Somatic Experiencing Principles
SE does not focus on talking about or re-living trauma. SE works at the physiological level where traumatic activation is held in the body. Often, clients have had therapy to deal with their traumas and still have symptoms, physically, emotionally, and relationally. Or perhaps they have symptoms and don’t know why. Dr. Peter Levine found that by processing the body and guiding the discharge of stored energy in the body then homeostasis of the nervous system occurred and symptoms resolved. This seems to be the missing piece in trauma resolution, no matter how severe.

Key Concepts

  • SE stabilises the client in a safe, resourced state before working with any traumatic material. An environment of relative safety is necessary for healing to occur.
  • SE tracks the bodily “felt sense,” to allow the highly aroused survival energies to be safely experienced and gradually discharged leading to completion and self-regulation of the nervous system. Sensations such as warmth, trembling, expansion and contraction, softening and tightening are experienced. This helps people “renegotiate” and heal rather than relive or re-enact trauma
  • SE integrates and expands a person’s tolerance of their bodily sensations and helps them to trust in the innate wisdom of the body, and begins to separate out, the fear and terror experienced during the event. In so doing a person’s capacity for self-regulation is enhanced.
  • SE “titrates” experience, working slowly within the client’s range of resiliency to facilitate the most efficient healing recovery rather than causing re-arousal of intense emotional states or painful physical discomfort.
  • SE works peripherally with the activation. Work begins away from the area of greatest discomfort, or the traumatic event is approached from what occurred before and after the primary core of that event. This allows a reduction of the bound charge and an increase in stability to tolerate the strong sensations and emotions contained in the apex of the event.
  • SE “pendulates” the experience by first helping the client to recognise and expand their internal, external and missing resources. As activation increases the client can switch between working with the aroused and activated state back to their resourced state and not fall into the sensation of overwhelm.
  • SE works in the here and now and focuses on the sensations and body memories and resources occurring in the present.

SE and Touch
Even though SE is a body-oriented approach it does not have to involve touch or bodywork. Touch when offered and accepted by the client is a gentle touch acting as a container, a resource or to provide support. It may involve the practitioner’s foot against that of the client or a light hand on the shoulder or back. Whenever touch is used within an SE session it is never a manipulation or a high-pressure touch.

Dr. Peter Levine: Trauma Proofing Your Kids

Whatever the cause of the trauma; be it from adverse pre and peri-natal experiences, disorganized early attachment, episodic or chronic traumatic events or prolonged high stress situations, the safe, gradual negotiation of SE helps individuals to reconnect with their own innate capacity to recover.  They will gradually return to experiencing aliveness, vitality, and health in the here-and-now, with an increased self-confidence and sense of empowerment. As these shifts happen there will be changes in the way they respond both consciously and unconsciously to stressful situations.

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Like a moth drawn to a flame, we may unknowingly and repeatedly create situations in which the possibility to release ourselves from the trauma trap exists, but without the proper tools and resources most of us fail.
Dr. Peter Levine