Trauma is not what happens to us, but what we hold inside…Peter A. Levine
What is Somatic Experiencing Therapy?
Somatic Experiencing (SE) focuses on healing by giving attention to the relationship between your body and mind. SE has been shown to be effective in treating trauma and other mental and emotional issues.
As opposed to other types of therapy, SE is far more concerned with how the body holds on to trauma. An SE practitioner looks to support releasing stress stored in the body. One of the main goals of SE is to allow space to let your body do what it needs to do to become ‘unstuck’.
SE sessions have less agenda compared to talk therapies. They may feel slower-paced, but this does not mean that it takes longer to feel the benefits. Some find the somatic approach a much more direct path to healing. This is because you give focus on regulating your nervous system more than the story.
Where does Somatic Experiencing come from?
SE is the life’s work of Dr. Peter A Levine, inspired while observing animals in the wild. He wondered why animals in the wild do not experience trauma like humans. In the wild, the lives of prey animals are regularly threatened. Yet, animals seem to survive these scary and stressful events without experiencing PTSD.
Dr. Levine observed that animals have ways of releasing stress. This allows it to not affect their ability to survive in the wild. Dr. Levine developed somatic experiencing to support humans to release their traumatic stress. Doing so supports our ability to thrive!
How does Somatic Experiencing work?
One of the underlying principles of SE is the fight, flight, freeze and appease responses. These responses are normal reactions to perceived threats. They have developed over millions of years of evolution in our autonomic nervous system. Many people suffering from PTSD find that the trauma has become trapped in their bodies.
When this happens, it can lead you to return to and get stuck in these responses when you feel threatened or triggered. Symptoms such as anxiety, anger, and feeling stuck are all somatic PTSD symptoms. SE aims to create a nurturing space to release these traumas from your body.
No two SE sessions will be the same, but some features are common to every session. The first step will be to generate a sense of comfort and relative safety with your therapist. This helps you use your therapist as a partner with whom you can work through your trauma.
In SE, you are encouraged to develop a greater awareness of your body. One way this happens is by attuning to the physical sensations that occur in your body. A SE practitioner may also use visualization, creative arts, touch, and movement to help you connect to your body. Connecting to sensation develops your capacity to cope outside of sessions.
Who is Somatic Experiencing for?
Although SE was first developed for treating trauma and PTSD, it is also helpful for issues including anxiety, grief & loss, depression, stress, chronic pain, digestive problems, body image struggles, and intimacy & relationship issues.
Somatic experiencing may be especially helpful if talking about your trauma is too difficult. It is also helpful for those who have not found success with other types of talk therapy. SE is a gentle way to work through your trauma. It focuses more on the physical than the verbal story.
Remember that all trauma is treatable. Believing that you can recover is the first step to making a change for the better. If you or someone you know is suffering from PTSD, please do not hesitate to book a session with one of our therapists. We are here to help you through your healing journey.
About the Author
Katie Bohn is a licensed professional counselor and somatic experiencing practitioner in St. Louis, MO. A dancer from birth, Katie is passionate about helping people heal from trauma through somatics, movement, psychotherapy, art, writing, and play.