SOMA Social Project

I offered a social workshop to poor youths who are so vulnerable.
It was related to emotional regulation and taught tools for help them to restore containment, grounding and learn how to deal with anxiety

SE in the Rainforest: Expedition to Xingu

The use of Somatic Experiencing® with indigenous people of Brazil's Amazon basin.


Photos by Eduardo Biral

The tropical rainforest can be seen as a thermometer to measure the state of the planet. More than half of the animal species and plants live here and the forest's ecosystem and resources are essential for preventing poverty and climate change. However, most of the indigenous people living in the rainforest do not know about the importance the forest has to the globe; they have enough fights to win, just trying to survive themselves.

Xingu is a multi-ethnic indigenous territory in the Mato Grosso area of Brazil's Amazon basin, established in the early 1960s by the Vilas Boas brothers. The size of the area is 27,000 square kilometers, about the same as Belgium. It holds 14 ethnic groups, 11 of them original and 3 from neighboring areas: 4,600 people altogether. There are 14 indigenous languages spoken and some of the men also speak Portuguese. People from outside are not allowed into the area without authorization from the government as well as from indigenous leaders.

The Yudjá tribe, or the Juruna, has a population of 400 people who a minority in the area of the Xingu. They live in three different camps, one of them receiving us from the 28th to the 30th of November, 2014.

We— Sonia Gomes Silva, SE™ Trauma Institute senior faculty member; Christian H. Thommessen, vice president of the SETI board; and Cathrine S. Thommessen, an SEP— formed a small Somatic Experiencing team hailing from Brazil to Norway. We traveled together with Dr. Duarte Guerra, M.D. and three other men who would help and support the team. Dr. Duarte works as medical and psychiatric doctor with the Yudjá every three months. Arriving in Xingu late in the evening, we also met with dentists Eduardo and Rosa Biral who work with different tribes, living together with them most of the year.The morning after our arrival we were welcomed by the tribe dancing and singing, wearing traditional costumes.

They were all painted and carrying beautiful handmade jewelry. After the ceremony we met with the chief, his wife, and helpers— and were surrounded by several curious others— to exchange gifts and to discuss various socio-politic and socio-cultural matters. They told us about the following concerns.

Western culture is moving closer, influencing the Yudjá in negative ways. The roads were about to be enhanced, which led the tribe to move to this new camp where we were staying (about 45 minutes, by speed boat in the Xingu river, from the old camp). Before the influence of the whites, the Yudjá had no chronic diseases. They were concerned about loosing the pride and dignity of their own culture. They were especially worried about their young people meeting with the western culture and falling into drinking and alcoholism; they had already seen the beginning of this.

During the meeting we were told that the Yudjá were in need of a solar internet system, to be connected so they would be able to communicate their needs and protect their rights. Christian seized this possibility to be of any help, assuring them that he would take care of the financial part of this project. Dr. Duarte assured the Yudjá that he would take care of the practicalities.

Cathrine and Christian told the Yudjá about the Rainforest Foundation Norway, a non-governmental organization providing aid to indigenous peoples in rainforests around the world, Brazil included. The chief of the tribe was given a paper from the foundation called "Schools in the Rainforest" which included projects and pictures from Xingu. Cathrine promised to report the tribe's concerns back to the Norwegian foundation.

During an evening meeting the same night with the whole tribe, Sonia made a speech that was translated into local language. She spoke about the indigenous people's strength and uniqueness, supporting them in their beliefs and cultural values. People were encouraged to continue to develop spiritual awareness as foundation for moving more easily into other levels of healing. Sonia supported them to fortify their habits to practice ceremonies, to evoke their senses, and to be at one with nature.

In the past, Dr. Duarte had clinically assisted a large part of this tribe in various matters. This time one of the Yudjá needed special care since he had not responded to earlier medical treatment. There was a strong belief within the tribe that his illness— with symptoms like dizziness, fever, anemia, and low platelets— was caused by a spell (black magic). Sonia was asked to work with him as therapist.

SE in the Rainforest: SE Session with a Xingu Tribesman


Photos by Eduardo Biral

Sonia met with the client, let's call him Mairipora, twice. The first meeting took place on November 29th, together with his family to make the young man more secure and confident of the process. The next session took place the day after, with the presence of his parents and grandparents, outside their traditional straw cottage (Mairipora himself did not live there regularly as he normally works as a teacher in another area).

The Session


Mairipora received Sonia with courtesy, forcing a smile. His face showed discomfort.

Sonia asked: "How are you feeling?"

Mairipora: "Very tired and weak."

