Somatic Experiencing (SE) is a body-centered therapeutic approach which helps us unlock our own innate capacity to heal traumatic stress. Developed by Dr. Peter Levine, author of Waking the Tiger, SE is based on how animals in the wild respond to threat and survival. Humans, too, are biologically programmed with the same instinctual survival responses which include the mechanisms of befriend, fight, flight & freeze.
However, when we are stressed out or overwhelmed, our impulses are thwarted and we often don’t get to complete our responses – this is when trauma occurs and symptoms emerge.
Somatic Experiencing offers a comprehensive approach to helping clients work through symptoms of traumatic situations — defined as any experience that overwhelmed one’s ability to cope with the situation. This could include any number of extreme or routine life experiences that were deeply challenging in some way. The work of SE teaches us that trauma is not in the event, it’s in our nervous system.
In SE sessions, clients are encouraged to tune into physical sensation, which creates the space for our bodies to reconnect with our innate healing response. This naturalistic process resolves symptoms by gently discharging the high levels of nervous system arousal associated with trauma, and helping our bodies return to a more manageable level of functioning. As we begin to reset our nervous system, integration organically occurs. The once-fragmented physical, emotional, cognitive, interpersonal, and spiritual aspects of who we are can once again work together as a whole. This integrative process is deeply healing and enlivening.
For a more detailed explanation of the theory & practice of SE, please read this exquisite review “How Does SE Work?” by fellow Somatic Experiencing Practitioner Neil Winblad.