What is Somatic Experiencing®?
Trauma is not what happens to us,
but what we hold inside in the absence of an empathetic witness.
~ Peter A. Levine, Ph.D.
PETER A LEVINE, PHD
Dr. Levine is the developer of Somatic Experiencing®, a naturalistic and neurobiological approach to healing trauma, which he has developed during the past 50 years. He is the Founder of the Somatic Experiencing Trauma Institute®/Foundation for Human Enrichment® and the Founder and President of the Ergos Institute for Somatic Education®, a leader in International Trauma Workshops, Lectures, and Webinars. His work has been taught to over 50,000 therapists in over 45 countries.
He is the author of several best-selling books on trauma, including Waking the Tiger, Healing Trauma (published in over 29 languages); In an Unspoken Voice, How the Body Releases Trauma and Restores Goodness; and Trauma and Memory, Brain and Body in a Search for the Living Past.
Somatic Experiencing® (SE™) is a body awareness oriented, “bottom-up,” approach developed by Peter A Levine, Ph.D. for the treatment of stress and trauma. It is a naturalistic, psycho-biological method for resolving trauma symptoms and relieving chronic stress by re-establishing Core Autonomic Nervous System Regulation.
THE SOMATIC EXPERIENCING® APPROACH
This approach helps to build resilience and enhances the individual’s capacity to have new empowered bodily (interoceptive) experiences, those that contradict the previous traumatic ones of fear, overwhelm and helplessness. In addition, the SE approach releases traumatic shock, a key to transforming PTSD and the wounds of emotional and early developmental attachment trauma. SE offers a framework to assess where a person is “stuck” in the fight, flight, freeze, or collapse responses, and provides practical tools to resolve these fixated psycho-physiological triggers.
Somatic Experiencing® facilitates the completion of self-protective motor responses and the release of thwarted survival energy bound in the body, thus addressing the root cause of trauma symptoms. This is approached by gently guiding clients to develop increasing tolerance for difficult bodily sensations and suppressed emotions.
Trauma affects brain, mind, and body. However, the body often is neglected in the psychotherapy of trauma. SE teaches that trauma is not caused by the event itself, but rather develops from the thwarted ability of the body, mind, spirit, and nervous system to process extreme adverse events. Many approaches to treating trauma aim to correct faulty cognitions and / or access and express emotional content. In contrast, the approach presented here, engages the living body, through contacting primal sensations that support core autonomic self-regulation and coherence. In doing this, the processing moves upwards from these core sensations, upwards towards feeling/emotions and cognitions. This way both mind and body are given an equal place in an integrative and holistic treatment of trauma.
Dr. Levine was inspired to study stress on the animal nervous system, when he realized that animals are constantly under threat of death, yet show no symptoms of trauma. What he discovered was that trauma has to do with the third survival response to perceived life threat, which is freeze. When fight and flight are not options, we freeze and immobilize, like “playing dead.” This makes us less of a target. However, this reaction is time-sensitive, in other words, it needs to run its course, and the massive energy that was prepared for fight or flight gets discharged through shakes and trembling. If the immobility phase doesn’t complete, then that charge stays trapped, and, from the body’s perspective, it is still under threat. The Somatic Experiencing® method works to release this stored energy, and turn off this threat alarm that causes severe dysregulation and dissociation.
Trauma may begin as acute stress from a perceived life-threat or as the end product of cumulative stress. Both types of stress can seriously impair a person’s ability to function with resilience and ease. Trauma may result from a wide variety of stressors such as accidents, invasive medical procedures, sexual or physical assault, emotional abuse, neglect, war, natural disasters, loss, birth trauma, or the corrosive stressors of ongoing fear and conflict.
HOW IT WORKS
The Somatic Experiencing® approach facilitates the completion of self-protective motor responses and the release of thwarted survival energy bound in the body, thus addressing the root cause of trauma symptoms. This is approached by gently guiding clients to develop increasing tolerance for difficult bodily sensations and suppressed emotions.