what is somatic experiencing
The biophysicist and psychologist Dr. Peter A. Levine was one of the first to research psychosomatics in the 1970s and developed his approach to body-oriented trauma work, Somatic Experiencing (SE). Unlike more cognitive methods, SE uses the connection between the body and the autonomic nervous system and works with physical symptoms and perceptions, images or emotions and spontaneous movements to resolve traumatic experiences.
An event becomes a trauma when it violates our protective shell and causes feelings of helplessness and being overwhelmed. These can be: accidents of all kinds, operations, serious illnesses, the loss of a loved one, neglect in childhood or prenatal threats in the womb. These are just as much a part of trauma as war, natural disasters or sexualised violence. Even seemingly ordinary events such as medical treatments or a dog bite can be traumatising.
Somatic Experiencing works primarily with the physical reaction to these traumatic events – and addresses the autonomic nervous system. The focus is on tracing and tracking down body perceptions and impulses, emotions, images, thoughts and beliefs. Other basic elements of SE work are the activation of resources, moving between the trauma cortex and resources, focusing and grounding, picking up body impulses and titration, i.e. a small-step approach.
The energy “frozen” in the nervous system is “defrosted” in small doses and gradually released. Through this controlled relief, a possible re-traumatisation, i.e. being overwhelmed again, is avoided. This has a positive effect on feelings, thoughts, emotions and beliefs and the nervous system finds its way back to more resilience.
HOW DOES THE TREATMENT WORK?
The course of an SE session can be as varied as the concerns and needs of the cliets. The most important principle is to create a “safe space” in which one’s own perceptions can be explored. The work is done with what is currently there – the SE practitioner only supports the process with minor interventions. The guiding presence provides the security and orientation that is necessary to be able to engage with the activation and reactions of the body.
This goes hand in hand with the principles of the small-step approach (titration) and the interplay between activation and regulation. In this way, one’s own system learns self-regulation anew and inner tension, fears, nervousness and stress can regulate themselves better. The overstrained nervous system learns the way back to more resilience.
Often the focus is on pure sensing, but understanding and classifying one’s own experience is also helpful for the healing process. This is because post-traumatic stress usually stems from events that have not been processed or understood.
The approach is gentle, slow and yet can be very powerful. A process for the whole human system that makes renegotiation and new experiences possible.the
CAN "SE" HELP ME?
After a traumatic experience, inexplicable psychological and physical symptoms can arise. They are confusing and frightening. They may only show up years later as hyperactivity, addictive behaviour, uncontrollable outbursts of anger, anxiety, panic attacks, depression, feelings of alienation, concentration problems, dissociation, inability to bond, sleep disorders, exhaustion, chronic pain, fibromyalgia, migraines, neck and back problems, problems with the immune system or burnout. The list of possible symptoms is long.
Trauma changes the brain and the entire physiology. You become more prone to stress. The threat still exists in the body and the survival system automatically kicks in, even if there is no cause for danger. Consequences of trauma show up as an insecure feeling in the body. There is a pull towards feelings of helplessness, fear and anger. Post-traumatic symptoms are the nervous system’s attempt to somehow deal with this excess energy. Somatic Experiencing (SE)® uses the power that lies in the symptoms as an important resource in overcoming trauma.