Tsunami Tremors and Children’s Ability to Self-Regulate

by | Jul 11, 2011 | About Trauma, SE Stories

Right after the Japanese earthquake and tsunami, Chieko Fujiwara, an active Somatic Experiencing® Practitioner (SEP), invited me to help work with children and victims of the tsunami in Sendai. The idea was to prepare an introductory workshop for introducing SE® to mental health professionals while also organizing teams to implement SE into their own community.

Taking it as a deeply personal call, I accepted it. I was mindful that every disaster has its own story, every community has its own fate, and every team has its own dynamic. My work in Thailand in 2005 had already suggested to me that the field of humanitarian relief often lacks a multi-disciplinary vision. And this is absolutely critical when dealing with the complex needs, hidden agendas, and urgent matters involved in such efforts. In Thailand I learned that fieldwork not only involves the various techniques of therapy, but that also requires a diplomatic perspective on the part of relief workers like myself. When you lose sight of the population—in this case the kids—then you have lost the greater mission at hand.

Although disasters make for a delicate working situation, kids are always a delight to work with. If they see you as a source of safety, it seems they are always open to be helped. The more I work with kids, the more I learn that they are primarily somatic rather than cognitive. So often they have a remarkable ability to self-regulate. I am always impressed with how resilient they are when we connect with them through their inner ability to heal themselves.

I remember in China, after a long day of working, I was observing a bunch of kids playing in the school courtyard. Suddenly a strong aftershock struck. Buildings moved like toys, producing loud and scary noises. All the kids ran away at random, screaming and crossing roads haphazardly. Immediately after the earthquake subsided, the majority returned to the courtyard to resume play. Most proceeded as if nothing had happened, needing no adult assistance or instructions. Very few were stressed or overwhelmed by the event at all. In that moment, it dawned on me how much the child-to-child interaction is important for their healing and self-regulation. The group of kids had its own intelligence; it was wired to heal its members through interactions like play.

In Japan I saw the same sort of innate intelligence plus everybody was waiting their turn, not rushing or turning to irrational “survival” behavior. I saw this in the faces of the people we worked with: initially there was worry, but also a kindness and respect for each other.

In my experiences around the planet, the language of SE really cuts through cultural barriers. It provides an amazing method for healing and self-regulation following traumatic events like the Japan Tsunami (and its aftermath). I am proud of our community that together continues to find new applications and broader audiences. Thanks to Peter Levine for sharing his knowledge and wisdom.


Alé Duarte

Alé Duarte has worked around the globe as a Somatic Experiencing® Practitioner. His professional life is devoted to the search for experiences in healing, self-exploration, and the wellbeing of communities and individuals.