Women’s Empowerment in India with Somatic Experiencing

Beth Neilson MFT, is the founder of Lotus Circle International, an organization who aims to support the empowerment of women in India applying the Somatic Experiencing principals of trauma healing.  In an interview, I was able to speak with her about the success of using this psycho-biologically based approach to trauma healing.  Beth Neilson’s group work in connection with the local organization, “Village Action Group” (lead by Anbu and Morris, a wife and husband team of professional social workers.68 They conduct outreaches and support to over 250 self-help groups, touching the lives of over 3,500 women and 850 men, along the coastal regions.  These groups meet and discuss how they can improve their lives, i.e. micro financing, water taps, agriculture, road improvements, and education.

Beth Nielsen leads a practice group with village women.

Village Action Group requested support in the form of Somatic Experiencing for the locals after 9 women consecutively committed suicide in the surrounding villages.  They had great success working with Somatic Experience practitioners in the past, so upon these tragic events they recognized that this method of trauma healing was most appropriate.  Beth Neilson and her group of practitioners were invited to provide Somatic Experiencing education and treatments to the women, with the intention of empowerment.  When appropriate, men of the villages would also participate.  They conducted trainings with the leaders of these groups on the nature of trauma and the body and worked directly with the people in the group and private sessions applying the Somatic Experiencing approach to trauma healing.

Women in India, as well as many other developing nations, have a long standing history of marginalization.  Many of these women who participated in the Village Action Group work with Lotus International are illiterate or have very little education, and receive minimal healthcare.  Women of India are the backbone of the nation, but in this environment of inequality, it’s a real struggle for them to get their needs met.  Men’s frustration around being poor are often taken out on the women in the form of domestic violence.  Due to this repeated emotional and physical abuse, out of hopelessness these women felt that their only way out was suicide.

I was touched to hear about the kind of support that Beth’s Neilson’s group was providing for these women. Domestic violence and maltreatment were common occurrences in their lives.  Repeated abuse and acts of domestic violence have left these women holding high levels of charges in their nervous systems associated with thwarted s

Lotus International’s trauma intervention strategy was focused on reestablishing resources that could build up the women’s inner sense of strength.  In a group healing environment, Beth Neilson and her team created a space where resources could be built, and the excess energy from incomplete self-protective responses could be safely mobilized and discharged out of their nervous systems.  The intention was to restore a sense of empowerment and self-worth.urvival responses.  This collapse in their system was contributing to these women’s feelings of low self-worth and helplessness.

A village woman begins to feel her power during a Somatic Experiencing session.

Beth Neilson describes an exercise where she was encouraging everyone to pretend they were wild animals.  Growls, grunts, hands turned into claws, and arms were flying, as the group’s members playfully engaged in the exercise.  During the practice after making the animal sounds and gestures, they were invited by Beth Neilson to track the associated sensations in their body, by asking questions like “notice what you feel now inside your body, and notice what happens next as the sensations move through you.”  Many women experienced feelings of activation as an increase in their heart and breathing rate, tears, anger, and physical shaking.  The defensive movement that they were imitating from animals caused a response in their body, as they’re movement patterns similar to the ones thwarted in their abusive experiences.  This exercise was intended to help restore these women’s thwarted self-protective responses and aid them in the discharge of the built up survival energy trapped in their nervous systems.   This is a good example of how the use of play in Somatic Experiencing interventions can be very effective in helping a person access their physiological and inherent self-regulation in a non threatening way.

“Press Hands” was another exercises used in the group process to support their completion of healthy self-protective responses.  In that exercise the client is invited to press their hands against the practitioner with resistance and notice what they feel.  The client would track feelings and sensations that were activated by that contact.  In that process, feelings of helplessness were renegotiated, as they began to experience successful motor movements that resemble the type of movements they may have wanted to make in their past.  By engaging the musculature in their arms, shoulders and the use of their eyes (as an animal intensely gazes as to say “don’t come one step closer to me”), these women were able to restore their internal sense of where their boundaries were, giving them a new found feeling of strength and empowerment.

Lotus Circle International team with Auroville Village Action Group staff following a three day training in trauma healing and self regulation.

In Lotus Circle International’s group processes these women could build upon their inner strength and nurture solidarity amongst themselves.  This aided with the development of more physiological stability, and successful self-regulation inside their nervous systems.  They learned ways to contact and lend attention to their inner and outer resources, which acted as a counter balances to the charged sensations associated with their traumas.

In our interview, Beth Neilson shared that the women participants of the trauma healing groups reported profound changes in the way they felt and how they behaved.  They noticed these positive shifts when they would return to their homes at night -to their husbands and families.  This demonstrated that the tools they learned were practical and applicable in their lives, and helped them find inner strength and empowerment, which was the intention of their intervention.

To find out more about Beth Neilson’s trauma healing work, you can visit the website of Lotus Circle International at www.LotusCircleInternational.org.

68 http://avag.zzl.org