Today, June 26th, is International Day to Support Victims of Torture. On this day, the United Nations invites individuals to speak out against torture as well as honor and support victims and survivors of torture throughout the world.

Torture occurs in a variety of domains including, but not limited to, political, ritual, judicial and war-related. In all its forms, torture inflicts a lasting traumatic experience on its victims and witnesses. On this day of honoring individuals and communities who have experienced torture, let us take time to better understand what happens to one’s body when trauma is experienced.

In an interview for the podcast Passing 4 Normal, Amber Elizabeth Gray details how trauma affects one’s body. This episode, Trauma, Fear and Restoring Resilience, highlights the work of Gray, a dance/movement therapist and somatic psychotherapist, who has devoted nearly 20 years in the human rights field as a body-based clinician, program organizer and teacher. The majority of her work is with or about survivors of human rights abuses, including individuals who have experienced torture. 744839_cUGYllt2

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“The foundation of my work, what is most fundamental, is the body,” states Gray as she commented on her reasons for using body-based practices, including dance/movement therapy, as a primary mode of therapy  in her work. “In life we inhabit our bodies.”

Gray addresses how trauma affects the body. She explains, ”trauma is a body-based experience.” She continues to describe this bodily experience as “living in a body that is locked down in fear or terror.” A traumatic experience “[c]olors the perception of the world and affects the way they feel, move and breathe.”

Since “[trauma] leaves an imprint on the body,” Gray postulates that “[p]hysiological state has to shift in order to create the space for emotional and psychological to shift. We cannot shift out of these states of fear without shifting physiologically.”

“Interpersonal type traumas tend to have a deeper impact than non-interpersonal,” states Gray. She continues, highlighting that interpersonal trauma “undermines the sense of trust that is fundamental to being human.”

When asked about how Gray creates change, she uses the term ‘restoration.’ With the belief that “all human-beings are born inherently resilient,” Gray’s work is aimed at “restoring a sense of belonging and meaning” and restoring  connection, both internal and external–all connections rooted in the body. Some elements of restoration after trauma include a grieving process; increased awareness of sensations and emotions; a shift into understanding and fitting the understanding into larger life.

Editor’s Note: Amber Elizabeth Gray will be co-presenting on Dance/Movement Therapy, Mindfulness and Trauma: Creating Pathways for Healing and Compassion Across Cultures at the 50th Annual ADTA Conference in La Jolla, California on October 22. You can register for this full day, pre-conference intensive here.


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