"Held within the symptoms of trauma are the very energies, potential and resources necessary for their constructive transformation" Peter Levine
Somatic Experiencing® (SE) is a body-centered therapeutic approach to healing from traumatic or overwhelming life situations and chronic stress. This approach to therapy is about supporting the body as it re-negotiates the effects of trauma which have become trapped within its physiology, bringing the nervous system back into regulation so that vitality, ease and a sense of aliveness can be recovered.
Symptoms resulting from trauma may look like anxiety, depression, addiction, numbness, or a host of complex symptoms that do not appear to make sense. By gradually reconnecting with bodily sensations, feelings and making meaning of our experiences we begin to release the intense survival energies that have been keeping our nervous system in a state of hyperarousal (stress) or hypoarousal (collapse, freeze). Somatic Experiencing is a highly effective approach for learning how to be more relaxed and present in life, attuned to our deepest needs and orientated towards health.
Somatic Experiencing is the life's work of Dr. Peter A. Levine, resulting from his multidisciplinary study of stress physiology, psychology, ethology, biology, neuroscience, indigenous healing practices, and medical biophysics, together with over 45 years of successful clinical application.
PTSD occurs when the body is unable to complete the stress cycle following a traumatic event and the normal re-regulatory mechanisms are interrupted in some way. It’s as if a part of us is locked into that traumatic time and is unable to let go. We find ourselves returning to a distraught or overwhelming place again and again, often without any warning at all. The trauma symptoms are the body's way to 'manage' the unused energy that has not been able to release naturally. These defensive strategies and symptoms have an inherent intelligence and were adapted to help us survive, although they may no longer serve our greatest health and evolution. We must learn to work sensitively and respectfully to support their gradual transformation in a way that the nervous system can integrate.
When these intense survival energies that have been bound in the nervous system are discharged, people frequently experience a dramatic reduction in or disappearance of their traumatic symptoms.
The transformation process can allow people to deepen their sense of self and others. The healing journey can be an 'awakening' to untapped resources and feelings of empowerment. With the help of these new allies, people can open portals to transformation and achieve an increased sense of aliveness and flow in their lives.
Sometimes there is not one single traumatic event, but rather a build up of stressful circumstances that lead to overwhelm. In these situations there is no time to recover and often lack of support to complete or de-activate the stress cycle. As a consequence we may become either hypersensitive and reactive to the most insignificant stimulus, or completely numb and unresponsive to our surroundings. We can get stuck in cycles that debilitate us and it can often seem as if there is no way to escape these patterns that have formed. When the nervous system is overwhelmed, we experience over-arousal and disorganization, often called dysregulation. This can lead to debilitating symptoms of panic, anxiety, depression, shame and disconnection, among others.
When this happens the body needs support to complete the activation cycle, regulate itself again and in many cases realise that the danger has now passed. We may know this cognitively but for the body to regain balance and regulation we need to help the body feel safe again. Somatic Experiencing acceses the physiology underlying our cognitive knowing so that we may develop more resilience, and a felt sense of safety and ease as we learn to meet life more fully.
The physiology of our trauma and threat response is controlled by the survival brain and the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS). The ANS is responsible for regulating all the basic functions of our body like movement, our five senses, heart rate, breathing, digestion, excretion, hormones and immune system. When there is a threat, the ANS activates what is known as the stress cycle. This is an entirely unconscious response, hardwired into us to deal with physical threats. When all is well, the ANS activates the stress cycle, and then de-activates it, or completes it, when the event is over. When we are traumatised, the ANS cannot complete the cycle or de-activate the stress response. The survival brain thinks the danger is still present and the traumatised person will experience a sense of threat and the corresponding physiological responses even when their external conditions are neutral or safe. This results in symptoms of nervous system overwhelm and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
A key thing to remember about our ANS response is that it operates automatically and without our conscious control. This means we cannot just decide to “sort ourselves out” or “pull ourselves together". We have to work with the unconscious survival brain and ANS first, and then the conscious mind, to let our survival brain understand that the danger has passed, and help the whole nervous system return to healthy regulation and a felt sense of safety.
If you are interested, please take a look at my offerings, to see how we can work together in this way.