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Somatic Experiencing :
Body-Centered Trauma Relief

Somatic Experiencing therapy (SE) is a holistic approach that has gained significant attention in the realm of trauma therapy. Somatic Experiencing (SE) is a pioneering approach to trauma therapy that focuses on the body’s innate ability to heal and restore balance. This article delves into the origins, mechanisms, and benefits of SE, drawing from a wealth of scientific literature.

We’ll also explore the differences between trauma and PTSD, how SE builds resilience, and compare it with other alternative forms of PTSD treatment.

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What is Somatic Experiencing (SE)?

Somatic Experiencing, often referred to as “somatic experience,” and SE, is a body-oriented approach to trauma therapy. It emphasizes the importance of recognizing and releasing physiological tension that remains trapped in the body following traumatic events (Kuhfuß et al., 2021).

 

Origins of SE

SE was developed by Dr. Peter Levine, inspired by his observations of animals in the wild. He noticed that animals naturally “shake off” traumatic experiences, allowing them to return to their normal state. This observation led to the development of SE as a method to help humans release trapped energy and heal from trauma (Patrick, 2021). The foundation of SE lies in the understanding that trauma has both physical and psychological consequences. 

How does SE treat trauma?

SE operates on the principle that trauma symptoms arise when our natural fight, flight, or freeze responses are thwarted. By gently guiding clients to become aware of these trapped physiological responses, SE helps them process and release this energy, facilitating deep healing therapy (Sutini et al., 2022).

The difference between trauma and PTSD

While trauma refers to a distressing or disturbing experience, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a condition where individuals continue to experience symptoms like flashbacks, nightmares, and severe anxiety long after the traumatic event has passed (Lee & Stein, 2022).

 

How does somatic experience help build resilience?

SE therapy focuses on the body’s ability to self-regulate. By helping individuals recognize and navigate their bodily sensations, SE empowers them to manage their stress responses better.

SE not only aids in trauma resolution but also strengthens resilience. By learning to tune into their bodies and process emotions, individuals can better handle future stressors and challenges (Hetherington & Gentile, 2022).

 

Other alternative forms of PTSD treatment

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)

CBT is a widely-used therapeutic approach that focuses on identifying and changing negative thought patterns and behaviors related to the trauma. Through CBT, individuals learn coping strategies and ways to reframe their traumatic experiences, leading to symptom reduction (Pierce & Black, 2021).

 

Ketamine Assisted Therapy

Research has explored the use of low doses of the anesthetic drug ketamine in treating PTSD symptoms. Ketamine has shown promise in rapidly reducing symptoms, especially in individuals who haven’t responded to other treatments (Lee & Stein, 2022).

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Mindfulness-Based CBT

This approach combines traditional CBT techniques with mindfulness strategies. It aims to help individuals with PTSD develop a non-judgmental awareness of their traumatic memories, reducing avoidance and promoting healing (Banks et al., 2015).

 

Exposure Therapy for Trauma

This therapeutic approach involves the gradual and controlled exposure of individuals to reminders of their trauma. The aim is to reduce the avoidance behaviors and fear associated with these reminders. Over time, the individual learns that the reminders are not threatening, leading to a decrease in PTSD symptoms (Lee & Stein, 2022).

 

Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS)

TMS is a non-invasive procedure that uses magnetic fields to stimulate nerve cells in the brain. It’s been shown to be effective in treating depression and is now being explored as a potential treatment for PTSD (Pierce & Black, 2021).

 

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)

EMDR is a unique therapeutic approach that involves guiding individuals to process traumatic memories through specific eye movements. This process helps to desensitize the individual to the traumatic memory, leading to symptom reduction (Sutini et al., 2022).

 

How Somatic Experiencing is Different Than other Approaches

Unlike other therapies that focus primarily on the mind, SE emphasizes the interconnectedness of the body and mind. It addresses the physiological aspects of trauma, making it a holistic approach to healing (Pierce & Black, 2021).

