What Is Somatic Experiencing Therapy?
Somatic Experiencing is an effective body-oriented therapy used to treat the body’s response to trauma and stress. Because it helps individuals target trauma on a fundamental physical level, Somatic Experiencing allows the body to change its relationship to distress.
Dr. Peter Levine first conceptualized Somatic Experiencing in the 1970s and founded this therapy based on the principle that trauma gets stuck in the nervous system—not the traumatic event.
Somatic Experiencing has since been developed from a multi-disciplinary intersection of physiology, psychology, biology, neuroscience, indigenous healing practices, and medical biophysics.
Research supports Somatic Experiencing as a highly effective therapy for targeting internalized trauma.
And because this therapy focuses on the body’s response to trauma, it is an effective treatment method for an array of mental and physical health concerns, including:
- Anxiety, worry, and panic
- Rage and aggression
- Behavioral setbacks
- Chronic pain and muscle tension
- Stress and overwhelm
- Insomnia and fatigue
- Digestive issues
- Poor immune system
Today, Somatic Experiencing is applied in various professional settings such as psychotherapy, medicine, personal coaching, teaching, and physical therapy.
What Is Trauma?
To understand how Somatic Experiencing therapy works, we must first understand how trauma is stored in the body.
Trauma is defined as the unique, individual experience of a single event, series of events, or set of conditions in which:
- An individual’s ability to integrate their emotional experience (i.e., stay present and tolerate feelings) is overwhelmed
- And/or an individual experiences a threat to life, bodily integrity, or sanity
In other words, the body itself experiences the trauma, causing the nervous system to become overactivated when stimulation is introduced too fast or too soon, or when the distress is too much for our baseline resilient state to process.
Common traumas include but are not limited to:
- War and community violence
- Natural disaster (or the threat of one)
- Sexual or physical assault
- Instances of abuse (including sexual, physical, emotional, and mental abuse)
- Witnessing or vicariously experiencing trauma through others (this is particularly prevalent in community instances of racially motivated crimes and police brutality, as well as for those in professions that are regularly exposed to life-and-death situations)
- The death of a loved one
Trauma can happen in both childhood and adulthood but will be handled very differently depending on an individual’s stage of development when the trauma took place. At the time of the trauma, the body experiences physiological reactions—or a fight, flight, freeze response—to the stress.
Why Humans Handle Trauma Differently Than Other Species
Due to the complex nature of the human nervous system, we can override the same instinctual process that allows other animals to return to a state of homeostasis following a distressing event.
As a result, trauma becomes stored and stuck in the human body and the nervous system continues to react as if the trauma is still occurring.
Eventually, the nervous system will experience symptoms of hyper-arousal—including anxiety, panic, insomnia, pain, hypervigilance, anger/rage, and flashbacks—or hypo-arousal, which are often associated with depression, low blood pressure, apathy, fatigue, and social isolation.
Living with trauma can cause the body to become increasingly dysregulated—like a car being driven with both the brake and accelerator fully engaged.
How Does Somatic Experiencing Therapy Work?
Somatic Experiencing therapy focuses on regulating the nervous system. During initial sessions, a Somatic Experiencing therapist will work to understand a client’s trauma and help them tune into the body’s reaction in the present moment—where there is no danger.
The therapist creates a safe space to facilitate the release of lingering distress by educating the client on micro-movements that protect the body and promote a feeling of safety.
As the client maintains a deeper awareness of the relationship between physical sensations and reactive emotions, negative associations can begin to be released.
In helping the client to understand their response to stress, the therapist promotes skills for stress management, emotion regulation, and building up experiences of strength and comfort.
By effectively integrating positive experiences and associations, Somatic Experiencing helps both the mind and body reset and return to homeostasis as a fear of imminent danger is resolved.
How Somatic Experiencing Differs From Other Therapies
Whereas most therapies pay attention to the mind and its psychology, the Somatic Experiencing approach primarily focuses on healing the body.
This method allows clients to balance their nervous system by reducing the physical effects of trauma. For this reason, Somatic Experiencing therapy reduces symptoms of digestive issues, chronic fatigue, and immune issues, and it creates significant improvements in long-term medical conditions.
In addition, meaningful emotional change can take place when the body heals from trauma. Somatic Experiencing promotes increased emotional resilience and quicker recovery from stressful experiences.
Lastly, by tuning into the mind-body connection, clients accomplish a stronger sense of health and well-being that allows them to feel more comfortable in the world and create meaningful boundaries with others.
Somatic Experiencing Therapy At Eddins Counseling
At Eddins Counseling, our practice maintains advanced specialization in trauma and uses validated methods to reduce symptoms of post-traumatic stress in our clients. We believe that many mental health conditions are primarily the result of unresolved, internalized trauma and that lasting relief takes place when the root cause is targeted.
Depending on presenting symptoms, we may integrate other trauma-informed approaches into Somatic Experiencing therapy at Eddins Counseling. We customize our approach to meet the needs of each client and are committed to providing a comprehensive treatment plan to facilitate healing.
You Can Let Go Of Painful Experiences Once And For All
If you struggle with lingering distress following a traumatic experience, your body has the power to resolve and release stress—ultimately improving your physical, mental, and emotional health. Somatic Experiencing therapy at Eddins Counseling can help you recover from your trauma.
For more information or to schedule a free consultation with one of our Somatic Experiencing practitioners, please contact us.