The Beginners Guide To Somatic Experience

Trauma lies at the heart of addiction. It acts as a trigger for substance abuse and can continue long after we start our journey into recovery.

Healing Beyond Recovery requires confronting the trauma that drove us to addiction, and examining the ways it continues to exist in our minds and bodies.

Peter Levine’s Somatic Experiencing (SE) provides a practical approach for this exploration. For decades this therapy has helped patients suffering from trauma-based disorders such as PTSD, depression, and substance abuse.

As it continues to grow in popularity, you may have questions about the procedure. What it is. How it works. And more importantly, how can it aid in your road to healing.

What Is Somatic Experiencing?

Somatic Experiencing is a body oriented therapy that helps people process trauma.

It’s based on the idea that trauma is not simply a distressing experience, but energy stored within our bodies.

This trapped energy damages and deregulates the nervous system – causing us to continue to feel painful effects of trauma long after we are safe from harm.

In Somatic Experiencing, clients are asked to pay attention to the physical sensations in their body when speaking or imagining specific content that may be intense or overwhelming.

This process allows them to become aware of the unconscious bodily responses triggered by trauma. Through repeated exposures, patients develop a greater capacity to experience difficult or unpleasant sensations. Rather than checking out or dissociation they learn to sit with the body in the present moment. 

Through this practice, they can relieve the unpleasant symptoms of trauma and begin to resolve the underlying causes of their condition.

The Origins Of Somatic Experiencing

The idea that trauma traps itself in our bodies may seem strange. But it’s supported by the work of trauma specialist Peter Levine PhD.  

Levine’s work expands on the idea of fight or flight. In the theory of “fight or flight”, threatening situations stimulate the nervous system, sending signals to the body to either confront the threat or try to escape. 

However, Levine noticed in situations where we don’t have a chance of escape we will often “freeze” to evade the threat. You can observe this “freeze response” in an animal playing dead. Or a child tensing up and dissociating in an abusive or volatile situation. 

While this “freeze response” protects us in the moment, it creates problems after the fact. When we “freeze” we hold onto the pent up energy and store it in our body. This stored energy can cause unpleasant physical symptoms which make it difficult to relax and recover from trauma.

How Does Somatic Experiencing Work?

Somatic Experience is a body based therapy. It works by resolving built up threat responses and restoring balance to the nervous system.

During a SE session, a trained practitioner will lead the client through a number of exercises designed to bring about bodily-awareness, highlight the connection between body & mind, and allow the patient to observe the way physical sensations reinforce negative patterns.

While SE is body focused, therapists take advantage of the many different channels we use to process experience. These channels are represented in the acronym: S.I.B.A.M

S – Sensation
I – Imagery
B – Behavior
A – Affect
M – Meaning

Together the practitioner and the client will explore the different channels, try out a number of techniques, and find what work best.

Some common techniques include:

– Breath awareness
 – Orienting towards the present moment through the senses
– Using the voo sound to support vagal connection
– Imagery
– Completion of responses through the body, voice and other means

How SE Differs From Traditional Therapy

Somatic Experiencing is a “bottom-up” therapy. This means it focuses on the way stress and trauma manifest as physical symptoms.

In comparison, most traditional forms of therapy such as psychoanalysis and CBT take a “top down” approach. This means they focus on the role cognitions such as thoughts, memories, and beliefs play in creating negative experiences.

Although SE is a “bottom-up” or body focused form of therapy, it does not ignore the important role our thoughts and beliefs play in relieving trauma.

Most SE therapists understand the connection between mind and body, and integrate both in their work.

Who Can Somatic Experiencing Help?

Somatic Experiencing has traditionally been used to treat trauma and trauma-based disorders such as PTSD. However, the scope of the therapy has expanded in the past decades.

Today SE is considered an effective treatment for people suffering from a range of trauma and stress related conditions. Truthfully, the benefits of Somatic Experiencing extend to everyone. We live in a society full of trauma and it’s something we ALL hold in our bodies.

Below is a detailed list of conditions which Somatic Experiencing can help alleviate:

* Depression
* Anxiety
* Substance Abuse
* Grief
* Motor vehicle accidents
* Medical Procedure trauma
* Early developmental trauma
* Stress induced illnesses (IBD, IBS, Fibromyalgia, autoimmune diseases, etc)
* War trauma
* Chronic Pain
* Digestive issues
* Respiratory problems
* Fatigue
* Sleep trouble
* Dissociation
* Numbness

Research On Somatic Experiencing

Somatic Experiencing has helped thousands of patients find relief from stress-related disorders such as anxiety, depression, and substance abuse. The treatment is still relatively new, but science is beginning to support the positive effects of SE and other body based therapies.

In 2004, the survivors of the Tsunamis in Southeast Asia received Somatic Experiencing to treat post-traumatic symptoms. After 4 to 8 months of receiving treatment, 90% of participants reported significant improvements or total freedom from PTSD related symptoms.

Another study in 2017, observed the effects of SE in a lab setting. In the experiment, candidates suffering from PTSD received 15 weeks of Somatic Experiencing sessions. At the end of the trial, researchers found SE to be an effective treatment for those suffering from PTSD.

There is still research to be done, but early signs show positive clinical support and lasting benefits for patients seeking relief with Somatic Experiencing.

How To Find A Practitioner

Certified SE providers are called Somatic Experiencing Practitioners (SEP). An SEP is someone who has received the appropriate training and qualifications to safely and effectively administer Somatic Experiencing sessions.

All SEPs are listed on a Somatic Experience Directory. The directory will have information about the practitioner, their personal history, and their areas or specialities. It will also include contact information that will allow you to reach out to a practitioner and book an appointment.

Booking With Mike

If you think Somatic Experiencing may help in your healing journey, I invite you to book a session with me. As an Integrative Coach, I blend SE into my work supporting clients and provide a holistic approach to healing that tackles the root cause of trauma – rather than managing symptoms.

I offer all prospective patients a free discovery call. In this obligation free session you can learn more about the procedure, what you can expect working with me, and whether SE can help with your specific set of circumstances.

If you’re interested in learning more about Somatic Experiencing, I invite you to fill out a short questionnaire and schedule your discovery call with me.

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