Somatic Experiencing

Somatic Experiencing;
a bio-physiological approach to healing trauma.

Somatic Experiencing addresses core nervous system functioning. It resolves stuck symptoms of past adverse events that remain in non-cognitive regions of the brain, such as; relational or shock trauma. A somatic approach allows us to get more and more settling with every session around the felt-sense of our physical restrictions and emotional contractions.

What is Somatic Experiencing?

Somatic Experiencing therapy addresses the stress of trauma, such as; abuse, assault, car accidents, war, surgeries, or impact falls. Balancing attention of internal experience with external orientation, in the presence of safe and reliable support, we can free up the subtle tension forces in the body. With Somatic Experiencing (SE) we are left feeling calm, safe, and supported in the world. Curious what a session looks like?

Somatic Experiencing Therapy

somatic experiencing heals trauma by leveraging our naturalistic intelligence.

How does Somatic Experiencing work?

Somatic Experiencing reduces the effects of stress from past difficult events, increasing spontaneity. You may feel more internal stability and ease in a single session. This early beneficial effect sets the stage for the careful working through of past trauma and other physiological symptoms of ptsd.

Somatic Experiencing falls within the mindfulness lineage to therapy, supporting the body and mind in a seamless flow. By bringing more resource, clarity, and general ease in the body, it allows you to stay grounded during states of challenging activity, including highly stressful 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 overwhelm you into anxiety, reactivity, depression, or other emotional trauma symptoms. This resiliency is incredibly supportive for future endeavors.

How do I know if it’s working?

Client’s report feeling more ease, less anxiety, irritability, frustration, anger or other emotional triggers. That said, depending on the kind of trauma, the amount of stress involved, and your personal resilience, therapy sessions can range from 3 to 12 before feeling a shift of lasting positive change.

What if I have complex trauma from early relational abuse?

Situational trauma, such as a car accident or natural disaster, surgery or an assault, are considered shock trauma. The resulting PTSD, or traumatic stress locked inside the body, can be worked through in less frequent visits. Complex trauma, such as childhood physical or emotional abuse or neglect, requires longer term therapy to fill in the missing gaps obscured by the early preoccupation with safety. For more information on complex trauma please read, Complex Trauma and Somatic Experiencing.

Some Somatic Experiencing (SE) practitioners may use other tools in tandem with SE for early states of regulation, such as bodywork. However, they are used carefully and in the context of developing further safety, attunement, and containment within the therapeutic relationship.

Does a typical Somatic Experiencing (SE) session involve touch?

Somatic Experiencing might involve light touch work to support your movement from the passive state of dissociation to the active sympathetic state of action. However, touch work is not a requirement to healing. 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. 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 illness, startle response, feeling jumpy, revenge fantasies, mental vigilence, social anxiety, outbursts, or addictive behavior. Somatic Experiencing is also a strong tool in supporting the restoration of stability and integration after a spiritual crisis, which can open the body’s containment strategy more than it can safely process.

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 traditional 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 other therapeutic forms of training they have had.

Somatic Experiencing can be a complete therapy of it’s own. It is also used as supplemental therapy to specifically address traumatic material arising to the surface in other forms of therapy. As we open in our respective therapies the body may release stuck traumatic material from the past. This can be confusing and difficult without enough training in the biophysiological forces involved.

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 early process, 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, and panic attacks
• depression, quick mood swings, feeling stuck or lethargic, chronic fatigue
• sleep disturbance, digestion problems, difficulty making decisions
• isolating or avoidance behaviors, shyness, shame
• attraction to extreme sports, dangerous situations, or edgy sexual play
• being extra sensitive to sound, light, touch, or transitions

Contact Joel: 510-229-9765 Oakland Office

Integrative Trauma Treatment

With a clinical concentration on trauma, I have wonderful collaborative experiences working with Acupuncture and Naturopathic practitioners. I have found their specific skill and understanding around the structural complexities of long-term traumatic stress on the body to contribute to my client’s restorative health. For more on this Integrative Trauma Treatment approach, please see Acupuncture and Somatic Experiencing as well as Naturopathic Medicine and Somatic Experiencing.

For a Somatic Experiencing approach to working with families struggling after a birth, please see birth trauma recovery, also an integrative approach.
More reading on Somatic Experiencing

Peter Levine

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 stuck self-protective responses. When the muscles throughout the body tense in patterns of highly charged readiness, become unable to complete that which it is readying for, then there is no discharge of the energy. The somatic response is held captive inside. Somatic Experiencing sees true resolution of trauma as the completion of incomplete survival responses and the ensuing discharge of truncated survival energy.

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, 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 trauma symptom, knowing this as the clear way to finally healing trauma. Through following the body’s wisdom we are led to experience what didn’t get to happen in the past traumatic event.

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