Somatic Experiencing Trauma Intervention
Somatic Experiencing® is a body-oriented approach to the healing of trauma and other stress disorders. It is the life’s work of Dr. Peter A. Levine, resulting from his multidisciplinary 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 releases traumatic shock, which is key to transforming PTSD and the wounds of early developmental and attachment trauma.
How is Somatic Experiencing (SE) different from other therapeutic modalities that work with trauma? SE is more than talk therapy. SE uses focused awareness of bodily sensations to engage innate self-regulation and healing. SE helps the individual develop body awareness to "renegotiate" and heal trauma rather than relive or re-enact trauma. SE titrates traumatic material with highly resourced states while maintaining awareness of the bodily "felt sense," and allowing time and space for the highly aroused survival energies to be safely experienced and gradually discharged. SE naturally builds greater and greater inner resiliency, self-regulation, and wellness.
in Somatic Experiencing
Somatic experiencing: using interoception and proprioception as core elements of trauma therapy
Somatic Art Therapy
Somatic Art Therapy is a ground up process of incorporating Somatic Experiencing into Art Therapy Practice. Trained Art Therapists are well aware of art mediums and their potential effects on the individual. A somatic approach builds agency while offering attention sensations in the body as the individual explores art and ultimately moves trauma through the nervous system. Somatic Art Therapists work with individuals to initially build capacity through kinaesthetic and tactile materials. Creating awareness and bridging the individual to enjoyable experiences is essential to healing trauma. This approach involves art, movement, music, and dance.
Those who choose to partake in Somatic Art Therapy services are pleasantly surprised to learn the process of creating art becomes the language and the vehicle for change. Thus, the focus is not necessarily on talking about the experience of trauma but becoming aware of the sensation within the body through integration, pendulation and titration which lends itself to coherence.
Method of Somatic Experiencing
Somatic Experiencing sessions involve the introduction of small amounts of traumatic material and the observation of a client’s physical responses to that material, such as shallow breathing or a shift in posture. The therapist will frequently check in with the client to assess and record somatic sensations that may be imperceptible to the practitioner, such as feelings of heaviness, tightness, or dizziness. Practitioners proceed carefully and cautiously to avoid retraumatizing or triggering the client, and they help people to develop and employ self-regulating strategies. A key component to enhancing one’s ability to self-regulate is the practice of alternating, or “pendulating,” between the sensations associated with trauma and those that are a source of strength and comfort.
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.
What is Somatic Experiencing® (SE)?
By Peter Levine
Trauma is a fact of life but doesn't have to be a life sentence.
''Somatic Experiencing®'' (SE) is a short-term naturalistic approach to the resolution and healing of trauma developed by Dr. Peter Levine. It is based upon the observation that wild prey animals, though threatened routinely, are rarely traumatized. Animals in the wild utilize innate mechanisms to regulate and discharge the high levels of energy arousal associated with defensive survival behaviors. These mechanisms provide animals with a built-in ''immunity'' to trauma that enables them to return to normal in the aftermath of highly ''charged'' life-threatening experiences.
Although humans are born with virtually the same regulatory mechanisms as animals, the function of these instinctive systems is often overridden or inhibited by, among other things, the ''rational'' portion of our brains. This restraint prevents the complete discharge of survival energies, and does not allow the nervous system to regain its equilibrium. The un-discharged energy remains in the body, and the nervous system becomes stuck in ''survival mode.'' The various symptoms of trauma result from the body's attempt to ''manage'' and contain this unused energy.
SE employs the awareness of body sensation to help people ''renegotiate'' and heal their traumas rather than relive them. With appropriate guidance into the body's instinctive ''felt sense,'' individuals are able to access their own built-in immunity to trauma, allowing the highly aroused survival energies to be safely and gradually discharged. When these energies are discharged, people frequently experience a dramatic reduction in or disappearance of their traumatic symptoms.
Because traumatic events are often encounters with death, they evoke extraordinary responses. The transformation process can allow people to deepen their sense of self and others. The healing journey can be an ''awakening'' to untapped resources and feelings of empowerment. With the help of these new allies, people can open portals to rebirth and achieve an increased sense of flow. The experience can be a genuine spiritual awakening, one that allows people to re-connect with the world. The very structure of trauma, including hyper-arousal, dissociation. and freezing, is based on the evolution of the predator/prey survival behaviors. The symptoms of trauma are the result of a highly activated incomplete biological response to threat, frozen in time. By enabling this frozen response to thaw, then complete itself, trauma can be healed.
Traumatic symptoms are not caused by the dangerous event itself. They arise when residual energy from the event is not discharged from the body. This energy remains trapped in the nervous system where it can wreak havoc on our bodies and minds. Wild animals have developed the ability to shake off this excess energy. The key for humans in dispelling traumatic symptoms lies in our being able to mirror wild animals in this way. Dr. Levine offers a safe, gradual way to help trauma survivors develop their own natural ability to eliminate the excess energy caused by overwhelming events.
Trauma is an internal straitjacket created when a devastating moment is frozen in time. It stifles the unfolding of being, strangling our attempts to move forward with our lives. It disconnects us from our selves, others, nature and spirit. When people are overwhelmed by threat, we are frozen in fear. It is as if our instinctive survival energies are ''all dressed up with no place to go.''
Trauma is a fact of life, but it doesn't have to be a life sentence. We humans have the natural capacity to ''thaw'' these frozen moments, and move on with our lives. By understanding why animals in the wild are rarely traumatized-though their lives are threatened routinely, we find the key to healing trauma. We do not have to cling to the past, reliving devastating events again and again. By gently awakening this innate capacity for resilience that we share with all living organisms, the straitjacket is loosened. As we are unbound from the past, a future abundant with new possibilities unfolds. Our ability to be in the present expands, revealing the timeless essence of the ''now.'' Trauma can be hell on earth; transformed, it is a divine gift.
The Bellicon may also be found in the Cyndi Gray Art Therapy Studio. This piece of equipment is engineered in Germany and is specifically designed to work with individuals living with a variety of health conditions. We use it in Somatic Experiencing to help people work through trauma by improving blood flow, the connection to the felt sense and their own life force. Click on the Bellicon to see Peter Levine's video on how it works in practice.