Somatic Experiencing is a unique body-awareness approach to healing trauma. SE assists one’s nervous system to renegotiate awareness from dys-regulation to effective self-regulation.
SE is modeled after animals in the wild, who engage innate, instinctive, physiological processes to discharge the massive fight/flight and freeze energies associated with survival. As a result wild animals are rarely traumatized, even though their lives are routinely threatened.
Although humans have virtually the same innate self-regulating mechanisms as animals, we often override or inhibit these processes thwarting our own capacity to heal. When we fail to discharge the high levels of arousal associated with survival these massive energies stay trapped in our neuromuscular and central nervous system and wreak havoc on our bodies and our minds. It is this trapped energy that develops into a whole constellation of post-traumatic symptoms including pain, anxiety, anger, depression, intrusive thoughts and imagery, and cognitive impairments. Somatic Experiencing provides the steps needed to reconnect individual with the innate wisdom of their bodies. Through focused conscious awareness of bodily sensations the individual is able to access these restorative physiological patterns, resolve their traumatic symptoms, and reengage in life with renewed optimism, creativity, passion and joy.
Overview of Somatic Experiencing
o Release trauma.
o Learn how to be comfortable in your own body.
o Build resiliency.
o Learn to recognize what healthy is.
Trauma: Two Types
Type 1: Developmental trauma
Is determined by the maturity of the nervous system and stage of life:
Children and teenagers are not yet mature enough to handle certain experiences.
The elderly or the sick are not strong enough to handle certain experiences.
Type 2: Shock trauma
Such as car accident, natural disaster, domestic violence, war, sudden loss.
This includes both having the experience or witnessing it happening to another.
Trauma occurs when there is more activation than can be successfully discharged. The nervous system becomes overwhelmed. New trauma can layer over old trauma.
o Current definition of trauma as only Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is too narrow.
o Developmental and shock trauma are similar to and as severe as trauma of shell-shocked veterans.
o Trauma can be cumulative; it can gather and build over time.
Trauma is in the nervous system, not in the event.
o Ability to discharge trauma varies from person to person.
o Ability to discharge naturally and effectively is effected by:
o Genetic strength:
Resourcefulness is transferred through the generations. Trauma residue is transferred through the generations.
o In-utero experience/stress:
Parasympathetic system (the ability to calm) does not form until after birth. Thus the unborn child in utero experiences the mother’s experiences as its own.
o Experience of the 1st 18 months of life:
The young child builds its parasympathetic system by mimicking the nervous system of its primary caretaker, for good or for bad.
If the ability to discharge is compromised in the nervous system, and overwhelming experience cannot be released, the result over time is illness, psychosis, depression, and various forms of dissociation.
SE Basic Healing Elements Consist of:
Knowing what gives you strength and stability, such as a positive image or memory, a neutral or pleasant body sensation that feels safe, a support system such as friends or family, pets, love of nature, exercise, enjoying art and music etc.
Staying in the present moment and noticing simple sensations felt in the body.
Pendulating or “Looping”:
Moving in and out of the trauma with support of therapist.
Moving from trauma to resource.
Going from the negative trauma-vortex to healing counter-vortex (resources).
This movement is done in tiny pieces which is called Titrating.
Dissipation of trauma as nervous system regains its fluidity.
Remember: Trauma is fixity. Healing is fluidity.
SE is about allowing or teaching the nervous system to return to its natural flow.
Reptilian Brain = Movement, Regulatory System (such as breathing)
Limbic/Mammalian Brain = Emotion
Neo-Cortex Brain = Cognition
During trauma, the reptilian brain (amygdala) is lit up and links to the trauma memory.
Other parts shut down (thinking, talking, feeling emotion)
Thus the reptilian brain needs to be activated and worked with to release the trauma.
This is most easily accessed by paying attention to body’s felt sense.
· Examples of physical reactions during SE brought to you by the reptilian brain and the nervous system:
o Temperature changes (hot, cold)
o Various Body Sensations
o Goose bumps Heaviness
o Breath release
o Posture changes
o Hand movements