The preparatory set: a novel approach to understanding stress, trauma, and the bodymind therapies

Front Hum Neurosci. 2015 Apr 1:9:178. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2015.00178. eCollection 2015.


Basic to all motile life is a differential approach/avoid response to perceived features of environment. The stages of response are initial reflexive noticing and orienting to the stimulus, preparation, and execution of response. Preparation involves a coordination of many aspects of the organism: muscle tone, posture, breathing, autonomic functions, motivational/emotional state, attentional orientation, and expectations. The organism organizes itself in relation to the challenge. We propose to call this the "preparatory set" (PS). We suggest that the concept of the PS can offer a more nuanced and flexible perspective on the stress response than do current theories. We also hypothesize that the mechanisms of body-mind therapeutic and educational systems (BTES) can be understood through the PS framework. We suggest that the BTES, including meditative movement, meditation, somatic education, and the body-oriented psychotherapies, are approaches that use interventions on the PS to remedy stress and trauma. We discuss how the PS can be adaptive or maladaptive, how BTES interventions may restore adaptive PS, and how these concepts offer a broader and more flexible view of the phenomena of stress and trauma. We offer supportive evidence for our hypotheses, and suggest directions for future research. We believe that the PS framework will point to ways of improving the management of stress and trauma, and that it will suggest directions of research into the mechanisms of action of BTES.

Keywords: body-oriented psychotherapy; meditative movement; mind-body; post-traumatic stress disorder; preparatory set; somatic experiencing; stress; trauma.