What is somatic experiencing therapy (SE)?
Somatic Experiencing (SE) was developed by Peter A. Levine, PhD to address the effects of trauma. He observed prey animals in the wild, whose lives were routinely threatened and they were able to recover readily by physically releasing the energy they accumulated during the stressful events. Humans, on the other hand, may often override these natural ways of regulating the nervous system with feelings of shame, pervasive thoughts, judgements or fears. When a person encounters a traumatic situation, they may either fight back, get away or not act on their urges. Experts say that it’s in not acting, or not being able to act, that an emotional “stuckness” can occur. According to SE, the traumatic event isn’t what caused the trauma, it is the overwhelmed response to the perceived threat that is causing an unbalanced nervous system. The aim is to help access the body memory of the event, not the story. SE is a body-oriented approach to the healing of trauma and stress disorders.
How will somatic experiencing therapy help me?
During SE therapy, the client may describe the traumatic experience or just think of it, then the therapist will have them describe bodily senses or mental images that may come up, either with eyes open or closed. The therapist will guide the patient through somatic experience tasks that may help release stored memories that have previously been shut down at various levels within the nervous system. Clients are educated about how the body regulates stress and learn to track the related physical sensations, feelings, thoughts and images that can arise from traumatic memories. Somatic Experiencing attempts to promote awareness and release of physical tension that can remain in the body as part of the aftermath of trauma.
Somatic Experiencing is a mindfulness approach to therapy, supporting the body and mind in a holistic perspective. The therapy can bring more clarity and a general ease to the body, it can help one stay grounded during states of challenging activity, including highly stressful states from past traumatic experiences.