Somatic Experiencing – Overview, How It Works and Tools
Somatic Experiencing is a specific form of somatic healing developed by Peter Levine, Ph.D. It was originally developed to treat PTSD. Based on Levine’s research and understanding, Somatic Experiencing (SE) therapy is founded in the idea that trauma is stored in the body.
Peter Levine developed this model when he noticed that animals, when they’re in a dangerous situation, are naturally able to discharge the stress energy after the life-threatening moment. Humans on the other hand tend to keep that energy trapped in the body because we have learned to override natural ways of releasing the nervous system with more logical or suppressive responses. This leads to undesirable activation in the nervous system that can have a whole litany of consequences.
Somatic Experiencing aims to help people move beyond where they are stuck in processing a traumatic event and find a more natural equilibrium in their bodies and day to day lives.
Somatic Experiencing – How It Works
When the nervous system becomes activated because it senses danger in the environment or within ourselves, it activates the sympathetic nervous system – which is responsible for the fight flight response. In a normal situation we would be able to move through the sympathetic response and come back down into the parasympathetic or rest/digest mode. With trauma we can get stuck with the activated sympathetic nervous system on. The body may perceive a threat even though it’s no longer there.
This is at the heart of Somatic Experiencing, that trauma is still stuck in the body even though the threat is gone. The body keeps perceiving threat and keeps us at 100, which eventually results in dis-regulation in the nervous system. This can lead to many of the symptoms that people suffering from a singular or chronic experience; including intrusive thoughts, mood instability, and hyper-arousal, insomnia and eventually even chronic illness and chronic fatigue.
When you study SE, you learn how to support the body to complete protective motor responses and release trapped energy/activation that was warded off in that moment of danger and is therefore stored in the body. This addresses the root causes of trauma symptoms.
With a foundation in Somatic Experiencing you will learn to gently guide clients to be with uncomfortable bodily sensations and suppressed emotions. Essentially, accessing the body’s memory (procedural memory) of the traumatic event, not the story.
The act of releasing the trapped energy here will help your client overcome how the trauma they experienced is held and support them to be able to continue progressing and healing. You will also learn how to guide clients to reconnect with the body, increase tolerance for uncomfortable sensations and notice somatic patterns. This will help your clients increase awareness and track their early cues for reactive moments. This awareness is significantly empowering and can be the beginning of clients shifting from chaos to more internal stability.
Somatic Experiencing Tools:
Bottom Up Processing, this refers to the actual process of starting with the body when you are referring to SE therapy. Meaning that the trauma work will continually relate to what is happening in the body, with the aim of looking at sensations that are deeper than our feelings and thoughts.
Pendulation, means moving gently back and forth between the trauma and coming back into safety and resourcing. This teaches the body that it can “go there” towards the traumatic experience and do it safely. This will give your clients a deeper sense of their own innate resilience.
Titration, the slow release of this stuck energy from the trauma, is another important tool in SE.This is a repeated and rhythmic process helps your client to develop a greater capacity to handle stress and stay in the present moment.