How Does Somatic Experiencing Work?

Most people who struggle with alcohol and drug addiction have a long history of attachment or developmental trauma. Treating this directly provides the best chance for a patient to thrive beyond treatment. Somatic Experiencing® helps people move beyond a fight, flight, or freeze response to a past event or current stimuli and provides tools to resolve these conditioned responses. This method helps the turn off the physiological threat alarm, allowing people to resolve trauma and build resilience.

Somatic Experiencing was created by Peter Levine, Ph.D. to regulate a dysregulated nervous system. Levine made his unique discoveries by observing prey animals in the wild. He observed that animals in the wild aren’t traumatized by their life-and-death existence, while people can be traumatized by even seemingly small events.

When in danger, animals will expend large amounts of energy to escape the danger. Dr. Levine noted that once the threat has passed, the animal will discharge excess energy through the body—through things like trembling, shaking, bucking, or running further than necessary to escape the predator—which re-sets the mind and body and returns it to a baseline state.

In essence, animals in the wild were able to experience trauma, release the physical sensations of that trauma, and then return to living their normal lives. Dr. Levine realized that animals will complete the full sequence of response to danger, by noticing, reacting, and recovering from the threat.

He then discovered that humans struggle to do the same – to “shake it off,” as it were. Dr. Levine acknowledged that humans have lost the instinct to tremor and release trauma, which then gets trapped into the neuromuscular system, leading the body to remain stuck in the flight or fight mode. He further noted that the body is easily triggered into this state and unable to relax and feel safe. At the slightest provocation, the amygdala (the instinctual part of the brain) sounds the alarm bells signaling danger, even if the more rational part of the brain, the cortex, registers that danger is not life-threatening. Although our nervous systems function in the same ways as other mammals, our prefrontal cortex disrupts the process involved with releasing the trauma by thoughts, judgments, and other internal reactions.

This inability to successfully process trauma effectively often leaves people with PTSD-like symptoms. They will often have a tendency for anxiety, over-reaction, and hyper-vigilance, as if the nervous system is stuck in an “on” position.

Alternatively, the body will go into a “freeze mode,” which results in numbing, immobilization, dissociation, and disconnection from the body. Should this state not be released, it can lead to feelings of numbness, apathy, disassociation, and depression, signifying that the nervous system is stuck in an “off” position.

Using Somatic Experiencing, a therapist gently assist clients as they reconnect with their bodies and release the “charge” by tracking their sensations and re-regulating the nervous system.

Want to find out if Somatic Experiencing is right for you? Get in touch today.

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