About Somatic Experiencing® (SE)
Somatic Experiencing (SE) is a body education system that looks to release past trauma by working with our sensory system. The results of effectively using SE is a body that lives more in the present. This re-vitalized body will be freer of stress and more able to function better on all levels of being.
A Brief Context
Somatic Experiencing® (SE), developed by Peter Levine, PhD over the last 40 years, is a method to release trauma that has not yet left the body. Depression, anxiety, insomnia, chronic body pain to mention a few, can all be attributed to past traumatic situations that were not able to process out of our system.
Trauma can remain stuck in our nervous system for a large variety of reasons. Usually trauma stays with us when it overwhelms our nervous system. While severe trauma can often end up this way, even mild trauma, if added up over time, can overwhelm us due to our social and cultural ability to circumvent around it. This avoidance does not release the trauma, but stores it, creating adverse effects.
SE is not considered psychotherapy, but rather an educational system. This system helps the body re-connect to our primal brain where the trauma is neurologically held. The original story creating the trauma is not the critical part to healing. Rather, it is the neurological charge associated with the event. The charge stays intact, where as the memory of the event will often change since memory is not stored chronologically, but by levels of neural charge.
The pathway of SE is to un-couple the trauma through sensation and not through hard thinking. SE works to expand your sensory self, since this is the home of the neural charge. We can “feel” our way back to ourselves, but we can’t “think” our way back.
We have an autonomic nervous system (autonomic means it runs itself without us doing anything) that regulates how our body responds to trauma. In severe trauma, the autonomic response can be so strong that it creates a freeze where our system is so overwhelmed that it shuts down. This powerful charge, if not naturally released, can stay in us neurologically upsetting our nervous system.
Some people are successful with resolving severe trauma either by allowing their body to naturally shed the charge or because they have successfully confronted the trauma. Running away or fighting off the threat allows for the natural release of the trauma charge out of the body.
Milder forms of trauma, where the freeze response is not activated, can also be detrimental to us. Here the “thinking mind” can overpower the natural body by shutting down what would be an appropriate body response. The masks we wear are social adjustments that involve suppressing our instinctual responses to accommodate social situations. While these processes may be needed to navigate our world, the pattern of doing this can become over whelming if not checked, resulting in dissociation, anxiety and depression to name a few.
A good example of this is when we trip and fall in a public place with strangers around us. We can’t believe this happened and the shock quickly moves into embarrassment as we try to compose our self as best as possible. Instead of resting and allowing our body the full tremble and shaking and protection that it wants, we compose our body as best as we can since we do not want to appear foolish to others around us. We jump back up, brush off our jacket and feign stability convincing those that have come to our rescue that all is fine. We limp away as discretely as possible, still feeling the tremble deep in our body as if the whole system is trying to do something. And indeed our body is trying to do something – it’s trying to shed the trauma in the body coming out of the fall.
How SE Works
To access this neurological system, SE looks to link up the primitive brain with the modern brain through our internal sensations. These “sensations” are more directly connected to our hard wiring than our thinking brain is. The sensations are what allow us to go into a controlled activation of a past neural charge. This activation can result in fast breathing, sweating, shivering, shaking and physical movement of our body, to name a few, which all aid to resolve the neural charge.
SE works with both verbal support and touch to help arrive into the world of sensation. It is in our sensation that the body knows to find the pathway out of the detrimental charge. While the modern brain does not have to understand what took place in the resolving of the trauma, it usually does register in some way, experiencing a strong sense of release.
An SE session can involve verbal support and touch support from the practitioner. While verbal support can help the client arrive into their sensory experience, touch can be further support for this pathway. Touch in SE is done with clothes on and is more a containing touch and does not involve moving muscles around such as in a massage or Rolfing. The objective with touch is to assist in the sensory experience and help amplify the qualities of sensation for the client. The support of a practitioner’s hands can give the client the confidence to venture deeper into sensation and to track the sensation more successfully.
In addition to being an SE practitioner, I am also a Certified Advanced Rolfer. My interest in becoming an SE practitioner unfolded out of my many years as a Rolfer. Please visit my page on About Jamie for a better look at this pathway. With my Rolfing practice incorporating SE, I am more successful in helping my clients to assimilate the work and to get ride of their pain. This pathway led me to have a dual practice in Rolfing® and Somatic Experiencing®.