Somatic Experiencing is a form of therapy used for resolving and healing trauma, stress and shock, developed by body-based therapist Peter Levine through 40 years of research and observation.
The theory is that we humans, because of our tendency to rationalise our experiences, may not fully employ the natural animal 'fight or flight' response to perceived danger. Instead, we suppress this energy, which then gets trapped in the nervous system but may leak out in the form of distressing symptoms, perhaps continuing for years:
* physical or emotional pain, digestive problems, inability to relax * chronic anxiety, nightmares, flashbacks, feeling overwhelmed, difficulties in relationships * unhelpful and recurring patterns of behaviour that seem inexplicable and uncontrollable * numbness, loss of memory, or too much dwelling on the past, inability to put the past where it belongs and enjoy the present moment.
Somatic Experiencing aims to promote awareness of the body's sensations and the safe release of symptoms, to close past trauma and restore the body and mind to a healthy relaxed state.
What is Psychological Trauma?
Trauma is the Greek word for wound, and all deep wounds leave scars. A traumatic event or situation is a shocking experience that is out of your control, threatening to your sense of safety and stability and so far outside your expectations of what is acceptable that you cannot absorb it or move beyond it. Instead, you are left with symptoms, and it is these symptoms combined with the event or situation that make your experience traumatic, as opposed to being simply 'upsetting'. A trauma is an event or series of events that has given rise to continuing psychological or behavioural symptoms that are not a rational or expected response to what is actually occurring. We may – expecially in childhood - 'forget' the original event, but nevertheless it has a lasting effect. It makes itself known through symptoms, such as eating disorders, insomnia, generalised anger, depression, an inability to form or maintain relationships, self-harm, phobia, or a compulsion to repeat aspects of the trauma in an attempt to avoid the painful awareness of it.. A memory that has lain dormant for years may be triggered by a later event, compounding the symptoms that have already formed. As the trauma is still beyond your ability to cope with it, the past continues to intrude upon the present in the form of flashbacks, distressing memories, nightmares or overwhelming emotional states.
Somatic healing brings awareness of the mind-body connection and provides tools to help you manage troublesome symptoms. It may be paired with talking-therapy to help you process and evaluate your thoughts and feelings, to integrate the trauma and neutralise its power to disturb.