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Evaluating Sensorimotor Intervention in Children who have Experienced Complex Trauma – an excerpt.



The following excerpt is from a research document  conducted through the Illinois Wesleyan University by psychology honors student Lauren Hansen.

The study was conducted in 2011 and is the first of it’s kind. The results are exciting and in line with our experiences and outcomes over the past 10 years.

The study is evaluating components of Dr Bruce Perry’s Neurosequential Method Therapy and Sensorimotor Intervention in Children who have experienced trauma.

Please read the full study if you have the time as it gives a thorough description of the neurobiological effects of childhood trauma on the brain’s development, and the positive outcomes of these therapeutic interventions.

“The purpose of this study was to examine the effects of a bilateral sensorimotor intervention on children who have experienced complex trauma. In implementing this intervention, we used the concepts from the NMT as well as other sensorimotor principles.

The intervention was comprised of three different categories of treatment- drum circles, spinning groups, and movement therapy. Each of these activities emphasized the principles of NMT and sensorimotor interventions. It is also important to note that the Illinois Department of Child and Family Services as adopted the principles of the NMT as a promising, evidenced-based model, and recommends incorporating these activities into treatment (Illinois Department of Child and Family Services, 2008).

Drum circles have become increasingly popular in clinical treatment, although studies evaluating them are still very limited. Drumming has been suggested to be effective in the treatment of clinical disorders for multiple reasons, many of which correspond with the principles of NMT and sensorimotor interventions.

The results of the Bittman et al. (2001) study suggest that drumming is effective because it increases attunement to rhythm (which is essential to basic human functions), increases group attunement and cohesion, increases fine motor skill abilities, and increases group identity and a feeling of belongingness.

In order for the drum circles to be effective, group members must pay attention to the other members of the group and must all play to a central rhythm. This causes the child to attune to others and to how others are responding to them. This attunement helps to increase group association and bonding (Lang, 1990).

In addition to increasing attunement, drumming has also been used as a form of music therapy with PTSD victims. Bensimon et al. (2008) proposed that traumatic memories are presented in the form of flashbacks and nightmares, which are very primitive and are typically stimulated by similar sensory output.

According to this theory, traumatic memories are stored in inflexible, primitive structures of the brain and are not easily stored as other memories. According to Bensimon et al., this leads to “an inability to translate sensory motor representations, processed apparently in the right hemisphere, into meaningful symbolic and verbal representations which are processed apparently in the left side. This may result in disability to translate emotions into words”, which can explain why traumatized children have difficulty expressing what they are feeling (pg. 36).

Furthermore, they argue that music and traumatic memories are sensory-mediated, and so drumming may serve as a way to access and reprocess these memories without having to talk about them. Qualitative data indicated that the participants felt a strong sense of group belongingness that was established during the drum circles. The results of this study further supported the concept of increasing group belongingness and attunement to others. For these reasons, the present study included drum circles in the intervention.”


Here is a link to the full paper: Evaluating a Sensorimotor Intervention in Children who have Experienced Complex Trauma: A Pilot Study

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