When people experience trauma, especially early in life, it can have a devastating effect on them. The impact of trauma can last years and even a lifetime if a person does not have the resources to help them process their trauma in a healthy way. People can begin to develop coping mechanism such as self-medicating with drugs or alcohol and may even struggle with significant mental health problems as a result of their trauma.
One of the main approaches to helping people recover from trauma is through psychotherapy with a trained counselor who helps a patient discuss and work through their traumatic experience. However, alternative therapies such as somatic experiencing used in conjunction with regular therapy can be used to help improve symptoms. People are often looking for different options when they have very severe issues such as PTSD or post-traumatic stress disorder and alternative therapies can provide another solution for their problems.
What is Somatic Experiencing?
As an alternative therapy, somatic experiencing is a kind of holistic approach to treating cases of trauma that has to do with the mind-body connection. The treatment method was developed by Peter Levine who wanted to address the physiology of stress and trauma. He was motivated to research trauma because he was curious about the fact that animals in the wild don’t experience trauma in the same way that human beings do in their experiences.
The difference that Levine found between the way animals and humans react to trauma is that animals complete a full sequence of response to danger by noticing, reacting, and recovering from the treat. Humans on the other hand can have their full response interrupted. Animals can expend enormous energy to escape a threat which allows a chemical discharge through their system so that they can return to their baseline.
Humans may not be able to discharge the energy associated with a threat and instead of going through the full cycle response to a challenge that an animal would they become stuck and unable to meet further challenges in life. In treating trauma, somatic experiencing focuses on the physiological response that occurs when someone remembers or experiences a traumatic event. While standard therapy focuses a lot on a patient’s thoughts and emotions, somatic treatment focuses on bodily responses to trauma.
The idea behind somatic experiencing is that patients who have unresolved trauma need to restore the nervous system’s normal cycling between periods of alertness and rest. If the cycle of alertness and rest is interrupted then excess energy gets stuck in our bodies and makes it difficult to fluctuate between the two states. The charged energy can be easily triggered when certain experiences remind us of the traumatic experience that interrupted the cycle.
Treating Trauma and PTSD
Somatic experiencing can be similar to regular therapy because it involves in-person sessions with a trained therapist. Practitioners of somatic experiencing are required to complete a three year training course as well 18 hours of case consultations and 12 hours of personal sessions. It can be used for both short term shock trauma and developmental trauma when it is accompanied by psychotherapy.
When experiences trauma and ends up with mental health issues such as PTSD they are often frozen in a state of hyperarousal. Trauma is usually an overwhelming experience that our nervous systems can’t handle especially if we never get help with processing it. Although there are many emotional aspects to trauma, the physiological reaction in the nervous system is equally as important to address in treatment.
People with PTSD often have gone through very intense experiences such as rape, violence or being involved in a war. These are experiences which threaten our very survival and put the body and mind in shocked and frozen state. By regulating their nervous system, people with PTSD can minimize the negative impact that trauma has on their daily life.
Somatic experiencing helps people with trauma return to a regulated state by allowing them to create resources for themselves that help them feel grounded and centered. Things like a positive memory or a physical item that helps them be more present can be used to return their body to a normal state. Patients can also try to discharge excess energy through tears, unconscious movement or deep breathing.
Although trauma can have a significant impact on a person’s life and well-being it is possible to use different resources and therapy options to minimize the negative reactions to trauma. Recovery from trauma and mental health symptoms through any kind of professional treatment can be a very positive and life-changing experience. If you are struggling with the way trauma has affected you physically and mentally, you can explore options like psychotherapy combined with somatic experiencing to help you lead a happier and healthier life.