Somatic Therapy

 

“Trauma is in the nervous system, not in the event.”
– Peter Levine

 

 

It’s a simple fact of life.

Nobody gets through life without experiencing trauma.

Trauma is not always the “big” things, like physical or sexual assault, major accidents, or war.

Trauma can also occur in one’s nervous system in response to minor surgery, accidents such as a car crash or sports injury, or from not having the emotional attunement we needed as babies or young children.

Your body also responds to trauma.

As a result of trauma, our nervous systems can get stuck in chronic stress resulting in a fight, flight, or freeze response. Sometimes we don’t “see” this (like a fish in water) until we exit it and uncoil the traumatic patterning.

Trauma is essentially a disorder of the ability to be in the here-and-now, and Somatic Experiencing® offers guidance that leads back home to the present moment by considering the body response to trauma – “Soma” = body.

What is Somatic Experiencing® (SE)?

Somatic Experiencing® is a method developed by Dr. Peter Levine for working with trauma and stress disorders. This method draws from the latest understanding of neuroscience, other branches of science, and indigenous healing practices.

The basic idea is that stress from traumatic events (such as accidents, natural disasters, medical procedures, political or war trauma, birth trauma, childhood trauma, sexual or physical assault) can get “stuck” in the body, creating problems.

Many mental and physical health issues, such as PTSD, anxiety, depression, anger and aggression, chronic inflammation, and pain, have their roots in unresolved trauma.

SE® holds that people have the innate capacity to heal, and body awareness allows us to tap into the internal wisdom that guides this healing.

The human response to trauma is different.

Wild animals do not hold trauma in their bodies like people do because they experience full trauma responses when threatened. Those responses include mobilizing chemicals and hormones to fight or flight and then “discharging” this accumulation through shaking, trembling, panting, or bucking.

On the other hand, humans override and inhibit those responses with our rational brain, creating incomplete or thwarted trauma responses.

The body holds the memory of what it wanted to happen, and SE® works with the body’s physiology to help uncover that response and complete it. The SE practitioner (SEP) gently guides the client to use body sensations, imagery, behaviors, emotions and meaning to help regulate the nervous system and restore it to balance and healthy function.

SEP is a title I have earned through completing three years of training from the Somatic Experiencing® International, 12+ hours of personal SE® sessions, and 18 hours of clinical consultation.

The nervous system, in a nutshell…

The autonomic nervous system operates involuntarily, regulating our bodies’ basic functions, including our internal organs. It is responsible for our survival responses.

The sympathetic nervous system branch (SNS) is responsible for the fight-or-flight responses needed to mobilize and defend oneself (the “gas” to get going).

The parasympathetic nervous system helps us rest and relax – it puts the “brake” on the SNS. The SNS and PNS work together rhythmically to support healthy functioning, but with traumatic stress, this is interrupted. The brake and gas can be on at the same time, leading to dysregulated nervous system responses. If there is too much SNS activation, the PNS may act as an emergency brake, leading to freeze or collapse (manifesting as depression, lack of motivation, chronic fatigue, or other complex syndromes).

When a nervous system becomes stuck in dysregulation, there can be near-constant reminders that something is up that needs tending. It will knock loudly and persistently at your door, with the goal of renegotiation and transformation.

Heal trauma at the source – the nervous system.

Elements of SE® will be woven into our sessions together, as appropriate, and only at a pace that suits you. This pace is slow and gentle work. Besides listening to you, I will be observing your nervous system’s responses to what you are saying.

SE® not only addresses your thoughts and feelings, it also drops into the “felt-sense,” which accesses inner bodily sensations. From this place, there is so much more with which to work, and it gets exciting!

If talk therapy has only gotten you as far as you can go and you have the sense that it’s time to go into the body for that untapped innate wisdom we all have – then, by all means, let’s go there.