Somatic Experiencing is a form of psychotherapy used to treat trauma and trauma-related concerns. It was first introduced in 1997 in Peter Levine’s book Waking the Tiger: Healing Trauma. The therapy works by helping a person restore the autonomic nervous system. Typically, the autonomic nervous system has an inherent capacity to regulate itself. However, when trauma occurs this self-regulation is impaired. Somatic Experiencing aims to restore the self-regulation of the autonomic nervous system in a person by facilitating the release of energy and survival reactions that tend to remain in the body after a traumatic event. Somatic Experiencing is used in a variety of health professions such as mental health, medicine, physical and occupational therapies, bodywork, addiction treatment, and emergency first response.
How It Works
In his book, Waking the Tiger: Healing Trauma, Levine describes how animals provide an example of discharging energy after they’ve experienced life-threatening danger. Under threat, they mobilize large amounts of energy to have available for fleeing or fighting a dangerous situation. However, once safe, animals discharge this energy and restore their autonomic nervous system to equilibrium. Somatic Experiencing utilizes Levine’s main premise which is that “trauma lives in the body, not the event.” Therefore, the modality is meant to work with a person’s body in order to heal the psychological and physiological results of trauma.
Typically, after trauma, a person is stuck in the fight, flight, or freeze response. Somatic Experiencing provides clinical tools to help resolve these fixed physiological states. If a person is stuck in the fight response, he or she may have experiences of anxiety, panic, hyperactivity, emotional flooding, chronic pain, or hyper-vigilance. If a person is stuck in the freeze response, a person might experience depression, lethargy, exhaustion, low blood pressure, disorientation, or dissociation. Somatic Experiencing aims to guide a person out of these states by helping them release the energy of stored trauma in the body.
A Somatic Experiencing session is done face to face with a client and a trained clinician. Professionals are specifically trained in Somatic Experiencing, which requires many hours of training as well as experiencing the healing effects of Somatic Experiencing by being a client for up to 24 clinical hours. During a session, a client is asked to track their moment by moment sensory (physical) experiences in the body, among other clinical interventions. All interventions are aimed at releasing physical tension that remains in the body as a part of the aftermath of trauma.
Origins of Somatic Experiencing
Dr. Peter A. Levine conducted many studies of stress physiology, psychology, ethology (the study of animal behavior), biology, neuroscience, indigenous healing practices, and medical biophysics before developing the practice of Somatic Experiencing. Together those studies, along with Levine’s 45 years of practicing as a clinician, contributed to the successful treatment method of Somatic Experiencing. This approach releases traumatic shock, which is required to transform post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), early emotional wounds, and trauma related to early developmental attachment.
If you or someone you know is experiencing the results of trauma or the symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder, perhaps Somatic Experiencing can help.