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From Barbara Schmidt: Reptilian, mammal and rational brain “speak” different languages: Trauma Education II

This is the second part of trauma education by my friend and colleague and fellow Somatic Experiencing® Practitioner: Barbara Schmidt check out her website:

When someone is stressed out & irrational it makes sense to explore negative thinking and to help that person to return to rational thinking (CBT). In Trauma however the frontal cortex (our rational thinking brain) is not connected to the rest of our brain and areas in our brain like the Broca’s (responsible for reasoning and articulation/ finding the right words) break down.

This means that we need to develop a new language beyond words that our brain can actually understand when we are working with trauma.

The question is, how can we bypass language in therapy and reach the parts of the brain, where the trauma is actually stored?

To make it very simple: our brain can be divided into three parts that coincide with our evolution. We share our oldest part of the brain with reptilians, it is responsible for all our instinctual responses, helping us with breathing, swallowing, heartbeat, digestion, circulation, sleep, sexuality, action and survival. And it is in our reptilian brain that trauma is stored!

Next up is our mammal brain, it makes us into emotional human beings and has the herd instinct wired into us (we need one another, we are “herd animals”). To reach this part of the brain a client needs to feel comfortable with the therapist they see and be met with an empathetic, accepting and non judgmental approach and soothing sounds (that’s why when someone is upset it works for us parents to simply nod and say “hm…” in an feeling empathetic way).

Only human beings have the third part of the brain, it allows us to think rationally and have use of our words. It is a wonderful brain and enables us to be clever, clear and smart, come up with wonderful inventions and solutions. We can express how we feel and share our inner world with others. Without it communication via words wouldn’t be possible. As mentioned before though, the rational brain isn’t online when a person is in trauma. (“Use your words!” command doesn’t work with angry, upset people old or young, neither does advice giving – that part of the brain then simply isn’t switched on)

Coming back to the reptilian brain where trauma resides: It can be accessed only via the language of sensations. “When you feel the sadness, where does it sit in your body and how does it feel? Soft, tight, tingly, knotted, hot, cold, heavy light….?” Gently and with a lot of mindfulness the bodily felt sense is being explored via a trained Somatic Experiencing practitioner. The reptilian brain now finally receives the information it needs to register that parts of the body are actually tense and hold trauma memory. This means you are on the road to recovery.

It is such a relief that there are now trauma approaches (Somatic Experiencing, EMDR, MATES and Brain spotting) available that have developed a language the reptilian brain can actually understand. It works – once the reptilian brain is on board, it no longer will sabotage your emotions and rational thinking and can now concentrate on its important job of instinctual responses.

If you like these posts, please share them. Information on trauma is something that needs to go viral. Everything I have written is copy righted and I am requesting to give me credit for information passed on and copied. Thanks.

Should you miss a post, just check out my Facebook page “Barbara Schmidt Counselling Somatic” or have a look under the blog section on my web site where you can subscribe to my newsletters so you won’t miss any future ones.

So far I covered “What is trauma?” and “Freeze state that follows fight flight survival mechanism”

Next week I will write about: “How the self soothing Parasympathetic Nerve develops and how patterns of worrying and over-thinking can be set up in childhood”

Have a great day,





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Knowing is not enough. We must apply. Being willing is not enough. We must do. - Leonardo Di Vinci

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