Clinical Mental Health Counselor








Overview of Somatic Experiencing

  • Goals
    • Release trauma.
    • Learn how to be comfortable in your own body.
    • Build resiliency.
    • Learn to recognize what healthy is.

  • Trauma: Two Types
    • Type 1: Developmental trauma
      Is determined by the maturity of the nervous system and stage of life:
      Children and teenagers are not yet mature enough to handle certain experiences.
      The elderly or the sick are not strong enough to handle certain experiences.
    • Type 2: Shock trauma
      Such as car accident, natural disaster, domestic violence, war, sudden loss.
      This includes both having the experience or witnessing it happening to another.

  • Trauma occurs when there is more activation than can be successfully discharged.
    The nervous system becomes overwhelmed.
    New trauma can layer over old trauma.
    • Current definition of trauma as only Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
      is too narrow.
    • Developmental and shock trauma are similar to and as severe as trauma of shell-shocked veterans.
    • Trauma can be cumulative; it can gather and build over time.

  • Trauma is in the nervous system, not in the event.
    Ability to discharge trauma varies from person to person.
    Ability to discharge naturally and effectively is effected by:
    • Genetic strength:
         Resourcefulness is transferred through the generations.
         Trauma residue is transferred through the generations.
    • In-utero experience/stress:
          Parasympathetic system (the ability to calm) does not form until after birth.
         Thus the unborn child in utero experiences the mother’s experiences as its own.
    • Experience of the 1st 18 months of life:
         The young child builds its parasympathetic system by mimicking the nervous
      system of its primary caretaker, for good or for bad.

      If the ability to discharge is compromised in the nervous system, and overwhelming experience cannot be released, the result over time is illness, psychosis, depression, and various forms of dissociation.

  • Fight, Flight, Freeze and Animals in the Wild
    Freeze is the most active in the nervous system (the most potent).
    Wild animals freeze when attacked.
    Whatever energy got stuck needs to complete. (See Reenactment below.)
    When danger is gone, they shake/tremble to finish cycle of nervous system (NS).
    Example: If animal was running when attacked, its legs will thrash in running pattern as it unfreezes. Animal has successfully discharged energy.

  • River of Energy Metaphor: A breach in the protective barrier
    Freud’s definition of trauma: “A breach in the protective barrier against stimulation, leading to overwhelming feelings of helplessness.”

    The normal “rocks” in the path of life can be handled unless overwhelming experience (trauma) diverts energy. Trauma creates a rupture in riverbank (“breach in the protective barrier”).
    • Energy flows out and creates a negative trauma vortex in the same way water would pour out of broken riverbank.
    • Flooding/overwhelm ensues.
    • Degree of injury to system depends on developmental stage and resiliency.

  • Re-enactment:
    If person continues to stay too close to the rupture, s/he can get sucked into the trauma vortex over and over (negative images, sensations, memories).
    The reenactment phase begins.
    • People who are traumatized without discharge will often attract similar injury over and over.
    • Re-enactment is nervous system’s effort to try once more to finish the interrupted cycle.
    • A healthy nervous system can move away from trauma
    • Or it can enter, recognize the discordant energy and leave quickly without damage.
    • A damaged nervous system can heal itself if supported correctly.

  • SE Basic Healing Elements Consist of:

    Knowing what gives you strength and stability, such as a positive image or memory, a neutral or pleasant body sensation that feels safe, a support system such as friends or family, pets, love of nature, exercise, enjoying art and music etc.

    Felt Sense:
    Staying in the present moment and noticing simple sensations felt in the body.
    Learn Felt Sense Vocabulary

    Pendulating or "Looping":
    Moving in and out of the trauma with support of therapist.
    Moving from trauma to resource.
    Going from the negative trauma-vortex to healing counter-vortex (resources)
    This movement is done in tiny pieces which is called Titrating.

    Dissipation of trauma as nervous system regains its fluidity.
    Remember: Trauma is fixity. Healing is fluidity.
    SE is about allowing or teaching the nervous system to return to its natural flow.

  • Triune Brain
    Reptilian Brain = Movement, Regulatory System (such as breathing)
    Limbic/Mammalian Brain = Emotion
    Neo-Cortex Brain = Cognition

    During trauma, the reptilian brain (amygdala) is lit up and links to the trauma memory.
    Other parts shut down (thinking, talking, feeling emotion)
    Thus the reptilian brain needs to be activated and worked with to release the trauma.

    This is most easily accessed by paying attention to body’s felt sense.

  • Examples of physical reactions during SE
    brought to you by the reptilian brain and the nervous system:
    • Temperature changes (hot, cold)
    • Expansion/contraction
    • Various Body Sensations
    • Tightness/Pressure
    • Goose bumps Heavyness
    • Shaking/trembling
    • Yawning
    • Stretching
    • Breath release
    • Posture changes
    • Hand movements

  • Learn Felt Sense Vocabulary

  • Emotion or Thought or the Nervous System?
    Your therapist will help you uncouple thought from sensation.
    • It’s more effective to let go of the thought and keep the sensation.
    • This releases fear more easily.

    You don’t always have to get into the emotional releases.
    Working with sensation can be enough.

    • Allow sensations to come up. Breathe through.
    • Therapist will help you let go and return to felt sense.
    • Let reptilian brain and nervous system do the healing.
    • Affect and meaning attached to trauma memory will change as nervous system shifts.
    • Focus on what the nervous system wants to do.
      • Allow your system to remember your positive resources.
      • A healing system will know when it is time to shift
        from "trauma vortex" to "healing vortex". This is called "pendulating".
      • Your therapist will guide your system until it is ready to do this on its own.

  • Principles of SE Technique
    Stabilize and build resources before working on content of trauma.
    Trauma is approached in a gentle slow way.
    Trauma is not approached directly.
    We start at the edges of the trauma and let it gently unwind.

    Example: If it is shock trauma, work on the time before and after the Event.
    By the time you get to the Event, the energy will have dissipated, and is easily handled.

    • In SE we go across the trauma just enough to produce movement/response,
      then allow release.
    • "Titrating" is releasing trauma in tiny bits so there is no flooding
      and no re-traumatizing
    •  "Pendulation" is tacking back and forth like a sailboat from trauma to resource,
      resource to trauma, trauma to resource and so forth.
    • This is all done very slowly and gently.
    •  "Trauma Vortex" is the energy of the trauma.
    • "Counter Vortex" is the energy of the healing.

  • Again, Take It Slow
    If you cycle through the release stage without feeling it, there is no benefit.
    Take time to enjoy and savor the sensations of the healing "counter-vortex".
    All of this creates client sense of control and safety.

  • It’s All About the Felt Sense
    It’s important to stay in the present moment.
    Your therapist will encourage you to feel subtle movements internally.

    If you feel the desire or impulse to move, notice the impulse.
    Imagine the impulse for movement happening very slowly.
    Allow movement to happen, don’t make it happen.
    Stay in the sensation itself.

    Your therapist will ask you these questions:
    “How do you know you feel _____?” (afraid, sad, empty, blocked, confused…)
    “ What is the sensation in your body that lets you know this? “
    “ Where is it located?”
    “What are specific qualities of that sensation?
    (size, shape, color, texture, temperature etc)

    "Let yourself feel that."
    "Notice what comes next."
    "Let me know if anything changes."

    Let your therapist know when things change or move.
    She will want to keep track of the sensations with you as they occur.


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