it without your filters, without your thoughts to really go to your inner knowing?

Til Luchau:

That's right. And we do that with our clients too. Clients come in with... They want to tell you their diagnoses, their histories, what people have told them about their body, and there's such therapeutic value in just asking, what do you feel? What's happening right now for you?

Peter Levine:

Yeah, you're right. And how do you actually sense that? How do you know your shoulders are up high, your right shoulder is higher? How do you know that?

Til Luchau:

How do you know that?

Peter Levine:

Yeah.

Til Luchau:

If someone wasn't telling you, how would you know? That's the fundamental question.

Peter Levine:

That's right. That's right. Yeah.

Til Luchau:

I think I just owe you even more than I realized in my own professional path, and my personal path as well, because everything you're speaking of here was such a key influence and formative piece that, of course, I remember being quite disoriented by after studying with you at first. And it's like what you were saying was a real big mismatch from what I'd been hearing and learning elsewhere.

Peter Levine:

There were.

Til Luchau:

And at some point, after about maybe a decade of chewing on that, I didn't feel as jangled by it. And I realize now, I probably just assimilated it wholesale, and now I think it's my own. And I say those things too, but I probably very much got a lot of that from you and people like Charlotte Selver and the people around, like Jan Sultan, Peter Melchior, Bill Smythe who I studied with early on as well.

Peter Levine:

I think Ida Rolf has left us with this legacy, this legacy to inform body workers, and therapists to some degree, in a way that we all are in debt. And again, as I described, being in debt to the four women in my life, but I think Ida Rolf left in some ways one of the greatest legacies.

Til Luchau:

She really did. I just want to work in a couple threads before we wrap it up. You've talked about the role that ritual and ceremony play in healing trauma and cultures, the connections to shamanic practices.

Peter Levine:

Right.

Til Luchau:

Can you say anything more about that?

Peter Levine:

One of the chapters is called Healing Through Shamanism and Science.

Til Luchau:

Okay.

Peter Levine:

But the study of shamanism is a science in a way. People have said that my work was only something for me and not something that was transmissible. So I really needed to keep it in a way, pragmatic, but clearly, I value the contact that I've had over the decades with different shamans. And also, again, I write about that, and particularly one man named Enrique. He was a Brazilian. They called him [foreign language 00:43:42] which means a father saint in the Umbanda religion. And he clearly had perceptions that I didn't have, but he gifted me with those perceptions. And then I had the opportunity to spend some time with the Krenaki people in Northeast Brazil, in the jungles in Northeast Brazil. And I think what I learned from the chief there was how in the therapeutic model, we think, okay, we do therapy with a client. And their understanding is quite different.

When I went to visit him, he asked me why I'd come, and I said I was interested in [foreign language 00:44:31], which is Portuguese in Spanish for a bright paralysis. And he said yes, he knew about that. He also knew about the word trauma. His daughter, the princess, was the first person to go to school, to go to college. And he even knew the word trauma, but he really helped me understand that trauma doesn't occur in a vacuum, and the healing doesn't occur in a vacuum. That is essential to also bring the community to the healing. So that was another important meeting of different kind of shamanistic understandings.

Til Luchau:

Well, I'm thinking of our mutual friend Maria Lucia-

Peter Levine:

Oh, yeah.

Til Luchau:

... a few years ago, and her work and her studies and her spirit that she'd bring in.

Peter Levine:

Yeah.

Til Luchau:

And there's something that catches in my ear when I hear it, and it's related to what we're talking about here, and that is that trauma is something that is in the body or can be released from the body. And I get it is a helpful way of thinking about it, this are my thoughts for a second, that there's something in our body that is trauma and that maybe it could be released. But then I start to go, wait a minute, is trauma a thing that can evaporate or be expelled, or is it a process or a reaction?

Peter Levine:

It's a reaction for sure.

Til Luchau:

Yeah. Yeah.

Peter Levine:

It's a reaction. And I think I know that we have an innate drive to healing and wholeness. I'm absolutely convinced of that. And if we don't understand that, we're pretty limited in what we can do. So I think it's harnessing this drive-

Til Luchau:

That innate drive

Peter Levine:

... in our healing, the healing of our clients. And we're there for as support. We're there to support that. And that is a process. It's not something that you do, and then you're done with it necessarily. It's a movement towards growth.

