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Healing Through the Body: Rosen Method Bodywork with Trauma Therapy

Updated: Dec 24, 2019


Touch is perhaps the most overlooked innate resource we humans have for health and healing. Though we analyze, reflect and make meaning, fundamentally we are mammals who are wired to work, play, protect, relax, create, and heal through touch with each other.

This level of social engagement is “our most sophisticated pathway to alleviating distress and moving toward healing. The neocortex is engaged and biochemicals release that make bonding and relaxation possible,” says Ivy Green, psychotherapist and Rosen Method Bodywork Senior Instructor.

Attuned touch, at the right time in a person’s recovery from trauma, can help significantly reorganize a nervous system that has been stuck in dysregulation, strengthen emotional stability and build resilience.

A Bodyworker’s Perspective

Clients often seek bodyworkers to address chronic pain and stress-related illness, get recovery support after surgery or oncology treatments, or to manage stress. Though most people are not aware of it, their suffering can be the result of unresolved trauma. Practicing bodywork for 25 years, I have explored ways to heal these syndromes through the body, not only for my clients but for me personally. Rosen Method, a form of somatic bodywork, taught me that healing begins with how we relate to ourselves inside, and that humans are wired to experience touch as a primary asset for health and recovery.

Two hallmarks of Rosen Method, inner awareness and non-directive listening touch, helped me address a chronic pain pattern I’d long-suffered due to trauma. Gentle bodywork sessions helped me explore the implicit meaning of my body sensations and to rebuild a relationship with myself through befriending my body. The chronic muscle tension and migraine headaches I’d had were a protective response needed until other ways of advocating for myself were in place. Eventually I could relax the core tension that had kept me in pain for decades.

Rosen Method Bodywork allowed me to access and value my own emotional vulnerability, and to connect deeply with others. Key to my ability to have compassion for others has been my willingness to develop intimacy with all things within me. Though I do not always like what is within me, or the situations of my life that I must face, I meet them with a new foundation of awareness, gentleness and support.

I now live without chronic pain, my relationships are more authentic with healthier boundaries, and I am more comfortable with my emotions and physical being. My life reflects more alignment with my heart’s purpose.

Rosen Method is different than massage and other directive therapies. There is no manipulation of the body or mind to distract from meeting what is true in that moment. When muscles do not relax even as a person rests, a Rosen Practitioner becomes curious about why those muscles still need to contract. The body-subconscious has good reasons for why it holds tension. Rosen Method Bodywork contacts the holding and waits to see what is there underneath consciousness in relation to the tension.

When a body feels supported this way, new awareness can arise, and release can happen allowing shifts toward the healing state where the body rebalances and restores itself. The client’s perspective changes, and new ways of dealing with entrenched patterns are possible. Simply stated, when the body feels safe, relaxed and acknowledged, it can heal. Rosen Method listens closely to the language of the body… and the being within… to meet and support what is ready to heal.

What is Rosen Method Bodywork?

Marion Rosen (1914-2012), founder of Rosen Method, was born in Germany and began her exploration of the body-mind connection there by giving bodywork to patients prior to their psychoanalysis sessions. Dr. Gustav Heyer, a colleague of Carl Jung’s, observed that his patients who had bodywork before their analysis sessions experienced accelerated psychotherapeutic benefit.

Marion was forced to leave Germany during the Holocaust, and went to Switzerland where she became a physical therapist. In 1940, Marion came to America, and trained again in physical therapy at the Mayo Clinic. She noticed her clients recovered when they tuned into their bodies during the manual therapy and talked about what came up for them while they did so. Other therapists were curious about her high rate of success in helping people resolve chronic issues and sought out Marion’s teachings, thus creating an international group of professional touch-givers trained to follow and reflect the inner workings of their clients’ bodies.

Rosen Method Bodywork is gentle, listening touch and verbal reflection that heightens the client’s awareness of their immediate inner experience and helps process what is there, through the body and with support.

