Somatic Experiencing is an amazing therapeutic tool that is very effective in facilitating the healing of all kinds of trauma. It is a body based Psychotherapy aimed at releasing physical, emotional and psychological shock, specifically associated with stress and trauma. The significance is that SE recognizes that many emotional and physical symptoms that culminate as a result of traumatic experience, and trauma itself are recognised as physiological process that can be healed.

Flight, fight, freeze

Within nature, wild animals have an innate mechanism that regulate and neutralize the high levels of arousal that are associated with predation. During an attack the body revs up quickly, going into fight or flight mode, and in the process releasing cortisol and adrenaline which provide the necessary energy for reflex action. Muscles tense, breathing gets shallow, and the heart beats faster in order to provide extra energy/oxygen to major muscles. Once the danger is over, cortisol and adrenaline are discharged from the muscle, whilst built up tension is released through tremoring. Once the energy has been discharged, the body once again relaxes and returns to its original state of balance. In this way, wild animals rarely carry the adverse effects of trauma.

Recognising and observing this natural behaviour by animals, Dr Peter Levine was able to develop Somatic Experiencing. Dr Levine acknowledged that humans have lost the instinct to tremor and release trauma which then consequently gets trapped into the neuromuscular system, with the body becoming stuck in a state of flight or fight. He established that the body subsequently, is easily triggered into this state; and unable to relax and feel safe. At the slightest provocation, the amygdala (the instinctual part of the brain) sounds the alarm bells signalling danger, even if the more rational part of the brain, (the cortex), registers that imminent danger is not life threatening. Consequently, a tendency for “over-reaction and hyper-vigilance” becomes habitual within a person, as if the nervous system is stuck on “on position”.

Alternatively, the nervous system is also designed in such a way that if the fight and flight modes are not possible, then the body will go into a “freeze mode”. This is a built-in self-protection mechanism is there to reduce the experience of pain. When an unbearable / life threatening situation appears imminent, the body releases endorphins, which result in the body experiencing numbing, immobilisation, dissociation and disconnection. Should this state not be released, it will culminate into feelings of being numb, dead inside, disconnected, depressed, frozen and empty, signifying that the nervous system is stuck on “off position”.

How Somatic Experience helps

When a person has traumatised, and especially when there have been repeated instances, there is a tendency that they will disconnect from their bodies as a way of protecting themselves. In these instances, it is simply too difficult or painful to be consciously aware of the pain that they carry in the body. Using SE, a therapist will be able to gently assists the client to be able to reconnect with their body by teaching them to track their sensations whilst discussing their issue.

Once a person is able to pay more attention to, and becomes better connected to their body, their mind and body is then once again able to work in harmony thus allowing for a sense of coherence, or wholeness. By being able to bring about a resonance between the mind and the body, the never-ending chatter of the mind will come to a stop, thus allowing a person to once again rest in the “here and now”. This process therefore is able to bring huge relief to many people suffering unnecessarily.

For more on Somatic Experiencing refer to:

Levine, Peter “In An Unspoken Voice, How the Body Releases Trauma and Restores Goodness”, North Atlantic books, 2010.