What is Somatic Experiencing?
Somatic Experiencing was developed by Dr. Peter Levine especially for re-negotiating and healing the after-affects of traumatic events. It is also a profound way of working through deep conditioned patterns that may have been necessary for survival at one time but are now inhibiting aspects of your life such as your health, happiness, joy, relationships, and fulfillment. Direct work with mindful attention to the body brings the nervous system back into regulation, positively affecting mood, confidence, and the capacity to meet life’s current challenges with dynamic presence and resilience.
Somatic Experiencing is a widely respected, innovative, body-centered approach to emotional healing & trauma resolution developed by Dr. Peter Levine, based upon over 35 years of research and study into stress and trauma. SE is a unique approach, which draws upon the latest scientific research of how our triune autonomic nervous system mobilizes to respond to threat. SE is modeled off of animals in the wild, who engage innate, instinctive, physiological processes to discharge the massive fight, flight, and freeze energies associated with survival. As a result wild animals are rarely traumatized, even though their lives are routinely threatened.
Although humans have virtually the same innate self-regulating mechanisms as animals, we often override or inhibit these processes thwarting our own capacity to heal and recover from trauma. When we fail to discharge the high levels of arousal associated with survival these massive energies stay trapped in our neuromuscular and central nervous systems and wreak havok on our bodies and minds. It is this trapped energy that develops into a whole constellation of post-traumatic symptoms including pain, anxiety, anger, depression, intrusive thoughts and imagery, physical illness, and cognitive impairments. Somatic Experiencing provides the steps needed to reconnect people with the innate wisdom of their bodies. Through focused conscious awareness of bodily sensations clients are able to access these restorative physiological patterns, resolve their traumatic symptoms, and re-engage in life with renewed optimism, vitality, creativity, resilience, and joy. Somatic Experiencing is an integrative mind-body approach to dealing with stress, anxiety and trauma issues. It utilizes somatic awareness and mindfulness as a primary orientation.
Somatic Experiencing (SE) is different from other therapeutic modalities in that it engages focused awareness of bodily sensations to engage innate self-regulation and healing. SE is not talk therapy. SE helps the individual develop body awareness to "renegotiate" and heal trauma rather than relive or re-enact trauma. It does this by titrating traumatic material with highly resourced states while maintaining awareness of the bodily "felt sense," and allowing time and space for the highly aroused survival energies to be safely experienced and gradually discharged. SE naturally builds greater and greater inner resiliency, self-regulation, and wellness.
The basic principles and concepts of Somatic Experiencing are:
Titration - In Somatic Experiencing, slow is considered fast. When trauma occurs in our life, it comes at us at a pace that is too fast, too much, too soon. Trauma is an experience that overwhelms the normal capacity of our nervous system and we are unable to integrate the experience. Titration, is a concept in chemistry where one tiny drop of a volatile substance is added to another volatile substance, allowing time for the chemical reaction to take place and integrate into the whole before introducing another drop. If the two substances were combined without titration an explosive and volatile destabilizing reaction would take place. But if they are added in a slow and titrated way, much like we do in SE, we only get little reactions, and ones that the nervous system is able to integrate. (In chemistry, after hundreds of little titrations these two substances reach critical mass and transform into two inert or harmless substances). As the nervous system is given time and space to integrate each titration, healing occurs without re-traumatization and without further destabilization. In our culture and society we are accustomed to talk therapy and telling the story. However, when unresolved trauma is concerned, we often overwhelm the capacity of our nervous system again and again in the retelling, and our brain and physiology mobilizes to respond to these events that, although in the past, are still present in our body. Titration refers to the process of taking small steps and proceeding slowly to tap into this trapped arousal and provide enough time and space for these small titrations to be integrated, moving the nervous system closer and closer to critical mass, stabilization, transformation of the trauma into an inert substance. When the trauma occurred too much happened too fast and too intense. Slowing it down, taking breaks and stretching time are therefore important therapeutic tools to process trauma safely.
Resourcing - In Somatic Experiencing it is essential in working with Trauma to ground the person in resources, before navigating the traumatic terrain. SE focuses on developing and expanding the resource-repertoire of our clients in the safety of the therapeutic environment. Learning how to experience resources in our bodies enable us to work with trauma symptoms safely. Resource can be akin to grabbing on to a tree and getting to higher ground before unleashing floodgates of trauma, and titration can be akin opening the floodgates only a little at a time. Without a stable ground to hold onto, one can easily be swept away by the strong prevailing current of trauma and re-enactment. In Somatic Experiencing resources or conflict free states are grounded in the client's body as positive (or neutral) sensorimotor states. It is not just visual imagery, but rather visual kinesthetic sensory experience. It is not just thinking of a safe place, but experiencing the feeling of safety in the body now. When one has access to internal sensory experiences of inner strength, support, peace, love, connection with nature, determination, connection with friends, one has found an internal higher ground and one has more capacity to digest, heal and integrate the traumatic experience safely and gently.
Pendulation - The healthy nervous system is constantly in a state of expansion and contraction, called pendulation. We want our clients to have this kind of flexibility and fluidity. The SE practitioner assists clients to start pendulation. One of the tools used is looping between resources or conflict free states and small titrations of traumatic material. This process of looping kick starts the natural self-regulation of the nervous system and a natural rhythm of pendulation.
Traumatized people often don't trust the pendulation when it begins to happen. When the energy starts to release or change they often cognitively judge the process, or perceive the contraction in the body as an internal threat, and the client goes into increased arousal (or fear) over the process. By assisting the client to understand the natural physiological processes of the body and to observe these processes with curiosity rather than fear, the nervous system is able to click into self-regulation and begin digesting and discharging traumatic energy from the body. An SE session generally begins with establishing a resourceful, positive state, then it carefully approaches the outermost edges of the traumatic experience. Once the client begins to gently touch into difficult events or feelings the practitioner helps make sure that he/she/they only takes small "bites" of this material as the nervous system can handle and supports the naturally occurring return of pendulation within the body. SE practitioners watch for physical signs indicating the release which may come in various forms such as small shivers, deep breaths, hot or cold flashes. Then, it takes time for the client to reorient to the present, the here and now, and resources or conflict free states. This natural rhythm and flow is self-regulation of our nervous system as it digests traumatic material in the body, and it is important to allow sufficient time to establish a positive connection in the here and now before entering another movement into the traumatic state.
Common Benefits of Somatic Experiencing and resolution of Trauma:
- Reduce/alleviate chronic physical pain and recurring tension.
- Transforms negative, abusive, and overwhelming experiences, (even if they occurred many, many years ago.)
- Become more present and engaged in life.
- Increase resilience to future stressors.
- Restore sense of optimism and hope.
- Increase confidence/sense of personal empowerment.
- Feel more integrated, coherent, and whole.
- Develop greater sense of clarity and purpose.
- Foster natural spiritual connectedness.
- Increase ability to focus and concentrate.
- Greater sense of peace, ease and calm (in both your body and your life.