How it Works

The client lays on a massage table as the Rosen Method Practitioner contacts the client’s body. The client’s muscles subconsciously tighten and relax to control or express emotion, and limit or free the breath. The practitioner observes these and other physiological changes and encourages the client to feel into the sensations, to become curious about them as they unfold. Long-held feelings and memories may surface and be expressed. Physiological shifts such as an increase in oxytocin and endorphins, and neurological discharge occur. Clients experience easier breathing, relaxation, connection, and sensory pleasure in their bodies.

Where the natural instinct was once to dissociate from embodied pain due to painful unresolved experiences, the client literally feels support from the practitioner’s resonant touch allowing the possibility of re-association with their body in safety.

As deep-seated memories, patterns, and emotions are consciously renegotiated, new possibilities for dealing with old patterns arise, and new meaning often evolves. A trauma story becomes one of survival and growth, allowing physiological and emotional balance and greater resilience.

Rosen Method Bodywork with Trauma Therapy

For trauma sufferers, somatic bodywork may augment an established therapeutic relationship with a mental health care provider **.

Rosen Method Practitioners help clients navigate unfamiliar territory of the body-subconscious through resonant touch, often without the necessity of re-telling trauma story details.

Sometimes it helps clients to step away from the verbal story of their trauma, and come gently toward the present moment through bodily sensation. The discovery that body sensations are signals from the subconscious, and not innately good or bad, can be life-changing for those who had previously become shut-down or highly activated in response to their bodily cues. Clients re-negotiate implicit memory and its connection with the nervous system.

Learning to follow and allow natural body processes becomes a new way to meet discomfort and deal with it.

Exploring boundaries through touch helps clients learn to soften their emotional and physical defenses to find safety and deeper connection within. This opens new possibilities for self-advocacy and intimacy, and experiencing interpersonal relationships more authentically.

Subconscious material uncovered during bodywork sessions can then be processed in psychotherapy. The therapist and Rosen Practitioner may consult together to track the client’s progress. Over time healthier coping patterns and resiliency develop, and symptoms ease.

Rosen Method Bodywork can help clients:

  1. Regulate physiological, neurological and emotional systems of the body through touch, resonance and relaxation

  2. Uncover subconscious material such as body memories and beliefs that contribute to long-standing symptoms, habits, pain

  3. Process and integrate unexpressed emotional and physiological cycles

  4. Experience wholeness, peace, forgiveness, new meaning

  5. Experience a non-verbal relational framework in which to explore healthy boundaries, and appropriate trust/protective responses.

Who is a good candidate for Rosen Method Bodywork?

Clients who benefit most from Rosen Method are those who have stability and support in their lives, and can come inward with sustained attention and take responsibility for their own experience. Individuals with chronic pain, stress-related health concerns, anxiety, depression, eating disorders, and those in life transitions or with relational challenges can benefit from Rosen Method.

Rosen Method Bodywork is not appropriate for those

- in crisis or living in unsafe circumstances

- who have a serious psychiatric condition that is not managed well with medication and appropriate mental health support

- who are suicidal

- with acute pain

- in active drug/alcohol addiction

- children/young teens

If you are curious about Rosen Method Bodywork for your own personal growth practice, or wish to explore it as an adjunct to your clients’ therapy, please see the flyer inviting you to a lecture with Ivy Green, psychotherapist, Senior Rosen Method Bodywork Instructor, and author of “Relaxation, Awareness, Resilience: Science and Practice of Rosen Method Bodywork” on September 21, from 7-8:30 pm in St Paul.

** Rosen Method Bodywork is not appropriate for everyone. A referring provider must have a good understanding of the nature of Rosen Method (and the practitioner) before referring a client with complex trauma history to receive bodywork. If you are a provider and wish to refer a client to receive Rosen Method, please talk to the Rosen Practitioner, and read Anais Salibian’s article “Trauma Therapy with Rosen Method Bodywork” (Rosen Method Journal, Volume 8, Issue 1, 2015).

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Some individuals may not be good candidates for Rosen Method Bodywork because it asks individuals to feel into physical and emotional sensations, an overwhelming experience for some complex trauma survivors. For these individuals, working with a Somatic Experiencing Practitioner can support shifts toward regulation. Sometimes gentle massage therapy is more appropriate than Rosen Method because clients receive regulating touch without “going inward”.


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