What Is Somatic Experiencing Therapy (SE) and How Is It Performed?

Somatic experiencing is a form of somatic therapy and a body-centered therapeutic approach. It is often used to help people overcome trauma-related symptoms because the trauma a person experiences can cause them to get stuck in a fight, flight, or lockup response. Another way to describe trauma is through events that make a person believe that they are in danger of serious injury or death. According to Harvard Health Publishing, examples of trauma may include:

Physical abuse

• sexual abuse

• Emotional abuse

• Physical neglect

• Emotional neglect

• Witnessing domestic violence

• Drug abuse in the home

• Domestic mental illness

• Parental separation or divorce

• Imprisonment of a household member

• A sudden death in the family

• A stressful divorce

• Caring for someone with a chronic or debilitating illness

Some of the basic principles behind somatic therapy / somatic experiencing are:

• Mind and body are connected, so everything felt in the mind is thought to occur in the body.

• It involves a patient who tries to feel physical sensations in the body due to past traumatic events, instead of thinking through only the events and emotions felt. The goal is to access the body memory of the event, not the story itself.

• It is thought that suppressed memories may continue to physically affect the body even if memories are forgotten. A memory will continue to harm until it is fully felt and processed.

• Therefore, the main purpose is to start experiencing the present moments again.

How Does Somatic Therapist Practice?

A somatic therapist (or coach) educates patients about how their autonomic nervous system works and helps them raise awareness of their own bodily sensations. As a body psychotherapy practitioner, the therapist talks to the patient about what exactly is experienced and perceived in the body. The therapist also acts as a reliable partner and calm presence during sessions, which can sometimes feel stressful and overwhelming for the patient. In general, the therapist’s goal is to help reduce the distress and symptoms the patient feels so that the ability to cope with problems is developed and a quality of life can be experienced.

What Happens in a Somatic Experiencing Session?

The purpose of SE therapy sessions is to release traumatic activation through increased tolerance to bodily sensations and related emotions. SE integrates body awareness into the psychotherapeutic process, which makes it unique. The sessions focus on raising awareness about inner physical sensations seen as carriers of traumatic memory. Unlike other approaches such as exposure therapy, it does not require re-experiencing and detailed discussion of traumatic events. Instead, patients learn to monitor their own arousal with body awareness and relaxation techniques.

SE therapists help their clients move between aroused and calmer states. Sessions usually involve deliberately triggering low-level autonomic nervous system activation, monitoring bodily reactions, and then trying to disperse the reactions. Techniques and mechanisms used to help a patient self-regulate arousal include:

• Titration that helps keep the arousal low during the processing of traumatic triggers.

• Sagging that defines the balance between organized parts of the body and irregular parts.

• Discharge, which includes dispersing arousal

• Relaxation techniques including breathing exercises and visualization.

Somatic Experiencing Term History

Considered the industry leader in examining and treating SE therapy, trauma, Dr. Created by Peter Levine. Dr. Levine is the author of the bestselling book Waking the Tiger: Healing the Trauma. He helped develop SE therapy based on multidisciplinary studies of stress physiology, psychology, ethology, biology, neuroscience, and local healing practices. One way he seems to find his somatic experiencing approach is to observe how animals deal with stress. He noticed that unlike most people, animals typically complete a complete series of responses to danger.

Animals often recognize danger, react by fighting or running away, and then recover, often with the help of physical movements that release energy. On the other hand, people do not always complete this cycle, which can lead to someone stuck in trauma. Levine has over 45 years of clinical practice and has also helped establish the Somatic Experience Trauma Institute to help train therapists / coaches in SE.

Benefits and Uses of Somatic Experiencing

Somatic experiencing is thought to help cope with anxiety, depression, a range of symptoms related to stress, and other problems. Some of its benefits are as follows:

May Help Reduce Physical Emotions Linked to Trauma and Stress: With SE, the focus is on bodily sensations associated with past events and emotions rather than analyzing the details of events. Experiencing trauma and chronic stress can trigger emotional and physical reactions that can cling to someone for years. These reactions, such as increased levels of stress hormones, including cortisol and adrenaline, can increase a person’s risk of experiencing a range of health problems, including heart attack, stroke, obesity, diabetes, and autoimmune diseases. SE can help some people dealing with physical symptoms and situations related to stress, anxiety, and depression, such as:

  • Increased inflammation
  • Chronic pain
  • Digestive issues such as IBS, constipation, and diarrhea
  • Muscle tension and pain
  • Insomnia and sleep problems
  • Tiredness and low motivation
  • Infections due to impaired immune function
  • Sensitivity to respiratory problems

Potential Disadvantages of Experiencing Somatic

Somatic experiencing trauma recovery can be a complex process, and not every therapeutic approach works for every person. However, there is some evidence to suggest that SE can help people recover from trauma, including at least a few controlled studies. With somatic experiencing after the trauma of Hurricane Katrina, a group of trauma resilience treatments were examined, and found to help reduce PTSD symptoms and psychological distress of the participants. However, it did not help all participants cope with physical symptoms.

A 2017 study published in the Wiley Journal of Traumatic Stress showed that 15 SE sessions per week among 63 adults with PTSD had significant effects on the severity of post-traumatic symptoms and depression. In another 2008 study in which participants with a history of trauma attended a 75-minute SE session, it was found that 90 percent of the participants were completely free of significant improvements or arousal and avoidance symptoms during the four-week and eight-month follow-up.

Other Ways to Cope with Trauma

SE is just one way of working to improve the mind body connection. Other approaches that have been shown to be beneficial for people dealing with trauma and chronic emotional distress include:

• Massage therapy, chiropractic care, etc. Physical touch involved

• To exercise

• Yoga, which has been found to be a powerful way to deal with stress, grief and depression

• Writing in a magazine

• Meditation

• Music and art therapy

• Prayer

• Other traditional forms of therapy, such as cognitive behavioral therapy

As a result, the meaning of the word somatic means about the mind or affecting the mind. Somatic therapy or somatic experiencing (a type of psychotherapy that focuses on the connections between the brain, mind and behavior (or mind-body connection). With the help of a therapist and the person applying it on their own, SE techniques can reduce symptoms due to past traumas, chronic stress, anxiety, depression and grief What makes SE unique is that it is a body-centered therapy.


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