How Does SE Differ From Other Therapeutic Modalities?
The more traditional cognitive and emotional based ‘talk’ therapies can be considered as being “top-down” approaches. They focus on insight and emotions first and only secondarily focus on somatic responses to trauma. Talking about the trauma can have an adverse effect as the person can be re-traumatised with the flooding of reactions and overwhelm that arises during the process if their nervous system is not able to regulate itself.
In contrast Somatic Experiencing is a “bottom-up” approach. It focuses on the brain stem – the reptilian brain and its survival-based functions that are not under conscious or emotional control. Access to these instinctual action and arousal systems is through the mode of physical bodily sensations, imagery and motor patterns. In the process of working with the ‘felt sense’ of the body other elements of the trauma experience may arise such as meaning and emotions. Thus cognitions and emotions are included in SE practice but they are secondary or derivative from physical sensations through the bottom-up processing.
SE uses techniques and interventions that work directly and gently with the neurophysiology of the body. SE avoids some of the issues that catharsis, re-enactment or talking about the story may create such a re-traumatisation or re-arousal of intense emotional states that can be frightening or too confronting to clients and may discourage them from continuing on their healing journey.
Dr. Peter Levine: Resolving Trauma In Psychotherapy