 

What New Clients Can Expect

During an SE session, therapists guide clients to notice bodily sensations and emotions. Through gentle questioning and observation, therapists help clients release trapped energy and restore equilibrium (Rivkah & Gentile, 2022). Therapists will help clients to recognize, understand, and navigate body sensations, leading to better stress and affect management.

SE & Deep Healing THerapy

Deep healing therapy refers to approaches that facilitate profound transformation and healing. SE, with its focus on releasing deep-seated trauma, is a prime example of deep healing therapy (Kuhfuß et al., 2021).

 

Some normal things to feel during Somatic Experiencing Therapy

Some clients feel tired after completing a somatic therapy session.  Engaging with deep-seated traumas and navigating intense bodily sensations can be exhausting. The release of energy and emotions can be exhausting. As the body processes and heals, it’s natural to feel fatigued (Patrick, 2021).

During SE, it’s normal to experience a range of emotions and bodily sensations. Individuals might feel sadness, anger, relief, or even joy. Physically, they might experience tingling, warmth, cold, or other sensations. These are all part of the body’s way of processing trauma.

Therapist Tips for Clients just Starting

  • Choose a certified SE practitioner: Being confident that your provider is competent and well trained allows for feelings of safety, connection and openness. 
    Stay Open:
     Approach SE with an open mind and heart. Be ready to engage with your bodily sensations.
    Communicate: Always communicate with your therapist about what you’re feeling.
  • Practice Self-Care: Ensure you have relaxation techniques or coping mechanisms in place for post-session.
  • Trust the Process: Healing is a journey. Trust the process and give yourself the time and space to heal.

Final Thoughts on SOMATIC EXPERIENCING THERAPY

In conclusion, Somatic Experiencing offers a unique and effective approach to trauma therapy. By addressing both the physiological and psychological aspects of trauma, SE facilitates deep healing and resilience.

 

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References:

  1. Banks, K., Newman, E., & Saleem, J. (2015). An Overview of the Research on Mindfulness-Based Interventions for Treating Symptoms of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder: A Systematic Review. J Clin Psychol, 71(10), 935-963. https://dx.doi.org/10.1002/jclp.22200
  2. Hetherington, R., & Gentile, F. (2022). Healing boundaries: a teenager’s experience of art therapy integrated with Somatic Experiencing. International Journal of Art Therapy. https://dx.doi.org/10.1080/17454832.2022.2080239
  3. Kuhfuß, M., Maldei, T., Hetmanek, A., & Baumann, N. (2021). Somatic experiencing – effectiveness and key factors of a body-oriented trauma therapy: a scoping literature review. European Journal of Psychotraumatology. https://dx.doi.org/10.1080/20008198.2021.1929023
  4. Lee, H. J., & Stein, M. (2022). Update on treatments for anxiety-related disorders. Current Opinion in Psychiatry. https://dx.doi.org/10.1097/YCO.0000000000000841
  5. Patrick, Daniel J. (2021). Somatic Experiencing and Expressive Arts Therapy to Support Autonomic Regulation in Trauma Treatment with Adults: A Literature Review. Expressive Therapies Capstone Theses, 418. https://digitalcommons.lesley.edu/expressive_theses/418
  6. Pierce, Z. P., & Black, J. (2021). The Neurophysiology Behind Trauma-Focused Therapy Modalities Used to Treat Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Across the Life Course: A Systematic Review. Trauma, Violence, & Abuse. https://dx.doi.org/10.1177/15248380211048446
  7. Rivkah (Rebecca) Hetherington & Federico Gentile (2022) Healing boundaries: a teenager’s experience of art therapy integrated with Somatic Experiencing, International Journal of Art Therapy, 27:4, 190-197, DOI: 10.1080/17454832.2022.2080239
  8. Sutini, T., Emaliyawati, E., Sodiqiah, S. N., Mawaddah, S., Purba, F. Y. Y., Rizkiani, A., & Amatullah, D. U. (2022). The Use of Trauma Healing in Treating PTSD in Post-Disaster Victims: A Narrative Review. Jurnal Keperawatan Komprehensif. https://dx.doi.org/10.33755/jkk.v8i4.408