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.
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. For more on SE, please see; What is Somatic Experiencing?
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, Complex Trauma and Somatic Experiencing.
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 within the relationship.
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 symptoms 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).
How to choose a Somatic Experiencing Therapist
Somatic Experiencing Therapists come to SE from a diversity of health modalities, from body oriented therapies such as Massage, Acupuncture, or Jin Shin Jyutsu, to traditional talk psychotherapy, western medicine, and social services. When exploring the possibility of working with a somatic practitioner find out how they came to Somatic Experiencing, what inspired them to study, and what, if any, health training they have had.
Though Somatic Experiencing can be a complete therapy in it’s own right, it is often used as supplemental therapy to specifically address traumatic material arising to the surface. As we open in our therapy process, no matter what health modality we choose, the psyche may release entrenched traumatic material from the past. This can be confusing and difficult without enough containment. A Somatic Experiencing practitioner will spend a few sessions resourcing, establishing safety, trust, and helping you to establish a comfortable connection to your body. You should feel a sense of safety and confidence in the containment during the process of therapy, not feeling overwhelmed or concerned that you will be taking on more than you can. A good Somatic Experiencing practitioner will work with you and your system where it is able to manage and integrate difficult experience in an empowering way.
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.
Integrative Trauma Treatment
With a clinical concentration on trauma, and keeping in mind all the complex system’s in the body, I have had wonderful collaborative experiences with a Craniosacral, Acupuncture, and Naturopathic practitioner. I have found their specific skill and understanding around the structural complexities of long-term traumatic stress on the subtle body to contribute to my client’s restorative health. At your request I am happy to offer a referral to one of them should you decide during your treatment. For more on this Integrative Trauma Treatment approach, please see Acupuncture and Somatic Experiencing as well as Naturopathic Medicine and Somatic Experiencing.
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