What is Somatic Experiencing Therapy?
Somatic Experiencing® (SE) is the life’s work of Peter Levine. SE integrates both mind and body to release trauma and stress and restore resiliency and safety to the nervous system. Somatic Experiencing Therapy can provide a pathway to heal from:
- Acute trauma – like a car accident or a fall
- Childhood abuse or neglect
- Chronic stress – for example a difficult childhood, work environment, or dealing with COVID-19
- Trauma related to hospitalizations, chronic illness and uncomfortable medical procedures, particularly if they occurred during childhood
- Grief – grieving deaths of loved ones, divorce, losses related to COVID-19
Unlike some other modalities used to treat trauma, SE is a gentle approach. It does not necessarily require you to retell the story or expose yourself over and over again to traumatic memories or images.
Levine developed his method based on the observation that animals in the wild are not traumatized though they are constantly under threat. We as humans also know how to bounce back from trauma — it’s in our nature. When given the space and time to follow the body memory of the event (not necessarily the story), we can become aware of where in the threat cycle (fight, flight, freeze) our defenses were thwarted, giving us the opportunity to complete our response.
Basic elements of an SE session:
- Resourcing – SE is gentle because we start by grounding you in resources. This could be a memory, a person, using the 5 senses to stay in the present moment, a pet, a hobby. As we increase your capacity to stay with a resource, we are also increasing your capacity to stay with difficult emotions or content
- Vortex/Counter-Vortex – Vortex can be imagined as a whirlpool of traumatic memories, sensations, emotions that feel overwhelming and can suck you down if you get close. The counter-vortex are moments that you feel connected to resources and grounded
- Titration – In SE, titration means going a little at a time into difficult memories, sensations, emotions so as not to overwhelm your system
- Pendulation – Moving back and forth between resources and difficult material
- Tracking sensation – We track the sensations in your body to help regulate difficult emotions and build out more positive experiences.
- Boundary setting – Helping your body and mind be fully attuned to your embodied “yes!” and “no!” by paying attention to sensation tracking
What to Expect From a Somatic Experiencing Therapy Session
In a Somatic Experiencing therapy session, we will first work on creating safety and putting you in charge of deciding how much to share or feel. I might slow you down as you talk to give you an opportunity to notice your emotions or check in with your body to see what’s happening in your nervous system. The goal is to touch into the trauma and then come back to resources available in the present moment. In this way I can help you slowly expand your window of tolerance for more difficult emotions and sensations, and to integrate them.
As you learn to become an observer of your emotions, you begin to regulate them better. You have the opportunity to truly know yourself, to become more connected with your inner wisdom and intuition.