What is Somatic Experiencing?
Traumatic experiences can take a heavy toll. Past traumatic events, even if unrecognized as such, can linger in our bodies and psyches long after the event occurred, often creating a ripple effect that impacts our present circumstances.
Although most people are aware of the psychological symptoms of PTSD that are often associated with trauma, such as flashbacks and nightmares, mental health concerns like anxiety and depression often cause physical symptoms as well.
This is where somatic therapy comes into play. The term Somatic Experiencing is derived from the word “body.” This approach prioritizes the mind-body connection to address both physical and psychological issues, including trauma, grief, anxiety, and depression.
Somatic experiencing (SE), a specific approach to somatic therapy developed by Dr. Peter Levine, focuses on the idea that traumatic experiences can lead to dysfunction in the nervous system, preventing individuals from fully processing the experience.
Understanding the freeze response
SE aims to help individuals acknowledge and work through painful or distressing bodily sensations stemming from trauma or painful life events. It is based largely around the concept of the freeze response, which is not talked about as much as the fight-or-flight response. People typically freeze when they realize they don’t have a good chance of escaping by either flight or fight. The problem is that individuals can stay trapped in this freeze response long after the threat disappears, with the energy built up from the fight-or-flight response lingering in their bodies and preventing them from fully recovering from the experience.
SE helps individuals access and address this trauma that lingers in their body, allowing them to work through emotional symptoms such as anger, guilt, or shame. This approach uses a body-first method to address symptoms, with the belief that healing or freeing the felt experience of trauma can also help heal the emotional experience. It can be particularly helpful for physical symptoms related to trauma, abuse, and other emotional distress, such as chronic pain, digestive concerns, muscle tension and pain, sleep problems, and respiratory issues. Once these physical symptoms are resolved, most individuals find it easier to focus on addressing the psychological symptoms.
Somatic experiencing is a “bottom-up” approach, where the primary goal is to uncover the bodily sensations linked to traumatic events, rather than examining the memories or emotions associated with them. This approach has gained attention from the scientific community, with research showing its effectiveness in treating PTSD and other trauma-related disorders.
The Power of Somatic Experiencing for Healing Trauma
There is growing evidence to suggest that somatic experiencing can be a powerful tool for healing trauma. One study published in the Journal of Traumatic Stress found that SE was effective in reducing symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in a group of veterans. Another study published in the Journal of Counseling Psychology found that SE was effective in reducing symptoms of trauma-related dissociation in a group of sexual assault survivors.
One of the reasons why somatic experiencing can be so effective is that it focuses on the physical sensations of the body, which can be more difficult to access through traditional talk therapy. Trauma can cause individuals to disconnect from their bodies, which can lead to a sense of numbness or dissociation. SE can help individuals to reconnect with their bodies and experience a sense of grounding and safety, which can be especially helpful for those in recovery.
Another benefit of somatic experiencing is that it can be tailored to meet the individual needs of each person. SE techniques can be adapted to meet the specific needs and experiences of each individual, which can help to promote a sense of safety and trust in the therapeutic relationship.
At Scottsdale Providence, we offer a variety of therapies to meet the unique needs of each client. Our team of experienced therapists is trained in a variety of modalities, including Somatic Experiencing, to help our clients achieve lasting healing and recovery. If you or a loved one is struggling with trauma, we are here to help. Contact us to learn more about our services and how we can help you on your journey to healing.
Want to find out if Somatic Experiencing is right for you? Get in touch today.