Building a New Past

This week our group, Mad Liberation, read and discussed another chapter Bessel van der Kolk’s The Body Keeps the Score. Per the recommendation of one of our group members, we read chapter 18, titled, “Filling in the Holes: Creating Structures.” Van der Kolk starts the chapter by explaining how difficult it is to heal in the process of conventional psychotherapy when someone cannot access memories of feeling safe; when we have never known safety with another person, how can we be expected to develop a trusting relationship with a therapist?

Van der Kolk describes a particular type of therapy he first experienced in 1994 — PBSP psychomotor therapy*. This approach seeks to help trauma survivors develop new memories by creating tableaus or structures whereby they can re-experience past events in new ways. It is done in a group setting, where other group members can support the experience and play roles as directed by the “protagonist”. In van der Kolk’s words:

“Although the structures involve dialogue, psychomotor therapy does not explain or interpret the past. Instead, it allows you to feel what you felt back then, to visualize what you saw, and to sawy what you could not say when it actually happened. It’s as if you could go back into the movie of your life and rewrite the crucial scenes.”

The picture painted by van der Kolk of the promise of this intervention stimulated some interesting group discussion. Not all of us agreed that this would be helpful, and we had some conversation about what type of client might benefit from psychomotor therapy. The question of safety in a group was brought up, and we wondered about how long it might take someone in a group setting to feel comfortable enough to be the protagonist, and to direct the action around them. Can seeing others take risks and be safe inspire a feeling of safety in others?

Another topic discussion and some disagreement was in the realm of embodied movement. As the name implies, psychomotor therapy involves some motion. Most of us felt that this movement and body connection was inherently valuable and healing. There was some curiosity around why movement is not a larger part of our education as therapists, and whether we are missing a key piece of psychological training. For some of us, the idea of more movement was not at all appealing, and the question arose: is embodiment valuable if it is panic inducing?

Overall, we seemed to end the hour of discussion with more questions than answers; the hallmark of a good conversation, I believe. Our examination of trauma this week was another good example of just how much our individual stories, perspectives, and biases impact how we learn, what we are drawn to, and what kind of practitioner we hope to become. May be continue to be curious about ourselves and others for the sake of hope and healing.

*See more info on this at

Like what you read? Give Carrie Potter a round of applause.

From a quick cheer to a standing ovation, clap to show how much you enjoyed this story.