Somatic Experiencing® is based on the work of American psychotherapist Dr Peter Levine, who believes trauma is primarily biological - a physical phenomenon - not an incurable disease. His theory is based on observations of wildlife. Animals are regularly threatened with death yet rarely traumatised; their survival instinct kicks in, flooding their body with highly charged energy ready for fighting back, running away or playing dead. When the threat’s passed, that intense energy is discharged and the animal returns to full normal health.
We are all equipped with the same capacity to overcome an overwhelming experience; yet we also have an upper rational brain that frequently ‘rejects’ the powerful primal instinct of the body. The result is that huge fight/flight/freeze energy gets trapped in our nervous system where it can lead to all sorts of symptoms; sometimes immediately, sometimes not until years later.
Trauma may begin as acute stress from a perceived life-threat or as the end product of cumulative stress. Both types of stress can seriously impair a person’s ability to function with resilience and ease. Trauma may result from a wide variety of stressors such as accidents, invasive medical procedures, sexual or physical assault, emotional abuse, neglect, war, natural disasters, loss, birth trauma, or the corrosive stressors of chronic anxiety, ongoing fear and conflict. SE teaches that trauma is not caused by the event itself, but rather develops through the failure of the body, psyche and nervous system to process adverse events.
SE facilitates the completion of self-protective motor responses and the release of thwarted survival energy bound in the body, thus addressing the root cause of trauma symptoms. This is approached by gently guiding clients to develop increasing tolerance for difficult bodily sensations and suppressed emotions.
SE does not require the traumatised person to re-tell or re-live the traumatic event. Instead, it offers the opportunity to engage, complete and resolve (in a slow and supported way) the body’s instinctual fight, flight, freeze and collapse responses. Individuals locked in anxiety or rage then relax into a growing sense of peace and safety. Many of those stuck in depression gradually find their feelings of hopelessness and numbness transformed into empowerment. SE catalyses corrective bodily experiences and contradicts feelings of fear and helplessness. This resets the nervous system, restores inner balance, enhances resilience to stress, and increases people’s vitality, equanimity and capacity to actively engage in life.
Somatic Experiencing sessions are both educational and therapeutic, leading to a reduction in symptoms and a return to a more profound sense of psychological, emotional and physical well-being. Specialist bodywork and touch, through clothing, may be used, with the client either seated or lying down. This helps support the healing process and enables tracking of body sensations, allowing the nervous system to safely release trapped survival energy in a slow and manageable way.
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