Clinical Mental Health Counselor







Somatic Experiencing®  (SE)

"While life traumas are a fact of life, they do not need to be a life sentence. In fact, trauma can be healed with appropriate guidance and support and even become a significant force for psychological, social, and spiritual awakening and evolution."

"The instinctual repertoire of the human organism includes a deep biological knowing which, given the opportunity to do so, can and will assert itself and guide the process of healing trauma. The instinctual organism does not sit in judgment; it only does what it does. All you have to do is get out of the way.”
      Peter A. Levine Ph.D., founder of SE®. 

Somatic Experiencing® (SE) is a short-term, naturalistic trauma-healing approach that enables people to access their innate ability to work through challenges, and rebound from overwhelming experience. By tracking body sensations with simple awareness, SE is useful for healing traumatic event memory as well as the cumulative effects of sustained stresses. 

SE facilitates the healing process by helping traumatized people release stored survival energy and complete interrupted biological patterns that have gotten stuck in the nervous system.

SE is a form of Energy Psychology based in the "felt sense" of the body. According to Eugene Gendlin, who coined the term "felt sense" in his book Focusing:

"A felt sense is not a mental experience, but a physical one...A bodily awareness of a situation or person or event. An internal aura that encompasses everything you feel and know about the given subject at a given time - encompasses it and communicates it to you all at once rather than detail by detail."

Somatic tracking of  "felt sense" allows the client to notice and describe simple physical sensation without interpretation. "Tingly, heavy, fluttery, pulling in" is just an experience, and the client usually notices that by simple focusing, the sensations subside. 

Click Here for Detailed Overview of Somatic Experiencing
Click Here to become more familiar with Somatic Vocabulary

How does SE differ from other therapeutic modalities?

  • SE employs awareness of body sensation to help people "re-negotiate" and heal rather than re-live or re-enact trauma.
  • SE's guidance of this bodily "felt sense," allows the highly aroused survival energies to be safely experienced and gradually discharged.
  • SE "titrates" experience, rather than evoking catharsis. This means, experience is worked with on the outside periphery of the charge, and processed in tiny pieces.
  • SE helps eliminate re-traumatization by preventing overwhelm. By not going into the center of the trauma, resource is built, and overwhelm is prevented.
  • SE is very gentle, teaching self-awareness on the subtle level. In the discharging process, the client learns the skills of SE: how to eliminate the first signs of stress, and how to self-soothe in a very safe manner.
  • SE gradually re-builds trust in the self.

Basic to the understanding of Somatic Experiencing® is the concept that trauma is in the nervous system, not in the event. What may be easily handled by one person, may be catastrophic for another person. The way one reacts has to do with age, developmental stage of life, internal and external resources available for help, and the layering of previous trauma that has never been successfully discharged out of the system.

Trauma is cumulative. In the face of threat, all organisms enter into survival mode - a highly aroused state to enable short-term defensive reactions of running away, fighting or freezing. If these defensive mechanisms are not able to be completed due to the suddenness or the overwhelming quality of the event, these highly charged energies get bound in the body. If left undischarged, they begin to form the symptoms of trauma.

Somatic Experiencing® always begins by identifying the resources which come from the client's own experience. Resources can be many things, such as remembering previous successes no matter how small or big, appreciation of beauty, the comfort of a memory, a loved one, a pet, enjoying the song of a bird, a favorite sense memory, your favorite spot in nature, or an imagined place that is comforting, a color, a neutral sensation in the body which feels ok. Whatever the resource is, the body links to that way of comfort and creates a positive "felt sense" for the client to link to.

Resourcing thus creates an oasis of safety and a sense of stability from which to work. It is very important that the work on the trauma progress slowly, and that the client have resources in place. Many trauma survivors feel particularly betrayed by symptoms in their body. Rediscovering the body's innate capacity for healing lays a foundation for the client to begin trusting his/her own body again and eventually to come home to it.

A key concept of Somatic Experiencing® is called "pendulation" or "looping". The therapist supports the client in moving back and forth between trauma and resource in small loops. This looping back and forth helps discharge the activation in the nervous system. The client slowly works though the traumatic event feeling safe and capable of handling each piece.

Click Here for Detailed Overview of Somatic Experiencing

Click Here for Interview with Peter Levine Ph.D.

The principles of Somatic Experiencing® can also be integrated into EMDR.
Click Here to link to a description of EMDR

Click Here to link to a description of Brainspotting

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