A Body-Based Model of Trauma:
Tools for Times of Terror and Turbulence
Peter Levine, PhD
May 10, 2002
10:30 am-1:30 pm

New York University
Main Building - Room 408
100 Washington Square East

This presentation will explore the implications of how the brain and body process extreme experiences, suggesting new avenues of effective therapeutic action. We will see that the trauma response is a specific defensive bodily reaction that people initially mobilize in order to protect themselves against feeling the totality of their horror, helplessness or pain.
However, ultimately, it keeps them frozen and stuck in the past, unable to be Present in the here and now. Fixed in the defensive trauma response, the fear, shame, defeat and humiliation, associated with the original event, replays itself over and over again in the body-detached from history but experienced in the present.

Traditionally, therapies have attempted to change perceptions of the world by means of reason and insight, using conditioning, behavior modification, and medication. However, our perceptions remain fundamentally unchanged until the internal felt experience of the body changes. Even after the death of a loved one, physical injury, rape, assault, exposure to collective terror, people can learn to have new bodily experiences allowing them to heal and accept what has happened. These experiences, which directly contradict those of fear and helplessness, help people move forward to create new lives and new communities. Case video material from a WTC survivor will demonstrate simple tools that can help people move through traumatic states, to completion and resolution.

For more than 35 years, Dr. Peter Levine has studied the human response to stress and trauma. Dr. Levine has consulted and taught at hospitals and pain clinics worldwide and worked in areas where natural disasters, military actions and social dislocation have taken place. In 1999 he visited the Middle East where he worked with a group of Palestinian, Turkish and Israeli mental health workers to focus on the emotional and historical wounds of trauma.


Peter Levine is a member of the Institute of World Affairs Task Force of Psychologists for Social Responsibility. He also serves on the Presidential Initiative on Ethnopolitical Warfare, which is developing a training and postgraduate curriculum for dealing with large-scale disaster and ethno-political conflict. Levine received his PhD in medical biophysics from the University of California at Berkeley, and also holds a doctorate in psychology from International University. He is the author of Waking the Tiger - Healing Trauma, available in eight languages.

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