About Somatic Experiencing®

About Somatic Experiencing®

Somatic Experiencing (SE) is one of the most effective trauma healing tools taught worldwide. It is an approach that allows the therapist to guide the client through challenging states and situations and offers a basic approach to understanding and managing the effects of shock and trauma. The bodily experiencing method works directly with the client’s autonomic nervous system, allowing the client to complete innate defensive responses and restore balance to the nervous system.

Created by Peter Levine, PhD, this therapy works on the principle that trauma gets trapped in the body, leading to some of the symptoms people with PTSD or people who have experienced trauma might experience. Through this method, practitioners work on releasing this stress from the body. One aspect of this disregulation is known as the freeze response, to our body’s primitive defense against danger. This response would activate if someone were being chased by a tiger. Unlike the “fight or flight” response that takes place in response to an acute threat, which causes the sympathetic nervous system to increase heart rate, breathing, and focus, the “freeze” response can cause the opposite.

Trauma freeze response

Through working with body awareness, titration, pendulation and resourcing, the SE method develops the ability to become aware of and process one’s own stress reactions, restoring healthy self-regulation of the nervous system and emotions. SE offers tools for working with acute stress as well as different categories of trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder. Working through the path of resources and self-regulation is a very effective method that does not burden the client by re-enacting or repeating the trauma, allowing them to restore their own capacity and ability to live a full and joyful life.

Somatic Experiencing
  • Somatic Experiencing is based on the premise that our body and nervous system have a tremendous capacity for self-healing, and if given the right stimulation and conditions to do so, they are able to repair incomplete defensive reactions and gradually release the energy of trauma from the system completely without the client having to go through retraumatization and debilitating cathartic processes. Somatic Experiencing gradually restores the healthy self-regulation of the nervous system and restores the sense of safety, relaxation, wholeness, joy and meaning in life to the traumatized person, that they have lost as a result of the trauma.

  • A person on a rational level can have processed the entire event. They know why it happened, that it turned out well in the end, but the body seems to have a life of its own. Peter A. Levine found during his research that post-traumatic stress disorder is the result of not discharging the energy that a person activated when threatened. The purpose of Somatic Experiencing Therapy is to release this energy and bring the person back to their life.

  • Somatic Experiencing is not a psychotherapeutic method in the classical sense, yet it is used around the world by psychologists, psychotherapists, physicians, physiotherapists and other bodyworkers, midwives, doulas and other helping professions. Somatic Experiencing works with both adults and children.


What can Somatic Experiencing® cure?

This approach can be used to treat a wide range of traumas, including, but not limited to, post-traumatic stress disorder, as well as physical and mental health problems associated with traumatic events, and can therefore apply to many people.

Somatic Experiencing can access and address trauma that lingers in the body and allow one to work through emotional symptoms, including feelings of anger, guilt or shame. Healing or releasing this felt experience of trauma can also help heal the emotional experience.

The Somatic Experiencing method can be useful for physical symptoms related to trauma after abuse, chronic pain, digestive problems, muscle tension, as well as pain, sleep problems, and respiratory problems. Once these physical symptoms are resolved, the way is opened to address the primary, overriding and defining psychological problems of the individual.

Somatic Experiencing, for example, can be an invaluable tool to help someone overcome persistent defensive reactions and other distressing responses associated with childhood emotional neglect. Through this new therapy, the client can learn to identify what triggers such stress and learn to manage and overcome it.

However this is just one possible situation in which somatic experiencing can help; over the years it has proven to be a valuable therapeutic tool for responding to a variety of traumatic events and PTSD.

Typical causes of trauma include:

  • Falls, accidents, trauma, or even being present at such an event
  • Medical interventions, procedures with anesthesia, hospital stays
  • Experiencing an act of violence against oneself (e.g. physical attack, rape), but also being present during violence against another person
  • Long-term stress
  • Natural disasters
  • Difficulties or increased stress during prenatal development, childbirth or the first months of life

Typical symptoms of trauma:

  • Reduced ability to cope with stress
  • Chronic fatigue or depression
  • Concentration disorders
  • Increased alertness or sensitivity to external stimuli
  • Numbness of body parts or general dissociation
  • Panic attacks from inadequate emotional reactions
  • Difficulty sleeping, nightmares
  • A wide range of psychosomatic issues

Other issues related to malfunctioning of the autonomic nervous system.

Course of treatment

We, who practice somatic experiencing, believe that a person’s inner feelings affect their physical body, and we use various forms of mind-body exercises to release trauma blocks from the mind and body.

At the beginning of the therapy, we start by learning more about your autonomic nervous system and the role it plays in your response to trauma. This knowledge is important; it helps many people who feel confused about their response during a traumatic event or believe they should respond differently.

People who have experienced a traumatic event are very sensitive and vigilant. They subconsciously expect further threats. Therefore, the first step in therapy is to create a place where the client feels safe.

The therapist adapts to the client’s needs and the client can choose any place to sit at a comfortable distance from the therapist. The client’s need for safety is an absolute priority.

This is followed by verbal communication in which the therapist turns the client’s attention to the perception of his or her own bodily experiences. The whole conversation takes place in an atmosphere of safety and comfort. The client does not have to describe or even relive the traumatic event at all.
The method completely avoids re-traumatizing the client. At the end of the therapy, the client orients themselves in a given place and time, being in the present.

Course of treatment