river bank with large rock

Somatic Experiencing®: What is it and how can it help?

Somatic Experiencing® (or SE™ for short) is nervous system based approach to healing trauma that was developed by Peter Levine. In SE™, we work with story that shows up in the body in the here and now, instead of focusing of the verbal story that we are often more familiar with.

Trauma occurs when we experience a threat that overwhelms our nervous system; we often do not have enough time to process what is happening, and our nervous system responds automatically with a survival protection response (fight, flight, or freeze).  Through Somatic Experiencing® work, we support the nervous system to have more capacity to stay in the present and experience everyday emotions and sensations; we also support the nervous system in moving through stuck survival protection responses, so we are no longer stuck responding in the present, as we had to in the past.

Structure of an SE™ session:

Somatic Experiencing® sessions are often structured a little differently than traditional talk therapy.  Time is provided to orient to the space, the therapist, and your own nervous system.  The focus is what is happening here and now, rather than what happened in the past.  

Noticing sensations, emotions, and impulses in the body is a big part of SE™ sessions.  Other channels are also explored, such as images, movements, and meaning. Noticing what is happening in the here and now allows us to tune into what the nervous system needs more of (such as support, comfort, and safety), and what the system is ready to let go of.  We often need to have a little more access to feeling safe before we can let go of some of the strategies that have helped us survive in the past.

Fight, Flight, and Freeze

The three most well known survival response patterns are fight, flight, and freeze.  After a trauma, we can find ourselves continuing to play these out over and over again.  For example, we may become easily overwhelmed and withdraw from connection (flight), become easily irritated and have angry outbursts (fight), or feel frozen and unable to feel (freeze). These responses may have little to do with what is happening in the here and now, and instead may be a stuck survival response trying to complete itself. Through SE™, we provide the space and time for these survival responses to move through so they don’t have such an impact on your life.  

‘Big’ T’ versus ‘Little t’ Trauma

You may have heard the terms ‘big T trauma’ and ‘little t trauma’.  Some traumas are more ‘obvious’ and may be accompanied by a diagnosis such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  Small t traumas are often less likely to be labeled as traumatic, but can still carry a lasting effect.  These may include things like frightening medical experiences, relationship ruptures, or even slipping and falling on the ice, or any event that keeps showing up in your mind and body. SE™ can be supporting in moving through both Big T and small t traumas and overall increasing safety and capacity in the nervous system.  

Everyone’s nervous system has an innate ability to heal, and SE supports this innate healing process.

You can learn more about Somatic Experiencing at:

Ergos Institute of Somatic Education: https://www.somaticexperiencing.com/home

Somatic Experiencing International: https://traumahealing.org/