understanding somatic experiencing
Somatic Experiencing® (SE) is a body-oriented method to discharge traumatic stress energy and bring the nervous system into a state of balance, regulation, and wellness. Developed by renowned trauma researcher Dr. Peter Levine, SE has over 45 year of successful clinical application in the treatment of shock and developmental trauma.
SE is a holistic and multidisciplinary approach that draws wisdom and techniques from stress physiology, psychology, ethology, biology, neuroscience, indigenous healing practices, and medical biophysics. It is currently taught throughout the world as an effective method for resolving symptoms of traumatic stress.
how does it work?
SE addresses the root cause of trauma symptoms by facilitating the resolution of self-protective, survival-oriented stress impulses that have been thwarted and thus bound in the body, leading to disregulation of the nervous system and mental, emotional, and/or physical health concerns. This release of “stuck” traumatic energy is facilitated by gently guiding clients to develop increasing awareness of and tolerance for bodily sensations and suppressed emotions.
What does SE treat?
SE can be an effective methodology to support recovery from:
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
Emotional and behavioral concerns
Trauma symptoms may result from a wide variety of experiences such as accidents, invasive medical procedures, sexual or physical assault, emotional abuse, neglect, war, natural and manmade disasters, loss, birth trauma, or the chronic stressors of ongoing fear, conflict, or being underprivileged. Trauma symptoms may be caused by acute stress from a perceived or actual threat to one’s life, or be the end product of cumulative stress.
What to expect
In these 75-minute sessions, clients are supported along their journey to connect with their physical and sensory experience, release traumatic stress, find relief from symptoms, and strengthen their innate abilities to self-regulate emotions, be present, and feel true inner peace and joy.
Using your sensory experience and nervous system as a guide, we will explore the narrative and meaning that you have connected to your trauma, as they relate to sensations, images, behaviors, and emotions that arise within you.
Each session involves:
Learning to track physical sensations:
The first couple of sessions may feel like you are learning a new language. That's because you may be! Sensation is the language of the nervous system, but being present in our bodies is a skill, and may feel unfamiliar at first. With practice and guidance, you will refine the art of sensory tracking and employ it as a tool to regulate your nervous system.
Initially, we will attend more to bodily sensations of calm and settling, establishing a “resource” for you that we will return to throughout the session. A resource may be a memory, image, physical movement, yoga posture, breathing practice, vocalization, phrase, or something else that brings your body and mind into a state of rest.
Once we have established a resource, we will begin to move through the sensations associated with your trauma/stressors and identify what impulsive motor movements, energetic discharge, vocalizations or emotions failed to be resolved/completed at the time of the event. We will slowly release this bound stress energy in a way that is not overwhelming to your nervous system. We will allow plenty of time and space for your body’s natural needs and impulses to arise, and gently facilitate their release.
A key component in self-regulation is the practice of alternating between the sensations associated with trauma, and those that are a source of strength and comfort. SE operates in cycles that mirror the natural, rhythmic expansion and contraction of a healthy nervous system. Pendulation involves touching lightly into traumatic material, then back into resource/restful states, and repeating this process throughout each session. This supports the nervous system’s fluidity, flexibility, and return to equilibrium.
SE places an emphasis on maintaining awareness of the present moment, while allowing stress-related nervous impulses to be safely, gently experienced and gradually discharged. This way, you may start to integrate your experience in a more embodied and regulated way, while simultaneously experiencing a growing sense of safety, wholeness, and empowerment.
How is Somatic Experiencing® different from other therapeutic modalities?
SE is not talk therapy. SE involves focused awareness on your present-moment, physical and sensory experience. The aim is to help you access the body’s memory of the event, not the story. We rarely spend a lot of time talking about what happened.
Talk therapy typically engages the thinking brain (neocortex) and the feeling brain (limbic system); SE primarily affects the reptilian/survival-oriented brain (brainstem), which rules our involuntary nervous system and instinctual responses.
SE offers a gentle approach to treating trauma. Rather than reliving or re-enacting the trauma, SE supports you to develop body awareness and renegotiate the way your nervous system responds to certain triggers and experiences.
Each SE session is specific to your present-moment state of being, and is ultimately guided by your bodily sensations and the activity of your nervous system. Thus, SE is experienced as your own journey of self-empowered healing, rather than someone else "healing you."
Every client is different. Based on her/his unique experience, some clients may feel they have resolution after just a few SE sessions; others may wish to experience SE for many weeks or months in support of their healing process.
For more information about Somatic Experiencing visit traumhealing.org.