top of page
  • Writer's pictureKrystal Ying, LMFT, LPCC, LPC

What is Sequencing in Somatic Therapy?

Find Out if This Technique Can Help You Resolve Trauma: 4 Common Questions About Sequencing

Sensorimotor sequencing ~ an intervention for releasing trauma energy stored/stuck in the nervous system rooted in mindfulness

Relief, release, trauma recovery
Photo by Darius Bashar on Unsplash

Sequencing is a term used in somatic therapy, or Sensorimotor Psychotherapy, to describe the body's natural process of discharging, releasing, moving, or metabolizing hyperarousal* energy left over in the body after a traumatic event(s).

[*Note: hyperarousal is the body's mobilizing, activating response that includes fight, flight, freeze. Examples: panic, increased heart rate, sweating, nightmares, hypervigilance, anger]

Sensorimotor sequencing is a mindfulness-based process where physical sensations are tracked until they relieve and settle.

With the guidance of a trained therapist, you can work carefully together to move trauma-related energy from the nervous system, towards a state of relief and resolution.

"Through sensorimotor sequencing, you can work with the strong energies connected to hyperarousal and defensive responses on a physical level and resolve the sensations they cause." - Pat Ogden, Janina Fisher in Sensorimotor Psychotherapy: Interventions for Trauma and Attachment

Read below to learn answers to 4 common questions people ask me in therapy about sequencing. Discover if sequencing is something that might help you.

1. What exactly happens while sequencing?

Great question! Sequencing works with the body's hyperarousal energy (i.e., activating, mobilizing impulses and sensations) linked to a trauma event or memory. We would use a memory to activate the body's hyperarousal response and then mindfully direct our attention to the sequence of physical sensations that follow.

By following sensations as they move, I would guide you to stay present with what happens next in the body, allowing the sensations to naturally progress until settling.

Sequencing can manifest in the form of sensations moving from the hands up the arms, tingling, trembling, shaking, crying, jerks, heat, buzzing, vibrations.

2. How long does it take for sequencing to resolve trauma?

Sequencing a specific stimuli, or event, or memory, can take a few times, sometimes one time, sometimes more. Basically there is no simple answer. It is normal for there to be multiple cycles of sequencing until a memory is not triggering or activating anymore. Over time, with both resourcing and sequencing, you can balance your nervous system so that memories are no longer triggering.

3. Is sequencing right for me?

Maybe! Sequencing requires preparation and the ability to stay present in the moment while experiencing [at times, strong] physical sensations. For sequencing to be successful, the therapist and client work together to track the body's sensations live as they are happening, moving, changing, amplifying, and settling.

Typically, your therapist would help you: build internal resources to tolerate discomfort (in the form of memories, emotions, thoughts, sensations), strengthen mindfulness skills to stay in the moment, develop an ability to verbalize and name body sensations (e.g. "I feel a warm buzzing radiating upward from my fingers").

According to Pat Ogden and Janina Fisher in Sensorimotor Psychotherapy: Interventions for Trauma and Attachment, "in order for sensorimotor sequencing to be successful, clients need to have confidence in their body's intelligence and in bottom-up interventions because the the technique requires the ability to tolerate involuntary movements and sensations, such as trembling."

In sum, sequencing can help with symptoms of hyperarousal: panic, anxiety, nightmares, jittery, shaking, elevated heart rate, fluctuations of hyperarousal and hypoarousal.

4. When is sequencing contraindicated?

When the nervous system is out of the window of tolerance* or the client is unable to stay present due to overwhelm, flooding, or dissociation, then sequencing is not helpful and should be stopped. In this case, it is important to apply resources (that we would have already built together - such as grounding, posture, movement, breath, orienting) to help the body regulate and return to an optimal zone of arousal.

It is important to note that the client may stop sequencing at any point of the session. Also, if we begin sequencing and you become overwhelmed, we can pause and resource using tools, and either return to sequencing or stop altogether (until you feel ready again in the future).

Sequencing is contraindicated when a client has not developed ample resources (toolbox), is unable to stay in a mindful state while experiencing uncomfortable sensations, or when their nervous system is dysregulated (out of the window of tolerance).

As a reminder, sequencing is applicable for hyperarousal trauma states. Despite the potential contraindications, a therapist can help you develop the skills necessary to sequence and resolve trauma energy from the body.

[*Window of tolerance: optimal zone of nervous system arousal for a person, coined by Dr. Dan Siegel]

"If you know how to go back to her and listen carefully every day for five or ten minutes, healing will take place." - Thich Nhat Hanh in Reconciliation: Healing the Inner Child


Image by Willian Justen de Vasconcellos

Stay connected!

Subscribe to receive blog updates

Thanks for subscribing!

bottom of page