Somatic comes from the root word, soma, which means the body. Originally developed by Dr. Peter Levine, Somatic Experiencing (SE) is a body-oriented approach for healing from traumatic or overwhelming life situations and chronic stress with a specific focus on emotional regulation, arousal modulation, and the biological discharge, release and completion of self-protective responses (orienting / fight / flight / freeze). It helps people to move out of immobility and freeze (collapse / shutdown), into more flow, embodiment and aliveness, which in turns supports us to engage socially and sustain intimate relationships.
Processing trauma is not the same thing as simply talking about it. Focusing exclusively on the story or cognitive content can bring up a highly activated state of survival energy with no opportunity for resolution of the built up charge in the body. SE emphasizes the renegotiating of traumatic or stressful experiences to achieve resolution and experience empowered triumph and balance.
SE can support you to befriend and come back into your body in a safer way, and work through dissociation and fragmentation to greater wholeness and presence.
Somatic Experiencing focuses on:
- using sensory awareness to help your nervous system to settle and re-establish the body’s felt sense of itself
- building confidence to notice sensations and emotions with curiosity without bracing, judging them, panicking against them or getting overwhelmed, so you are less likely to lose yourself in the flood, act out, or self-medicate
- finding more flexibility in your responses to life’s stressors as opposed to being stuck in hyper-arousal and hypo-arousal
- building the capacity to tolerate both pleasure and pain through the skill of titration (taking on one small amount of emotion or sensation at a time until it integrates)
- self-nurturing and self-soothing to support settling and containment
- coming back to your Window of Tolerance as well as growing your window or capacity for resilience
- restoring healthy boundaries and connection with yourself and others
- working with interoception (your internal awareness of body sensations), exteroception and neuroception (your awareness of safety or threat in the environment), and proprioception (your body’s felt sense of itself in relation to gravity, pressure, balance and the outside world)
- settling anxiety, honouring anger and exploring healthy aggression
- recognizing the tendency to disregard or override your body responses and learning to heed their wisdom
SE sessions sometimes involve working with various body systems and micromovements within them, like the muscles, fascia, eyes, jaw, joints, diaphragms, organs, and breath. SE sessions sometimes involve the gentle use of touch (either on or off the massage table) to support settling in the nervous system or renegotiation of survival responses, or more active exercises involving physical contact to mobilize energy or explore relational dynamics, embodied selfhood, or freedom of expression. However, SE Touchwork is not mandatory to experience some of the benefits of SE and is only used with full informed consent.
For more information about the process of Somatic Experiencing, visit www.traumahealing.org. Somatic Experiencing also draws extensively on polyvagal theory developed by Dr. Stephen Porges.