My personal history - Heinke Sofka

First of all, a brief summary of my personal history. I was born in north Germany and spent my childhood and youth in the south of the country. After finishing school, I moved to Berlin, where I studied political science at the Freie Universität for a while. During this time I developed a strong attachment to Berlin and have lived there ever since, except for a short period of 3 years when I lived in Weimar.

After several years of working as a salaried employee in the field of occupational therapy, I opened my own registered practice in Berlin in 2005. This has allowed me to fulfil my desire to serve others and, at the same time to retain my self-determination while shaping and realising my own concepts.

One of the reasons why I decided to become an occupational therapist is that I wanted to put my entrepreneurial skills to good use in establishing and running a practice of my own. At the same time I also wanted to take up a profession involving intensive exchange with fellow human beings and offering me diversity and a lifelong opportunity to improve and enhance my therapeutic and personal skills. Over the years I have been fortunate enough to fulfil these wishes.

2020 was such an extraordinary and challenging year in all respects that I felt the time and circumstances were now right to no longer postpone the fulfilment of a wish I had nurtured for four years and to actively set about establishing my own foundation.

The establishment of the foundation completes a full circle: my interest in politics and social affairs was one of the reasons for choosing to study political science and it had always been my greatest desire to provide people with spaces and positive encounters which would promote healing.

Privately, I enjoy reading, painting and travelling. In order to take a rest from my busy professional life, I practice yoga and enjoy taking long walks in the countryside.

Motives for setting up a foundation with a focus on traumatherapy

It was my experience as a practitioner in the field of occupational therapy, working with children and, in particular, children with a developmental trauma, that motivated me to establish a foundation for overcoming developmental traumas. My encounter with the polyvagal theory proposed by Dr. Stephen Porges has also encouraged me in my pursuit of this goal. Both of these aspects have involved a considerable amount of professional trauma research work.

The children who come to me with an underlying developmental trauma usually do so for other reasons than treatment of the trauma. They are often referred to an occupational therapist due to an abnormally increased level of arousal/hypervigilance (high activation of the sympathetic nervous system) and a considerably limited self-regulatory capacity. This can lead to problems of concentration or affect regulation in the form of excessive emotional response; the children do not experience themselves in a manner which is appropriate to the respective situation and do not feel their body adequately in the present moment.

Limits of Sensory Integration Therapy

When working with trauma patients, I often came up against a brick wall both with my sensory integration therapy approach, as well as with behavioural therapy. In these children, the autonomic nervous system is unable to regulate itself sufficiently and is either too high or too low for adequate reception and processing of sensory stimuli. Before other forms of therapy can be successfully applied, the autonomic nervous system has to be returned to a regulated state. A regulated autonomic nervous system is also the basis for the development of a healthy ego and for social interaction processes and the ability to form bonds. According to the polyvagal theory (for detailed information on the polyvagal theory, refer to, a certain part of the vagus nerve (the ventral part) has to be properly developed in order for the person to become a socially engaged individual. In persons suffering from a developmental trauma, this part of the vagus nerve often does not mature properly.


Polyvagal theory has helped me a lot, not only in terms of understanding trauma. It has also shown me how much our sense of security depends on the regulating support of a fellow human being (co-regulation). The sense of security in children and people affected by trauma depends on whether their body feels safe and secure within its social environment. The information on whether our body needs to go into a defensive state depends on the physiological perception of our autonomic nervous system. Dr. Stephen Porges refers to this as “neuroception”. If the environment emits the correct security-giving impulses and these are interpreted correctly by neuroception, interpersonal exchange that includes higher cognitive functions and characterised by emotional reciprocity, respect and appreciation can take place.

My special thanks go therefore to Dr. Stephen Porges and his team for development of the polyvagal theory.

Impaired contact and attachment skills

While working on the topic of developmental trauma, I realised how traumatic events in early childhood and adolescence can cast a shadow over a person’s entire life. The traumatic experience affects not only the person’s body perception but also his or her physiological condition. As a result, the person's ability to socialise and communicate and his/her bonding capacity become very limited. Dr. Peter Levine developed a body-oriented therapy approach called “Somatic Experiencing” to address physiological dysregulation in the context of trauma therapy. He is a friend of Dr. Stephen Porges and the development of Somatic Experiencing and the polyvagal theory have influenced each other considerably.