SOMATIC EXPERIENCING (SE) is a psychobiological method for resolving trauma symptoms and relieving chronic stress. This approach to therapy was developed by Dr.Peter Levine as a result of his multidisciplinary study of stress physiology, psychology, ethology, biology, neuroscience, indigenous healing practices, and medical biophysics. The SE approach releases traumatic shock, which is key to transforming PTSD and the wounds of emotional and early developmental attachment trauma.
Trauma and the Science Behind SE
Trauma may begin as acute stress from a perceived life-threat or as the end product of cumulative stress. Both types of stress can seriously impair a person’s ability to function with resilience and ease. Trauma may result from a wide variety of stressors such as accidents, invasive medical procedures, sexual or physical assault, emotional abuse, neglect, war, natural disasters, loss, birth trauma, or the corrosive stressors of ongoing fear and conflict.
According to the findings of Dr. Levine and others ( Scaer, 2005; Bessel Van Der Kolk, 2014) trauma is not caused by the event itself, but rather develops through the failure of the body, psyche, and nervous system to process adverse events. Under threat, massive amounts of energy are mobilized in readiness for self-defense via the fight, flight, and freeze response. All mammals automatically regulate survival responses from a primitive part of the brain which impacts autonomic nervous system (ANS) responses. Once safe, animals spontaneously “discharge” this excess energy through involuntary movements including shaking, trembling, and deep spontaneous breaths. This discharge process resets the ANS, restoring equilibrium. Humans can disrupt our innate capacity to self-regulate by our emotional and cognitive responses and fear of bodily sensations. Unresolved physiological distress can also lead to an array of other physical, cognitive, emotional, and behavioral symptoms. When the nervous system does not reset after an overwhelming experience, sleep, cardiac, digestion, respiration, and immune system functioning are altered.
How SE Works
SE facilitates the completion of self-protective motor responses and the release of thwarted survival energy bound in the body, thus addressing the root cause of trauma symptoms. This is approached by gently guiding clients to develop increasing tolerance for difficult bodily sensations and suppressed emotions.
SE does not require the traumatized person to re-tell or re-live the traumatic event. Instead, it offers the opportunity to engage, complete, and resolve—in a slow and supported way—the body’s instinctual fight, flight, freeze, and collapse responses. SE supports corrective bodily experiences that contradict those of fear and helplessness. This resets the nervous system, restores inner balance, enhances resilience to stress, and increases people’s capacity to actively engage in life.