Somatic Experiencing is a type of trauma therapy which focuses on restoring self-regulation by releasing pent-up survival energy. Somatic therapy relieves emotional and bodily stress which has become trapped within the autonomic nervous system following a traumatic experience.
Somatic refers to the internal perception and experience of the body. Somatic experiencing therapy is a body-oriented approach to trauma treatment, developed by Dr. Peter Levine after more than 45 years of multidisciplinary study and clinical practice. Somatic therapy techniques release traumatic shock, leverage the body’s innate healing abilities, and restore a sense of vitality, relaxation, and wholeness to traumatized individuals.
Why Is Somatic Experiencing Therapy So Effective?
One of the reasons somatic trauma therapy works so well is because it is based on the biological responses to stress that we share with other mammals. Animals in the wild experience life-threatening events and yet are not traumatized by these experiences. Dr. Levine determined that humans often interrupt the natural sequence of processing a threat response.
We experience the same adrenaline response to a threat as animals do, but we do not expend the resulting energy or perhaps because we are afraid or ashamed of the physical sensations of trembling, shaking, or running away, which are natural ways to expend that energy by allowing the nervous system to discharge fully and re-set to baseline.
What Happens in a Somatic Therapy Session?
Experiencing what the body is feeling is key, and your therapist will guide the process by:
- Sitting face to face with you while you describe the traumatic event in detail.
- Working with you to gently release the lingering physical stress.
- Helping you recognize and utilize the micro-movements that protect the body.
- Facilitating your ability to process the physical sensations and emotions as they are released.
- Guiding you to the realization that the danger is gone and that the mind and body can reset.
- Teaching you to recognize and regulate your stress levels in the face of future challenges.
What Conditions Benefit from Somatic Experiencing?
Trauma may result from a single event that is felt as life-threatening or can be the result of cumulative stress which builds up when individuals feel helpless or trapped. Somatic experiencing is an effective therapy for childhood trauma, as well as PTSD and stress treatment.
These trauma symptoms indicate that SE might be helpful:
- Anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder
- Hyper-alertness or over-reactions to perceived threats
- Suicidal thoughts
- Eating disorders
- Sleep issues
- Substance abuse
Some of the experiences that are effectively processed with somatic experiencing techniques include:
- Accidents or natural disasters
- War and combat experiences
- Invasive medical procedures
- Physical or sexual assault
- Emotional abuse or neglect
- Birth trauma
How Does Somatic Healing Happen?
At Serenity Trauma Center in Southern California, we have outpatient programs which offer the latest trauma therapy techniques for your unique needs and experience. Your mental health therapist will help you recognize the residual impacts of trauma and how they are affecting your ability to feel satisfaction, joy, or physical pleasure.
SE therapy will allow you to finish processing your traumatic experiences and learn the skills needed to promote healthy self-regulation. You possess the inherent ability to regulate stress and recover from traumatizing events. An SE-trained mental health counselor can help you release the destructive energies and truly experience that the danger has passed.