What is Somatic Experiencing?

somatic experiencing

Somatic experiencing is a method of therapy developed in order to help relieve and resolve symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and any other trauma-related problems, mental or physical, by focusing on the physical sensations of any given patient. This body-oriented method of trauma therapy was first introduced in 1997, in Peter A. Levine’s book Waking the Tiger. In this book, Levine discusses his observations of animals living in the wild, and how they avoid traumatization in reacting to life-threatening circumstances and situations. He concluded that we, as human beings, can learn quite a bit from the biological healing process of animals, and suggested that “the key to healing traumatic symptoms in humans lies in our being able to mirror the fluid adaption of wild animals”. (p. 17–18)

The Development of a Vital Therapeutic Practice

However, this therapeutic method did not merely originate from an extensive observation of wild animals – it is the result of an extensive, multidisciplinary study of stress physiology, etiology, psychology, biology, indigenous healing practices, neuroscience, and medical biophysics. Before Levine published his findings, he engaged in nearly 45 years of successful clinical application, and the continued success of this therapeutic method has prompted many trauma treatment centers (such as Next Chapter) to utilize the technique as a part of their overall programs of healing and recovery.

Somatic experiencing (SE) was founded on the understanding that all trauma-related symptoms are byproducts of autonomic nervous system deregulation. The autonomic nervous system (ANS) is inherently designed to self-regulate, though this innate capacity is undermined by significant trauma. SE is based on the ability of mammals to automatically regulate inherent survival responses that originate from the non-verbal, primitive brain, mediated by the ANS. Wild animals will release or discharge extraneous energy once they are safe from harm – humans, on the other hand, store their natural survival reactions and the excess energy within their physical bodies, resulting in a wide range of lasting personal problems. SE essentially restores the capacity to self-regulate by facilitating a physical release of this stored energy. According to Levine, trauma lives in the physical body rather than in the actual event or experience.

How Does Somatic Experiencing Work?

Somatic experiencing sessions usually take place in a one-on-one, face-to-face setting. The SE approach addresses the root causes of trauma and related issues, while facilitating a physical release of stored energy. The facilitating therapist will gently guide the patient through memories of the event, helping him to develop an increased tolerance for uncomfortable and unpleasant bodily sensations and suppressed emotions. The trauma itself may have initially begun as acute stress resulting directly from a perceived threat to safety or life, or as the resulting productive of long-term, accumulative stress. Both types of stress can greatly impair functioning and resiliency. Traumatic stressors may include accidents, sexual or physical assault, long-term emotional, psychological, or physical abuse, neglect, loss, invasive medical procedures, war, natural disasters, or ongoing conflict or fear.

We at Next Chapter utilize somatic experiencing to help our male patients overcome the devastating effects of trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder. However, SE is just one of many proven therapeutic techniques that we employ as part of a comprehensive and highly individualized trauma and addiction treatment program. For more information on our trauma treatment program for men, please feel free to call us today at 1-561-563-8407.