• What is Somatic Experiencing?

    Somatic Experiencing is a natural, body-focused form of therapy designed by Peter Levine PhD aimed at relieving the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and trauma.  This is achieved through tracking body sensations of stress and/or completing impulses and defenses which could not be completed during the traumatic experience. 

    Somatic Experiencing (SE) can be a great adjunct to traditional psychotherapy and medical management in treating the chronic stress response of a maladapted nervous system, which can contribute to physical symptoms.  This includes conditions such as chronic pain, fibromyalgia, postsurgical pain, myofascial pain and tension, prenatal and perinatal traumas, motor vehicle accidents, physical traumas and injuries, falls, psychosomatic conditions, stress related medical conditions, medical trauma, anxiety, and depression.  SE facilitates the building of resilience, tolerating/managing emotions, and moving through life with more resource and ease.

  • In Peter Levine's classic book "Waking the Tiger: Healing Trauma," he explains that wild animals do not get traumatized because they fully express their fight, flight, or freeze instincts.  Humans and domesticated animals, however, have been taught to suppress our emotions and stress responses, which can cause emotional and physical illness.  SE can help clear this.

  • To better illustrate...

  • Here is an example of how stress plays a part in the physical manifestation of injury in a motor vehicle accident.  It is often observed that drunk drivers involved in motor vehicle accidents sustain less injuries than sober drivers due to being relaxed and not tensing up (bracing) their musculature before impact.  The stress and adrenaline of anticipating the impact causes bracing which often increases the amount of damage. 

    After a fearful event, the body may be stuck in bracing, as is often seen in whiplash injuries.  The body is still bracing, in fear of another impact.  In my years of practicing as a physical therapist, I have seen a substantial percentage of patients that do not fully improve with the mechanical interventions of PT who may benefit from addressing the stress at the time of injury.  You may wonder how that can be helpful after the injury has already taken place. 

  • Take for example that I offer you a lemon wedge to suck on.  Do your salivary glands begin to secrete saliva as you read this?  But there is no real lemon here.  The body has a way of responding to the mind and sensory triggers in a way that past, present, and future do not necessarily matter.  When we remember an unprocessed event, the body produces the same chemicals and reactions as if it is happening in the present.  

    For example, we may be feeling heartache over a past loss, but we may feel the lump in our throat in the moment.  Similarly, we may be feeling our heart racing in the present as we are anxious about a future event that has not even happened. 

    Healing can be approached in a similar manner, by focusing on body sensations that arise with specific memories of trauma and unwinding these in a guided way that allows for relaxation by honoring what the body needed at that time and giving that to the body in the present.

  • Somatic Experiencing is founded upon neuroscience research at UC Berkeley, neurophysiology concepts, neuroception (Stephen Porges), and ethology (the science of animal behavior).  It is also based on the physiology of stress, trauma development, early attachment, "interactive regulation," mindfulness practices, somatic therapies, sensory awareness, and therapeutic touch. 

    What differentiates Somatic Experiencing from talk therapy is its unique approach regarding physiological responses of the body instead of traditional psychological responses.  SE gets to the trauma response at the source, the autonomic nervous system, which drives the symptoms of trauma and stress related conditions if the fight or flight response has been overridden.  Due to socialization and conditioning, humans have learned to override the impulses to fight or flee that animals act on with instinct, causing a freezing of the fight or flight response.  This pent up adrenaline and stress can contribute to a host of physical and emotional problems if not released by following body impulses in a guided way that honors the body's wishes instead of the mind's agenda for the body and emotions.

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    Further information and resources regarding SE, including randomized controlled trials, can be found at the SE Trauma Institute and founder's website: www.traumahealing.com