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Trauma Healing Center

What is the Somatic Experiencing Method and How does it Treat PTSD?


The somatic experiencing method is an approach for treating PTSD that is body-focused as opposed to a solution that only focuses only on the emotions and thoughts associated with events steeped in trauma. This method indeed deals with emotions and thought processes, but it also extends to include natural body somatic responses. Since it was developed by Dr. Peter Levine in the 1970s, it has gone on to be regarded as a cutting-edge therapy used to treat various types of PTSD. Serenity Trauma is a top anxiety treatment center in Malibu, CA offering the somatic experiencing method to treat PTSD, and other forms of anxiety, conducted by industry experts.

The Origins of Somatic Experiencing

Somatic experiencing all began when Dr. Peter Levine was studying how wild animals recover from repeated traumatic events such as being attacked by a predator (just think of a deer eluding a mountain lion). The doctor noticed that once the threat was eliminated, the animal in question demonstrated a physical release of the fight-or-flight energy by running about or shaking. Once the running or shaking stopped, he noted that they resumed to their normal, calm state. Dr. Levine’s hypothesis was that human beings also possessed this ability to release negative physical energy, but usually didn’t because, as we have been molded by society, people are taught to keep that stiff upper lip and “keep it together” while marching to the beat of “keep calm and carry on” when traumatic events take place. He determined that by putting up walls, the energy was getting stuck, and therefore maintained the fight-or-flight energy that keeps one from relaxing or balancing their emotions.

When treating a patient suffering from PTSD, Dr. Levine decided to put his theory into practice: his client was reliving a traumatic event from childhood, so he asked her to run away from the threat, as if she was being chased by a predatory animal. She kicked her feet to mimic an escape, and when she completed the exercise the doctor discovered that the traumatic energy that had been trapped in her body had been released. The patient experienced instant and long-lasting relief from her PTSD symptoms, and the doctor discovered that a person’s ability to shake off traumatic energy is akin to the same ability possessed by animals. Here began somatic experiencing as a therapeutic approach to treating PTSD.

What Happens in a Somatic Experiencing Session?

Every somatic experiencing session is different because no two people are alike, nor are their traumatic experiences. However, in most sessions, there are sets of actions that generally tend to happen. The therapist and client will determine what to discuss, along with the specifics of each step, and when to move on to the next one, based on the comfort level identified at the time of treatment in every step or stage of the process.

When you have a somatic experiencing session with a therapist at Serenity Trauma, the first step will be to get comfortable both in the space where you are receiving treatment, and with your therapist. This will foster the necessary trust to conduct the session. Once that trust is recognized, the session will commence.

In many cases, the therapist will ask their client to begin by revisiting the time around the event that triggered the trauma, but not the exact event that spawned it. For example, if the traumatic event was a house fire, rather than instantly exploring that trauma, the somatic experiencing therapist might start the healing process by asking the person what the weather was like the day of the house fire before the event took place. This approach is very gentle and indirect, which enables one’s body to start building that resilience required and help the person slowly purge their body of that stuck negative energy, bit by bit.

The therapist will set the pace based on the client’s comfort level along each step. The journey will continue until the client has stored up enough resilience to completely engage and purge the traumatic energy.

What can Somatic Experiencing Therapy Treat?

PTSD - word from wooden blocks with letters

While somatic experiencing is best known for treating PTSD, it has also successfully treated people suffering from physical symptoms related to abuse and other distressing emotional events. These include:

  • Digestive issues
  • Chronic pain
  • Sleeping disorders
  • Muscle pain / muscle tension
  • Respiratory problems
  • Headaches

After physical symptoms, such as the ones stated above are resolved, many people discover that it’s much easier to direct full attention to the psychological symptoms.

Is the Somatic Experiencing Method Right for You?

If you have been battling anxiety and suspect you may have PTSD, call Serenity Trauma today to set up a consultation. The only way to tell if the somatic experiencing method is your ideal treatment approach is to be consulted by one of our expert therapists. If the therapist has identified your diagnosis, triggers, and gets a good sense of your condition, then they will be able to tell you if somatic experiencing is your best suited course of treatment, or if another therapeutic approach is appropriate to meet your needs. Call Serenity Trauma today, and together we will create a treatment map that will lead you on your way to living the best life possible.

Contact Us Today

Serenity Trauma Healing Center is state- and JCAHO-accredited to provide a multitude of proven psychotherapy services to clients with diverse backgrounds and experiences. Our programs include weekly evaluations and start at two weeks long but can continue for timeframes recommended by our licensed experts. We accept many insurance plans. To discuss your situation and learn more about our treatment options, contact us immediately online or at the numbers below.