WHAT IS SOMATIC EXPERIENCING? Somatic Experiencing (SE™) is a body-oriented therapeutic model for healing trauma and other stress disorders. It is based on a multidisciplinary intersection of physiology, psychology, ethology, biology, neuroscience, indigenous healing practices, and medical biophysics and has been clinically applied for more than four decades. It is the life’s work of Dr. Peter A. Levine.
The SE approach releases traumatic shock, which is key to transforming PTSD and the wounds of emotional and early developmental attachment trauma. It offers a framework to assess where a person is “stuck” in the fight, flight or freeze responses and provides clinical tools to resolve these fixated physiological states. SE provides effective skills appropriate to a variety of healing professions including mental health, medicine, physical and occupational therapies, bodywork, addiction treatment, first response, education, and others.
Trauma may begin as acute stress from a perceived life-threat or as the end product of cumulative stress. Both types of stress can seriously impair a person’s ability to function with resilience and ease. Trauma may result from a wide variety of stressors such as accidents, invasive medical procedures, sexual or physical assault, emotional abuse, neglect, war, natural disasters, loss, birth trauma, or the corrosive stressors of ongoing fear and conflict.
The Somatic Experiencing approach facilitates the completion of self-protective motor responses and the release of thwarted survival energy bound in the body, thus addressing the root cause of trauma symptoms. This is approached by gently guiding clients to develop increasing tolerance for difficult bodily sensations and suppressed emotions.
Dr. Levine was inspired to study stress on the animal nervous system when he realized that animals are constantly under threat of death, yet show no symptoms of trauma. What he discovered was that trauma has to do with the third survival response to perceived life threat, which is freeze. When fight and flight are not options, we freeze and immobilize, like “playing dead.” This makes us less of a target. However, this reaction is time-sensitive, in other words, it needs to run its course, and the massive energy that was prepared for fight or flight gets discharged, through shakes and trembling. If the immobility phase doesn’t complete, then that charge stays trapped, and, from the body’s perspective, it is still under threat. The Somatic Experiencing method works to release this stored energy and turn off this threat alarm that causes severe dysregulation and dissociation. SE helps people understand this body response to trauma and work through a “body first” approach to healing.
In this 5-minute video, Dr. Peter Levine, founder of Somatic Experiencing, discusses how he came to create his powerful approach to trauma.
This video tells the compassionate story of the healing process of Ray, a Marine who had been injured by two improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and diagnosed with both severe PTSD and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). Dr. Levine demonstrates the power of SE as a tool to heal the wounds of war.
Dr. Peter Levine uses his famous “Slinky” presentation to demonstrate the effects of trauma on the nervous system, and his philosophy of treating trauma, which involves slowly releasing (or titrating) this compressed fight-or-flight energy a bit at time to give the individual the ability to reintegrate it back into the nervous system.