Somatic Experiencing

Somatic Experiencing

Through the Somatic Experiencing therapy created by Peter Levine we can address the stress impressions from past traumatic experiences. Weaving awareness of internal experience with external orientation, in the presence of safe and reliable support, we can release the subtle contractions in the body. We are left feeling calm, safe, and supported in the world.

What is Somatic Experiencing | Choosing a Somatic Therapist
Somatic Experiencing reduces the impact of trauma (or residual somatic impressions of extreme or prolonged stress) on your nervous system, and develops an increased physiological flexibility, resiliency and stress regulation. You may feel more internal ease and calm in a single session. This early beneficial support sets the stage for the careful working through of specific past traumatic situations.

Somatic Experiencing is a naturalistic approach to therapy that supports you from the ground up, body to mind. By bringing more solidity, resource, clarity, and general ease in the body, it allows you to stay grounded during states of ever increasing activation, including those highly activated states from past traumatic experience. Therefore, the more somatic sessions you have, the greater your internal capacity will be to resource and ground during states of stress that would otherwise escalate into experiencing anxiety, overwhelm, reactivity, or acting out. You will find more somatic ease, a lessening of anxiety, irritability, frustration, anger and other emotional triggers. That said, depending on the kind of trauma, the amount of somatic stress impressions, your personal strength and level of internal resiliency, sessions can typically range from 3 to 12 before feeling a shift of lasting positive change.

Somatic Experiencing invites and relies on the naturally arising support of the psyche. In this way, the healing that occurs is not dependent on external measures, but cues the internal existing resources, such as strengths, experiences, talents, and passions. Somatic Experiencing (SE) practitioners trust, with enough safety and awareness, in our inherent capacity for completion and balance. Some somatic practitioners may use other tools in tandem with SE for early stabilization and regulation, but they are used carefully and in the context of developing further safety, regulation, and containment.

What does a typical Somatic Experiencing (SE) session look like?
Somatic therapies do not necessarily involve touch work. Somatic Experiencing might involve light touch work to support the subtle body as it moves from the immobile state of freeze or dissociation to the active sympathetic state of action. Accompanying an arm or shoulder into an experience of awakening from freeze can have simple yet powerful effects in supporting and moving through incomplete self-protective responses. However, touch work is not a requirement to healing. Sessions typically run from 60 to 90 minutes. We will start by spending some time grounding and orienting, moving at your own pace, and exploring only what you want to explore. As more grounding occurs we will explore sensations, impulses, emotions, and other sensory experiences. Tracking these sensations in relationship to all of your experience keeps us from going too far into traumatic memories, getting lost, or overwhelmed. This careful attunement allows you to discharge the past that is trapped in traumatic stress and highly charged survival energy. The gradual restorative health increases joy and ease, and appreciation for the simple ordinary pleasures of being alive.

What will Somatic Experiencing help me with?
A few common signs of stress impressions from past traumatic experience are: insomnia, stress sensitivity, the body not coming down from stress on its own, emotional triggers, chronic physical ailments, startle response, feeling jumpy, revenge fantasies, mental rumination, social anxiety, outbursts, compulsive behavior, avoiding associated elements (such as cars, after a car accident; relationships, if growing up with a difficult parent; or hospitals and/or doctors, after a difficult surgery).

What differentiates complex trauma from situational trauma?
Situational trauma, such as a car accident or natural disasters, surgery or an assault, are a single overwhelming event. Traumatic stress locked inside the body can be worked through in a brief therapy session. Complex trauma, such as childhood physical or emotional abuse or neglect, occurs in developmentally important relationships, and requires longer term therapy to fill in the missing gaps obscured by the preoccupation with safety. For more information on complex trauma please read, Healing Complex Trauma with Somatic Experiencing.

What are some common trauma symptoms
• anxiety, phobias, excessive thinking/worrying, hyperactivity, and panic attacks
• depression, quick mood swings, feeling stuck or lethargic, chronic fatigue
• sleep disturbances, bowel irregularity, indecisiveness
• isolating or avoidance behaviors, shyness, shame
• attraction to extreme sports, dangerous situations, or sexual edge play
• hypersensitivity to sound, light, touch, or transitions

A Somatic Experiencing related reading list.
Reading list from Peter Levine (Somatic Experiencing founder) includes ‘Waking the Tiger, Healing Trauma’, ‘Trauma through a Child’s Eyes’, ‘In An Unspoken Voice’, and ‘Trauma-Proofing your Kids’. There are other somatic therapy oriented books closely related to Somatic Experiencing such as, ‘The Body Remembers,’ by Rothschild, ‘The Body Bears the Burden’, and ‘The Trauma Spectrum’, by Scaer, ‘Polyvagal Theory’, by Porges, ‘Trauma and the Body, by Ogden, and ‘Traumatic Stress’, by Van der Kolk.
Other Somatic Experiencing Resources

Contact Joel: 510-229-9765 Oakland Office


More reading on Somatic Experiencing
In “Completion and Remembering” Peter Levine reveals how he sees the body of a traumatized individual, through his theory of Somatic Experiencing, as a kind of freeze frame of failed attempts at self-protective responses. During the overwhelm of a traumatic event the execution of the normally continuous response to threat becomes truncated. When survival biology, such as seen when the muscles throughout the body tense in patterns of highly charged readiness, becomes unable to complete that which it is readying for, then there is no discharge of the energy. The somatic response is held captive inside. Residual incomplete responses of unsuccessful attempts at defense are the core of implicit traumatic memory, and resulting traumatic stress. Somatic Experiencing sees true resolution of trauma as the completion of incomplete survival responses and the ensuing discharge of the truncated survival energy. >>> view article


More reading on Trauma and Somatic Experiencing
In “Healing Trauma Through the Body” Ariel Giarretto speaks of Somatic Experience practitioners as having the job to assist the client in tracking experience internally, physiologically, and assisting in the return to self-regulation. For traumatized clients, entering into the body and into contact with felt experience is the way through symptomatic distress. Somatic experiencing does not avoid but takes the client into the source of the symptomology, knowing this as the clear way to finally healing trauma. Through following the body’s wisdom we are are led to experience what didn’t get to happen in the past traumatic event. The self-protective and discharge process finally gets to complete, moving trauma symptoms out of the body, allowing the nervous system to return to a pre-traumatic capacity for full somatic experiencing. >>> view article

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somatic experiencing

Internalized tension from a past difficult experience remains stuck in non-cognitive regions of the brain.

Somatic Experiencing includes the felt-sense of the body, releasing the tension patterns contributing to physical and emotional symptoms.


Emotional abuse or neglect in early relationships affects our capacity for communication, intimacy, and healthy boundaries later on.

Psychotherapy allows the working through of relational challenges in the presence of a safe and caring guide.