Til Luchau:

Whitney, my co-host, he sent a question, and he said, "It seems like we're careening toward a world that's more enmeshed in all kinds of trauma. How do we as healthcare professionals take care of ourselves in the best way to help take care of others?"

Peter Levine:

Yeah. Important, critically important, how we take care of ourselves. When I was, years ago, seeing clients, I have a place in the Lions, Colorado. And at the end of the day, I would walk down to the river and put my feet in the river. And if it was a day where there was a lot of really horrendous trauma that I was helping deal with, I had a collection of cans, and I would kick the cans down Apple Valley Road, and my neighbors would say, "Oh, that's Dr. Levine. He's had a rough day again," to just really rest that reconnect to my life energy. I think that's really the essence of it. And also to have colleagues that we can talk to and help each other, I think that's really also vitally important, someone we can call or just say, "Can we get together? Let's maybe just have some dinner or some lunch, or something like that." So we do have... We enlist helpers for ourself. Because of Chiron, the wounded healer. We all are wounded healers, and we all need the support of others.

There's a Motown song. It takes one to stand in the dark alone. It takes two to let the light shine through. And this is something that I think we really need, and it's a gift that we can give to ourselves. And by being some more with ourselves, we'll be able to be more with our clients. So-called burnout is an important thing. It's gotten a lot of press. But what really is burnout about? I think burnout is about not being able to take care of ourselves in a fundamental way, so all of this stuff accumulates over time.

Til Luchau:

Well, I mentioned the Facebook thread where I asked, what do you want me to ask Dr. Levine? And one of the things that came out, there was just an enormous amount of appreciation for you and the impact you've had on the world and our profession in particular. And I just want to take a moment here at the end of our conversation to thank you personally too because I knew you were a big influence, but now in this conversation too, I'm seeing all the ways that, in the 40 years since I first met you, you have planted seeds that are-

Peter Levine:

I like seeds, like Johnny Appleseed planting seeds wherever he went, I went there.

Til Luchau:

Thank you so much.

Peter Levine:

And you can get information, if you want, from our website, somaticexperiencing.com. And it also links with the Somatic Experience International, so if you want to find therapists or find where there are trainings. I say anybody who does any kind of healing work should at least take the first three modules of the class because it's something that you'll be able to carry with you for your own personal work and understanding, but on your clients. So I just leave you with that thought.

Til Luchau:

So many great resources there. We'll put it in the show notes as well. And then your first book, Waking The Tiger, your most recent book, An Autobiography of Trauma, we'll link to those as well.

Peter Levine:

Yeah. Okay. Okay. Anyhow, good reconnecting with you. Yeah, I enjoy, I enjoyed the back and forth.

Til Luchau:

I so appreciate your time. Thanks to Dr. Levine for that conversation. Our closing sponsor today, Books of Discovery has been part of the massage and body world for over 25 years. Nearly 3000 schools around the globe teach with their textbooks, eTextbooks, and digital resources. Books of Discovery, likes to say learning adventures start here. They find that same spirit here on The Thinking Practitioner Podcast, and they're proud to support our work knowing we share the mission to bring the massage and bodywork community thought provoking and enlivening content that advances our profession. Instructors of manual therapy education programs can request complimentary copies of Books of Discovery's textbooks to review for use in their programs. Please reach out at booksofdiscovery.com. Thinking Practitioner listeners, that's you, can explore their collection of learning resources for anatomy, physiology, kinesiology, ethics, and business mastery, where you will save 15% by entering thinking at checkout.

Thanks to all of our sponsors. Stop by our sites for the video of this conversation, the show notes, transcripts, and extras. Whitney's site, academyofclinicalmassage.com, my site, advanced-trainings.com. If you have comments, questions, or things you'd like to hear us talk about, just record a short voice memo on your phone and email it to us at info at thethinkingpractitioner.com, we might even play it on the air, or look for us on social media at our names @WhitneyLowe or @TilLuchau. Rate us, please, on Apple Podcasts, as it really does help people find the show and helps our sponsors know that their support is worthwhile. You can find us on Spotify, Stitcher, Podbean, or wherever else you listen. Please do share the word, tell a friend. Thanks for listening.

 

 

 

 

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