A mixture of the fields of biophysics and psychology, somatic experiencing therapy, or SE, is gaining recognition for helping trauma victims recover. The therapy, borrowing strategies from the classic “fight or flight” response to trauma, is especially notable because it can be applied across the gamut – for children who have been in an accident, or for victims of violence or sexual abuse.
Developed by Dr. Peter Levine, somatic experiencing therapy may help move a person forward from the “frozen” image or memory of their traumatic experience. When a person encounters a traumatic situation, they may either fight back, get away, or not act on their urges, said to be the “thwart” response. It’s in not acting, or not being able to act, that the emotional damage is done, say experts.
When the body emits adrenaline during a moment of fear or trauma, but can’t then release it by fighting or escaping, the person’s reaction can stay with them for years and hold them back on many levels. The pent-up adrenalin and emotion related to the event can cause physical and emotional blockages that somatic experiencing therapy can help release.
Letting go of those chemicals connected to the trauma is the goal of somatic experiencing therapists. The negative memories are trapped at a physical level, and must be let go at a physical level, but SE therapy also combines cognitive, behavioral and sensory-related treatments. Additionally, a feeling of disconnectedness can result from trauma when the inability to fight or flight freezes the person’s response. Somatic experiencing therapy can counteract this disconnection because it acts on the nervous system.
At times during SE therapy the patient can describe the traumatic experience and then talk about the body senses or mental images that come up, many times with the eyes closed. The therapist can guide the patient through somatic experience tasks that help release stored emotions, which can be shut down at various levels within the nervous system, for example.
When somatic experiencing treatments are completed, the person often reports a feeling of being free and more engaged with life, as well as decreases in levels of physical pain and the absence of other problems with mental connections.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is a type of trauma that therapists say can be contained within a person’s body over time and can be released through somatic experiencing treatments. People who have endured other types of trauma, such as a lengthy illnesses, domestic violence, natural disasters or abuse as a child can also benefit from somatic experiencing therapy.
As the trained somatic experiencing therapist guides the patient’s session, the treatment may require the patient to be very present with their body and to talk about different sensations they are experiencing as they begin to release stored emotions. In this way, SE differs from other types of therapy. A sense of confidence and the ability to face the traumatic experience again without the negative emotions can also be a benefit of this unique type of drug-free trea