Somatic Experiencing® is a modality in the mental health field that goes beyond talk therapy. It teaches you ways of recognizing, reducing , and discharging stressful energy from your body, specifically your nervous system. It helps you understand exactly how your body is managing overwhelming stressful or traumatic events. In a gentle yet powerful way, Somatic Experiencing® helps you to let go of the stress that may have accumulated in your body, and allows your body to return to it's innate ability to self-regulate and be resilient.
Self Regulation and Resilience
Stress and trauma are facts of life. The human body has a natural ability to balance itself which is called regulation. When we are faced with a physical and/or psychological danger the brain goes into survival mode. It activates our nervous system to prepare for flight or fight. This results in an immediate activation of our body's systems to work together and aid our survival response. Once we realize that the threat is over, another part of the nervous system begins calming the body, bringing it back into balance, When our body is self regulation this is called resilience.
When our resilience is compromised due to life experiences or traumatic history, our ability to regulate stress is diminished. The brain may perceive threats that are not currently happening or it may not signal the body that the threat is over. the nervous system then becomes over-activated and incapable of calming down. This can lead to physical symptoms such as headache, stomach ache, allergies, back pain, or emotional symptoms such as anxiety, panic, hyper-vigilance, depression , or fatigue.
A trauma can be a one-time event that you perceive as life threatening, such as a car accident, surgery, fall, choking episode or a physical attack, Trauma can also result from exposure to a natural disaster, war or terrorism. Trauma can be developmental, for example when a traumatic event such as abuse abandonment or neglect interrupts the normal developmental states of a child.
Somatic Experiencing and Healing
Somatic Experiencing® is a gentle way of inviting you to become more aware of your body. It helps you notice when your body is activated and when your body is calm. this allows you to see the patterns that you normally use to manage the stress in your life and how your body is physically responding to these patterns.
In this process I will help you develop the safety and resources needed to bring you in touch with the physical sensations in your body. You may notice, for example, areas of tension, discomfort, numbness, nausea or pressure. Using Somatic Experiencing® you become aware of your physical sensations and begin to build a capacity to tolerate them. As your capacity increases the body will naturally discharge the excess energy that builds up in the nervous system, leading to a reduction in somatic symptoms, This helps your body return to it's natural, built-in ability to regulate more effectively and become more resilient.
Among the benefits of having a healthy, regulated nervous system are more ease in how you respond to daily stressors, better sleeping habits, less somatic symptoms in your body and a general sense of calm and well being in your life.
History of Somatic Experiencing®
Somatic Experiencing® was developed by Peter Levine, PhD. He received a PhD in medical and biological physics from the University of California and holds an independent doctoral degree in psychology. The key insight that led him to developing his method of healing trauma was observing animals in the wild. Wild animals have an inborn immunity to trauma. If they survive a life and death encounter they shake off the experience and return to normal activity. Levine theorized that humans' highly developed rational brain overrides the more primitive, survival-focused part of the brain, keeping it from completing this natural process. He felt this break in the natural process resulted in leaving undischarged energy in the body that can lead to physical or emotional symptoms. After extensive research and experience with traumatized people, he developed his Somatic Experiencing® training to help people access their instinctive ability to discharge excess survival energy after an overwhelming event and prevent port-traumatic stress symptoms.
To learn more about Somatic Experiencing® please visit the website of Peter Levine, PhD, The Foundation for Human Enrichment. www.traumahealing.com
Peter Levine, PhD. is the author of the following books on healing trauma: