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Somatic Experiencing®

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The Somatic Experiencing ® (SE) method is a gentle body-oriented approach to the healing of trauma and other stress disorders. The core function of SE is to bring an aliveness back to the body, to reclaim the parts that are lost, frozen, hiding and constricted. SE is designed to be integrated into other practices. I am currently an Advanced SE student and will weave SE into the insight herbalism sessions, with plants offering a resource to delve deeper into the trauma process.

 

This is a science-based approach to physical and psychological symptoms of stress, shock and trauma. It works with the body’s natural self-regulating systems. It is based on a multidisciplinary intersection of physiology, psychology, ethology, biology, neuroscience, indigenous healing practices, and medical biophysics and has been clinically applied for more than four decades. It is the life’s work of pioneering trauma specialist, Dr. Peter A. Levine. The SE approach releases traumatic shock, which is key to transforming PTSD and the wounds of emotional and early developmental attachment trauma. It offers a framework to assess where a person is “stuck” in the fight, flight or freeze responses and provides clinical tools to resolve these fixated physiological states.

How it works

Trauma may begin as acute stress from a perceived life-threat or as the end product of cumulative chronic stress and unsafety. 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.

SE is not a focussed talking therapy, not about delving into the past, instead SE gives you the skills to observe, listen and track your own physiology, in the present moment, what Dr Levine calls the 'felt sense'. SE can support understanding how your sensations and impulses are a reflection of the trauma your body holds and gives you the skills to release them. 

The Somatic Experiencing approach 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 you to develop increasing tolerance for difficult bodily sensations and suppressed emotions. Dr. Levine was inspired to study stress on the animal nervous system when he realized that animals are constantly under threat of death, yet show no symptoms of trauma. What he discovered was that trauma has to do with the third survival response to perceived life threat, which is freeze. When fight and flight are not options, we freeze and immobilise, like “playing dead.” This makes us less of a target. However, this reaction is time-sensitive - it needs to run its course, and the massive energy that was prepared for fight or flight gets discharged, through shakes and trembling. If the immobility phase doesn’t complete, then that charge stays trapped, and, from the body’s perspective, it is still under threat.

 

The SE method works to release this stored energy and turn off this threat alarm that causes severe dysregulation, dissociation and illness. This is done is a gentle, titrated way, focusing on safety and building inner resources, resulting in deeper connection with the world and more resilience to face it. 

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