Body-Oriented Approach To Healing Trauma
The Somatic Experiencing®(SE™) method 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 post-traumatic stress disorder and the wounds of emotional and early developmental attachment trauma.
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.
Somatic Experiencing®(SE™), developed by Dr. Peter Levine, is a naturalistic approach to the resolution and healing of trauma and is supported by research. 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 associated with defensive survival behaviours. These mechanisms provide animals with a built-in “immunity’’ to trauma that enables them to return to normal in the aftermath of a highly ‘’charged’’ life-threatening experiences.
SE™ employs awareness of body sensation to help people “renegotiate” and heal rather than re-live or re-enact trauma (it is about the physiological (body) response to the memory/ emotion/connection; not so much about the story/ content itself).
SE™’s guidance of the bodily “felt sense,” allows the highly elevated survival energies (Flight/Fight/Freeze) to be safely experienced and gradually discharged.
SE™ “titrates” experience (breaks down into small, incremental steps), rather than evoking catharsis, which can overwhelm the regulatory mechanisms of the organism.
SE™ may employ touch in support of the renegotiation process (seated or laying face-up on massage table).
For more information about SE™, please note the following references:
Waking the Tiger: Healing Trauma: The Innate Capacity to Transform Overwhelming Experiences, Levine, P. and Frederick, A. (1997). Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books.
Trauma Through A Child’s Eyes: Awakening the Ordinary Miracle of Healing, Kline, M. and Levine, P. (2007). Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books.
For further references and information online about SE™ go to www.traumahealing.com
SE does not require the client to re-tell or re‐live the traumatic event. However, working through the trauma story can be done more safely using SE. It offers the opportunity to engage, complete and resolve—in a slow and supported way—the body’s instinctual fight, flight, freeze and collapse responses. Individuals locked in anxiety or rage then relax into a growing sense of peace and safety. Those stuck in depression gradually find their feelings of hopelessness and numbness transformed into empowerment, triumph and mastery. SE catalyzes corrective bodily experiences that contradict those of fear and helplessness and seeks to restore a sense of aliveness and pleasure. This resets the nervous system, restores inner balance, enhances resilience to stress and increases people’s vitality, equanimity and capacity to actively engage in life.
Note: The Somatic Experiencing Trauma Institute states that Somatic Experiencing is neither a form of psychotherapy nor a bodywork technique, though it lends itself well to being integrated into these and other treatment modalities.
SOMATIC EXPERIENCING™ TOUCH
SE Touch is applied with hands and occasionally with forearm or foot contact, and can also be offered indirectly, such as providing support through a cushion. SE Touch is done fully clothed and is not used to manipulate the body. SE Touch offers support to muscles, joints, diaphragms and organs to support regulation and healthy functioning. Touch can be applied with the client in a seated position, lying face up on a table or standing during movement exercises.
Some examples of when touch can be helpful are:
- Identifying an area of the body for tracking internal sensations.
- Supporting an area of the body to release tension or constriction.
- Stabilizing a highly activated/dysregulated nervous system.
- Containing and processing difficult emotions (e.g., feeling therapist’s hands on the outside of your upper arms to provide a sense of containment to reduce flooding).
- Bringing awareness to an area of the body that feels disconnected or numb.
- Engaging a reflexive action or defense to support completion/discharge of a response (e.g., pushing into a therapist’s hands to engage a frozen fight response).
- Resourcing an individual with positive sensation or a healthy body function (e.g., pressure on the feet can enhance a sense of grounding).
- Calming an anxiety response, by supporting the brain stem or the kidney/adrenal area.
- Connecting with tissue/muscle memory or natural biological rhythms.
- Increasing blood flow to damaged tissue.
Touch was incorporated in Somatic Experiencing by Dr. Peter Levine and was further refined as a practice by Kathy Kain, MA, SEP, somatic and bodywork practitioner and senior faculty member with the Somatic Experiencing Trauma Institute (www.somaticpractice.net).
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