When you take an action, a neural pathway is created which allows that action to be taken more easily next time. This is the ‘learning to ride a bike’ thing. You can’t ride a bike, then suddenly you can, and you don’t forget again. My father learned to swim at the age of 70. Throughout my childhood I knew ‘Dad can’t swim’. Then one day out of the blue my mother telephoned, and announced that he could swim. He had learned – he created a neural pathway and now (he is in his nineties) he is a swimmer. So the neuroscience is clear, if you create a pathway for something it becomes a possibility. This is a form of neural plasticity – the brain can change.
How can this be harnessed for therapeutic change? This is simple. Understand that when you get in to action, you create some sort of a pathway. So for example, if you forgive someone who has wronged you, something shifts inside of you. A pathway is created within you. Probably you will feel this in the chest/heart area. As you let the hurt go, and re-open to goodwill for that person, you are DOING something in your body, there will be a sensation (an actual sensation) in your heart area. This is the creation of a pathway. Next time you take the same path (forgive that person, forgive another person) it will be a bit easier.
In trauma, one of the things that happens is that we have a moment of sensing that there is nothing that we can DO. We freeze. We might be right about this – it
may be that in the trauma moment there is no action open to us. So in working with people who are struggling with trauma, one of the most simple interventions which you can make is to help them to take an action. Notice where a person might be experiencing something non-optimal (particularly to do with their freedom, their body) and notice where they are not taking ACTION to alleviate the symptom. When your client walks in to the room, are they clear where they want to sit or are they waiting for you to indicate? Instead of indicating, experiment with offering the person the chance to make the choice, and to take an action. Then to change the action if they want (choose) to. Do this countless times. Make it conscious (in other words, begin a dialogue with the client about actions and freezing).
Therapists know that it is often the smallest of interventions which make the difference in the transformation work with someone. Paying attention to bodily action is a way of addressing embodiment which is unthreatening, effective, and holistic.