Highlights from this week’s interview
This week Jean interviews Danielle Murphy, LCSW SEP, as they discuss the body’s role in overcoming trauma. Below are highlights of their conversation.
Jean: Hello, everybody! You're about to meet Danielle Murphy, a licensed social worker and somatic experiencing practitioner, who specializes in somatic trauma therapy. She and her colleagues work with people who have experienced trauma and are now stuck in their trauma, sometimes even experiencing PTSD, post-traumatic stress disorder. Their approach is not just through talk, but through helping people experience their bodies, where the trauma is stored in their bodies, and how to release it.
Jean: what is trauma? What is traumatic stress?
Daniella: I’m talking about any event in our lives or our history that overwhelmed our nervous system. Our brains gets overwhelmed, and our bodies can’t process the events and integrate into our lives. It can show up in our posture and our muscles, while our bodies wait for a change to complete processing the event.
Jean: If something traumatic happens at the grocery store, for example, our bodies never get to release the trauma, so we relive it every time we go shopping.
Danielle: It can be anything – smell, color – because the memory is stored in fragments. We need to pay attention to what our bodies are telling us, not trying to move on or get over it.
Jean: Tell us about yourself. How did you get into this field?
Danielle: I attended a workshop at a social work conference. The first thing the presenter said was to let our eyes wander and be aware of what we saw. I could feel my body relaxing, and I decided that’s what I wanted to specialize in.
Jean: Tell me a bit about your racial experiences.
Danielle: I’m biracial. My paternal side is African-American from the Bahamas. My material side is German farmers from Pennsylvania. I grew up in the north being an “other”: not Black enough for the Black kids, not White enough for the White kids. We didn’t talk about it.
Jean: What would you say now to your childhood self?
Danielle: What I teach my five-year-old is to know her identity, to recognize that some people are not comfortable with it, and to understand that she is not defined by other people.
Jean: What did you learn about trauma in graduate school?
Danielle: I witnessed young Black children who weren’t getting their needs met, so they were coping the best way they knew how. One child in particular was expelled from school for throwing a brick, something that would have lifetime consequences, when he had no other way to express the hurt.
Jean: What exactly do you do when someone walks into your office for help healing a trauma?
Danielle: I slow them down so they don’t start by sharing their narrative. I tell them they first need to learn how to experience their body. It can take a couple of sessions or many sessions. Some don’t have the luxury of coming week after week, so I teach them how to practice being in touch with their own bodies.
Jean: You’re telling me that people must learn to trust their bodies?
Danielle: Yes. It’s a very scary space. You have to develop trust that your body was designed to ride that wave of stress and come out the other side. Once that sense of safety is developed, then we can start working through their experience. At some point there’s a real sense of release when the energy shifts from stress to safety. I feel like I’m witnessing a miracle when this happens.
Jean: Does trauma produce helplessness most of the time?
Danielle: Usually the person goes into fight, flight, or freeze mode.
Jean: Does racial trauma exist?
Danielle: I wouldn’t say the trauma is different. Our nervous systems don’t know the social construct of race. But if a person comes from an environment of being the “other,” where there are microaggressions, or the genetic code from previous generations includes trauma, they’re walking into my office with all this stuff already there.
Jean: Do you do virtual therapy?
Danielle: I do, but because of licensing I can only practice in New York and Pennsylvania.
Jean: Do you have referrals for people outside those two states?
Danielle: They should go to traumahealing.org for a directory of practitioners.
Jean: What is your website?
Jean: Anything to add?
Danielle: Yes. Trauma is not a life sentence.
Danielle Murphy, LCSW SEP
Psychotherapist and Consultant
Danielle is a Psychotherapist and Consultant in private practice in New York City. She holds a Masters in Social Work from New York University. Danielle has been working with the resolution of traumatic stress for 10 years. She incorporates different treatment modalities into her work, with an emphasis on body-oriented techniques.