Somatic Experiencing: Powerful Therapy for Healing Trauma
Somatic Experiencing helps individuals come out of states of freeze, hyperarousal or constriction by giving self-corrective experiences that enable individuals to regain their sense of safety, power, and orientation. Trauma research has shown that individuals, at the time of experiencing a trauma, are unable to engage in appropriate fight or flight actions and, hence, have to protect themselves by entering a “dissociative” or “freeze” state. By approaching the traumatic experience in small portions, Somatic Experiencing is able to work with managable levels of activation and, hence, work safely and effectively with the trauma. Working safely with the trauma allows effective work to occur. The results of therapy are often less hypervigilence, more calmness, less chonic pain or fatigue, less anxiety and tension in one’s body, more energy and a greater sense of power, voice and aliveness in one’s life. In otherwords, true healing from the traumatic experience occurs. This is a powerful model and individuals like working with it due to its safety, and effectiveness.
Examples of How Somatic Experiencing Works
First, take a car accident. If an individual gets hit by a car and does not see the car coming, then the individual will go into shock and protect themselves through dissociation and freeze mechanisms. What the individual wanted to do at the time of the trauma was to “orient” to the car (by turning their head to see the car), then put their foot on the accelerator and turn the the steering wheel in order to avoid the accident. These avoid-the-car actions are also called the “fight or flight” mechanisms. Somatic Experiencing creates corrective experiences for individuals by helping these “fight or flight” protective actions be re-experienced in relation to the trauma at the sensory level, thereby enabling the client to re-gain their sense of safety, power and joy in life.
Second, take chronic pain. Somatic Experiencing works directly with somatic (bodily) symptoms, by having clients learn a form of “sensory mindfulness” in relation to their places of pain, pleasure or neutral areas. Paradoxically, bringing mindfulness alone to places of tension can bring relief. Then, most usefully, when the client senses “somatic resources” (body areas that are neutral or feel good), and moves (“pendulates”) back and forth between the painful versus neutral or “good feeling” areas, this awakens the body’s self-healing mechanisms and trauma begins to be healed at the somatic level.
Learn More About Somatic Experiencing
Above are just two examples of the wide variety of tools that exist within the repertoire of Somatic Experiencing. For more information, I would refer you to the book, “Waking the Tiger,” by Peter Levine, the founder of Somatic Experiencing. He has also more recently written a book with Maggie Kline entitled: “Trauma Through a Child’s Eyes,” which is a good resource for parents, if their child should experience trauma, whether that be in the form of a fall, surgury, abuse, or witnessing something disturbing.