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Somatic Experiencing

Trauma is a fact of life, but it does not have to be a life sentence. Not only can trauma be healed, but with appropriate guidance and support, it can be transformative. Trauma has a potential to be one of the most significant forces for psychological, social and spiritual awakening and evolution. - Dr. Peter A. Levine, founder of Somatic Experiencing

Somatic Experiencing is a form of body-centred therapy, aimed primarily at resolving the effects of a variety of traumatic events. Traumatic events are those events to which we are unable to respond adequately. They often occur when the situation is too quick, too intense, or in general overwhelms our capacity to cope. These situations include falls, accidents, medical procedures, violence, etc. Nevertheless, the type of the experience does not in itself determine the level of trauma. The founder of this approach, Dr. Peter A. Levine, based it, among other things, on years of observational studies of animals’ responses to stress. When threatened, all organisms utilize their survival mechanism: fight and/or flight. Even though wild animals frequently find themselves in stressful situations and consume a considerable amount of survival energy, they are usually not traumatized as they successfully discharge the energies of fight or flight once the danger has passed.

Human beings, on the other hand, when unable to complete fight or flight remain in high arousal because of the failure to discharge these powerful survival energies. When this occurs, the default state is being frozen or numb. Undischarged fight or flight energies and the resorting to inaction are the key causes of trauma symptoms in humans. The freeze response reflects a state of high activity in both the sympathetic and parasympathetic branches of the autonomic nervous system. It is like simultaneously having one foot on the gas pedal and the other on the brake

The consequences reduce the capacity for self-regulation. We might feel helpless, paralyzed, depressed, scared, panicked, enraged, irritable, absent, etc. We can develop a variety of symptoms including chronic body pains, migraines, insomnia, hyperarousal, etc. In addition to these responses, different stimuli (particular sounds, smells, images or feelings, for instance) can be quite triggering, particularly when they are related to the traumatic event. Flashes of memory and emotions tied to an unprocessed past experience can occur.

Therapy sessions focus on working with bodily experience. In a safe therapeutic environment, the previously unfinished defensive responses of fight and/or flight are progressively completed in order to reregulate the nervous system.

Selected books of Peter Levine:

Healing Trauma: A Pioneering Program for Restoring the Wisdom of Your Body (2008) Sounds True.

In an Unspoken Voice: How the Body Releases Trauma and Restores Goodness (2010) North Atlantic Books.

Trauma-Proofing Your Kids: a Parent’s Guide to Instilling Confidence, Joy, and Resilience (2008, in coauthorship with Maggie Kline). North Atlantic Books.

Freedom from Pain: Discover Your Body’s Power to Overcome Physical Pain (2012, in coauthorship with Maggie Phillips) Sounds True.