Somatic Experiencing & Trauma Healing

While somatic therapy in general is aimed at healing a range of stress-related issues, one particular modality of somatic therapy called “Somatic Experiencing” focuses on healing trauma, which is a specific, more acute form of stress. More and more people who suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, are are now turning to Somatic Experiencing to resolve their trauma and stress related symptoms. Dr. Peter Levine, the founder of the concept of Somatic Experiencing, came upon this idea by noting that animals have an uncanny means of ‘getting on’ with their lives even after facing life-threatening situations. Recovering is as natural to them as their daily bodily routine of eating and sleeping are. He realized that humans should, ideally, undergo a natural progression of bodily responses after being confronted with a highly stressful situation.

In this philosophy of healing trauma, the emphasis is in part, on bodily responses and sensations, or experiences. Too often, in mainstream ways of healing PTSD, the focus is entirely on the mind, on urging the affected person to move on from a certain incident. However, it is not just the mind which causes the fear and anxiety that is characteristic of PTSD. It is the body ‘frozen’ at the time of the traumatizing incident, or attempting to recycle in it “fight or flight” responses. The energy locked up in the person from the lack of effective completion of these responses tends to create all sorts of symptoms, ranging from the more energetic hypervigilance and anxiety, to the less energetic like depression and chronic fatigue. Since releasing this energy does not come natural to us, it causes restlessness as well as an underlying sense of helplessness. This helplessness might be reminiscent of how the affected person felt at the time of the incident, or it may be the result of a previous incident being stimulated in the person’s memory. It is almost as if their bodies are still back in time at the moment that traumatized them, and the mind is unable to move on.

Somatic Experiencing, hence, is derived from the idea that the patient’s nervous system is ‘locked’ into the incident where they suffered acutely, and it is because of this ‘locking’ that they experience unnatural levels of stress, anxiety, depression, sleep disorders. It is also for the same reason that any associations that directly relate to the incident which causes this anxiety for them- an inability to be in a car because of an accident they were involved in, for example- is ‘known’ to the body, which is triggered even more by these external factors.

The goal of Somatic Experiencing is to guide a client through a natural process in which the body and mind become more aware of the safety and resource of the current moment, that the moment of danger has passed, and the client can ease into the moment in a more relaxed state. From this place of resource, of “the cup being half full” so to speak, allows the person to face bits and pieces, more and more, of the experience that was traumatizing, but only from a resourced place. Often, in this process, the pent-up energy is released gently, perhaps with shaking, tears, sweating, or various other physiological and emotional responses. This is done very gently, never exceeding what a client can handle at one time. More significantly, Somatic Experiencing not only heals trauma and stress, but bestows a person with the ability to move on from all kinds of hurt and focus on the goodness around them and within them.

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