SOMATIC EXPERIENCING® (SE) is a potent method for resolving trauma symptoms and relieving chronic stress. The SE approach releases traumatic shock, which is key to transforming PTSD and the wounds of emotional and early developmental attachment trauma. It is the life’s work of Dr. Peter Levine, resulting from his study of stress physiology, psychology, ethology, biology, neuroscience, indigenous healing practices, and medical biophysics, together with over 45 years of successful clinical application.
The SE approach offers a framework to assess where a person is “stuck” in the fight, flight or freeze responses and provides clinical tools to resolve these fixated physiological states.
Trauma and the Science Behind the SE Approach
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. The SE approach teaches that trauma is not caused by the event itself, but rather develops through the failure of the body, psyche, and nervous system to process adverse events.
In his studies, Dr. Levine found that prey animals in the wild are rarely traumatized despite routine threats to their lives. Yet human beings are readily traumatized. Since humans and other animals possess nearly identical brain-and body-based survival mechanisms, Dr. Levine worked to identify what was interfering with the human threat-recovery process, and developed tools for restoring people’s innate capacity to rebound following overwhelming experiences.
All mammals automatically regulate survival responses from their primitive, non-verbal brain, mediated by the autonomic nervous system (ANS). Under threat, massive amounts of energy are mobilized in readiness for self-defense via the fight, flight, and freeze responses. Once safe, animals spontaneously “discharge” this excess energy through involuntary movements including shaking, trembling, and deep spontaneous breaths. This discharge process resets the ANS, restoring equilibrium.
Although humans are similarly designed to rebound from high-intensity survival states, we also have the problematic ability to override the natural discharge of excess survival energy. Unlike animals, our brain structure allows us to over think, which bypasses the natural resetting of the nervous system, through rationalizations, judgments, shame, enculturation, and fear of our bodily sensations, we disrupt our innate capacity to self-regulate, functionally “recycling” disabling terror and helplessness. When the nervous system does not reset after an overwhelming experience, sleep, cardiac, digestion, respiration, and immune system function can be seriously disturbed. Unresolved physiological distress can also lead to an array of other physical, cognitive, emotional, and behavioral symptoms.
How the SE Approach Works
The SE 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.
SE trauma resolution does not require the traumatized person to re-tell or re-live the traumatic event. Instead, it offers the opportunity to engage, complete, and resolve—in a slow and supported way—the body’s instinctual fight, flight and freeze responses. Individuals locked in anxiety or rage then relax into a growing sense of peace and safety. Those stuck in depression gradually find their feelings of hopelessness and numbness transformed into empowerment, triumph, and mastery. SE trauma resolution catalyzes corrective bodily experiences that contradict those of fear and helplessness. This resets the nervous system, restores inner balance, enhances resilience to stress, and increases people’s vitality, equanimity, and capacity to actively engage in life.
A typical treatment session is 50 minutes in duration and takes place with the person fully clothed, seated in a chair or lying face up on a table. Gentle therapeutic touch may be incorporated as the SE Practitioner guides the person to a deeper awareness or the sensations in their physical body. This profound experience allows the person to release and discharge the aroused energy that from a trauma event.
The above except is from traumahealing.org where more detailed information about Somatic Experiencing can be found.