S: "Take all the time you need to find a more comfortable position in your chair and tell me how can I help you, okay? ... Stay with attention to what is going on in your body right now ... What are you experiencing at this moment sitting in that chair? You might find this kind of question a bit strange, but I want you to know that I'm interested in everything that you are experiencing at the present moment. That's how I work, using this awareness technique that facilitates me to help you. So, let's watch and listen to what your body tells you now ..." (Pause ...)

S: "Where do you notice any tension: which of your body's muscles are tense? And where in your body do you feel more relaxation? I also want you to begin to identify how your body realizes the illness ..." (Pause ...)

S: "So, last night you told me that you were not feeling well. You said you felt weak, drowsy, and dizzy. And now, today, you still feel the same way? How do you feel now?"

M: "Dizzy, with drowsiness, weak."

S: "Oh ... yes. Dr. Duarte told me that you have been sick for quite some time, is that it?"

M: "Yes ..."

S: "Please just sit back and tell me what else you feel in your body. I need to have all the information you can give me to know how we can spend this time together as well as possible. I'm very curious to know about what's going on with you. Can you tell me how long you have felt like this?"

M: "It's been a while, I've been ill more than 3 months ..."

S: "Tell me a little more ... what is your experience? ... Feeling dizzy, weak ... and what else? Does it feel like you have the power to live? To do things? Have you been sitting like this all the time since I saw you last night?"

M: "Yes. I feel very empty, unwilling to do anything."

S: "As I understand Dr. Duarte, you are taking medication; have been through clinical examinations as well as reviews with him, without any improvement?"

M: "Well, it improves a bit but then everything comes back."

S: "Okay. I'll ask you to look at your body and see how you are sitting in the chair. I ask you to observe, with your eyes wide open, everything you see around you. I want you to pay attention to the way your foot relates to the ground, the way your back touches the back of your chair; I want you to feel my hands touch the top of your head. Is that ok?"

Mairipora nodded.

S: "So, I will place my hands on your shoulders. Please sense your feet on the floor at the same time."

M: "Yes."

S: "I am pressuring both shoulders. Sense it here?"

M: "Yes."

S: "I'll press a little bit on your back and between the shoulder blades. Can you make a counter-pressure against my hands? How do you feel?"

M: "Well."

S: "Now I want a little more pressure from your feet down to the floor: push against the floor. Please keep your eyes well open and take a good deep breath and exhale together with a natural sound. It could be something like this: 'aaaaahhhhh....!' ..."

Mairipora did as instructed.

S: "How do you feel?"

M: "Better."

S: "So, with your eyes open, please look around by moving your neck from side to side. As you move the neck, find any object that catches your attention. Take your time. Also pay attention to your breathing and to how your body is functioning, changing. Okay, just stay with that." (Pause ...)

S: "Can I place my hands on your chest?"

M: "Yes."

S: "You can put your hand on top of mine, okay? ... Breathe a little and give it time ... It's very hard to spend so much time feeling sick ... not knowing what is really happening to you. I heard you have done several clinical tests, traveling a lot. It takes time to get to Alta Floresta: that city is far away. The condition of the road is bad, the travel is hard. Sometimes it takes three days to get to the city. Imagine these difficulties and how you have felt unsafe going through all this. Your father is so proud of you, your mother too. They are worried about you, so is the whole tribe and Dr. Duarte as well. He asked me to come here to see you. Seems you are very much loved by all of them. I'm here and I sense that you are quite fragile. I understand what you're going through ... But then, I noticed you want to get out of this situation, isn't that right? I heard that you traveled several hours by boat to come here to see me. Did you?"

M: "Yes. Dr. Duarte told me that you might be able to help me and I trust him."

S: "Oh that is so cool! I'm happy for that. Okay. Now I can ask you a question, can't I?"

Mairipora nodded.

S: "Dr. Duarte said that you told him they used witchcraft, did a spell. From your understanding this is the reason why you got sick. Is that right? Did you get sick because of the spell that was put on you?"

M: "Yes."

S: "Can you tell me more about it? When was the first time you identified this spell?"

M: "I was finishing a course in teaching and when there were two weeks left till the end of this course, I got sick. Then, soon after, I went to see a shaman for healing and he told that I have gotten a spell."

S: "Okay. When the shaman told you that you have a spell, what was the first image that came to you?"

M: "The Kayapó Indians."

S: "For you, the Kayapó have sent a spell on you?"

M: "Yes."

S: "Can you see them right now in your imagination?"

M: "Yes."

S: "Good. Hold this picture a bit. Then tell me: What do you feel when you see the image of these Kayapó in front of you? Right when the shaman told you that you have a spell?"

M: "I feel a bit angry."

S: "A bit angry ... Where in your body do you feel this anger?"

M: "I feel a little tight here."

Mairipora pointed to his stomach.

© 2020 by Sonia Gomes