What is Somatic Experiencing therapy (SE)?

Somatic Experiencing is a form of body-based psychotherapy that helps resolve stuck patterns of fight-flight-freeze that result from trauma.

Somatic Experiencing was developed by trauma pioneer Dr. Peter Levine, based on his observations of the role the body has in healing from traumatic stress.

Somatic Experiencing works primarily with the body’s intelligence and sensations to release trapped trauma responses. The body responds to scary experiences through the fight-flight-freeze mechanism, in which the body is prepared in a split second to deal with a survival threat.

Traumatization, as we know it today in the form of PTSD, happens when fight-flight-freeze responses aren’t able to complete their biological purpose, and instead get trapped in the body.

SE helps people suffering from trauma recognize these body responses as physical sensations, and then allow these energies to release out of the body for good. When these pent-up biological reactions are released, the individual is no longer traumatized, or at least not to the same extent.

Somatic Experiencing is a multidisciplinary methodology. SE incorporates elements of psychotherapy, physiology, biology, neuroscience, and indigenous healing. It has been used in clinical settings in the treatment of trauma for four decades.

Somatic Experiencing has revolutionized the West’s approach to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) through understanding how violence leaves biological impacts on the body, brain, and nervous system.

Encouragingly, Somatic Experiencing shows how the body can be coached to rebalance and heal itself. SE helps the body remember how to do what it is designed by nature to do, which is to process, release, and learn from the impacts of its sensory experiences.

What are the techniques of Somatic Experiencing therapy (SE)?

Somatic Experiencing restores a positive relationship with the body and its many resources for feeling good and capable in life. SE accomplishes this restoration between self and body awareness by enabling non-threatening experiences of sense awareness through interoceptive and proprioceptive sensations.

Interoception refers to your inner body sense, awareness, and detection abilities related to what’s going on inside your body. When you sense an ache in your back or heart palpitations, you are using your interoception. Proprioception refers to your kinesthetic sense, meaning your body’s awareness of its actions, movements, location, direction, and orientation in space.

Somatic Experiencing organizes its techniques into a framework called SIBAM for short: sensation, imagery, behavior, affect, and meaning. SE techniques in each of these categories help clients relate to the body as a way to process and release trauma.

I. Sensation

Sensation refers to physical body sensations like pressure, temperature, tension, and sense qualities like “tingly” or “floaty”. Sensation is different from emotion and thought and is about what the body experiences.

Sensations are best felt without adding on interpretation and story, just staying with the sensation without thinking about it or having emotional reactions to it. SE techniques assist clients to safely experience their body sensations, whether pleasant or unpleasant, neutrally without adding on complexity.

II. Imagery

Somatic Experiencing uses the manifold powers of visualization for connecting with the body and healing. Through imagery, practitioners guide experiences of reconnection and safety in the body. Clients are also taught to look to their inner image stream, as a source of information about their personal best path to healing.

III. Behavior

In Somatic Experiencing, clients are encouraged to observe behavioral responses arising naturally in the body, such as body language, posture, and urges to movement or action.

IV. Affect

The word affect is usually used by psychologists. It refers to how a person displays emotions to others, through facial expressions, voice tone, and speed of speech, as well as choice of words. SE uses awareness of one’s own and others’ affect as part of the healing method. Affect is connected to the body and most often not conscious.

V. Meaning

Meaning in SE refers to the ways humans value and interpret experiences. What meaning is made of an experience, as well as how that meaning is made, is an important subject of exploration in SE.

This is because trauma symptoms simply are what they are, but the stories we make of what happened, and the conclusions about life at large that we may form from our experiences of overwhelm, contribute significantly to how long and how much we suffer over what happened to us. Choosing or creating our own best meaning of the difficult events of our lives helps us feel dignity and personal agency again.

How does Somatic Experiencing therapy (SE) work?

villa Kali Ma is dedicated to serving women by offering techniquesSomatic Experiencing works by restoring the state of safety and relaxation in the body. Rather than trying to avoid the trauma energies per se, SE builds resources in the body until the body can naturally and easily process and release the trapped fight-flight-freeze responses on its own.

SE works with the nervous system to “do its job”, which is to sort through experiences, learn, and then release the excess charge when no longer needed.

SE works because when the biological energies of nervous system activation (fight-flight-freeze) are no longer trapped in the body, symptoms of traumatic stress (things like anxiety, flashbacks, numbness, and so on), disappear.

The overall process of Somatic Experiencing follows these general steps:

I. Notice Sensations

Become aware of what the body is experiencing. Notice what qualities of experience are present when you place awareness of your powers of physical sensation. Check in with the breath, muscle tension, posture, as well as what can be ascertained through your sense of touch, such as textures, spatial relationships, and temperatures. Take an accepting, loving approach, allowing all body sensations to be just as they are, without trying to change anything.

II. Recognize Stress Sensations

Recognize certain sensations and states as belonging to stress, such as muscle tension, shallow breathing, and numbness/spaciness. When we start to recognize our stress (trauma is stress that has become permanent in the body) as certain signature sensations, we are on our way to releasing it.

III. Redirect attention to positive sensations

Bring attention to and focus on any positive-feeling sensations, allowing the body to amplify awareness of what is registered as a mildly pleasant, good sensation. Good sensations indicate the absence of stress, also known as safety. In addition, use your powers of memory and imagination to focus on body-linked sense images, such as summoning up the sensation of slipping into a warm bath, memories of swimming in a cool lake out in nature, or snuggling up on the couch with a positive family member, and so on.

IV. Observe Body Release

The word affect is usually used by psychologists. It refers to how a person displays emotions to others, through facial expressions, voice tone, and speed of speech, as well as choice of words. SE uses awareness of one’s own and others’ affect as part of the healing method. Affect is connected to the body and most often not conscious.

How is Somatic Experiencing (SE) different?

Somatic Experiencing is different from other psychotherapy techniques because it prioritizes body sensation and body intelligence. Although emotion and cognition are an important part of the healing work, the body is supported as primary.

SE is also different in that it is multimodal, incorporating methods found to be effective across diverse disciplines including both Western medicine (neuroscience) and practical folk wisdom taken from indigenous cultures, including shamanism.

From the client’s perspective, SE is focused on generating states of safety, containment, and grounding into good sensations. SE focuses on the body and what practically works to feel better.

What are the origins of Somatic Experiencing?

In the 1970s, trauma researcher Dr. Peter Levine started to look into the differences between animals and humans when it comes to recovering from shocks to the nervous system brought about by exposure to life-threatening events.

Levine noticed that animals go through a process of releasing physical energy after they have been scared or threatened. Through trembling, shaking, yawning, and vigorous movement, animals reset their nervous systems back to normal.

Humans tend to suppress these responses, so as to appear normal and unaffected, without letting the body have any outburst or physical motion. Without any pathway of physical release, these energies then stay in the body and turn into frozen fear and rage (trauma).

Levine went on to develop a methodology to help patients diagnosed with serious PTSD to use their body’s most natural, animal instincts towards movement, physical exertion, expression, and breathing to release and process nervous system activation.

What are Somatic Experiencing techniques like?

Somatic Experiencing techniques help build awareness of the body as a safe, containing location for sensations and feelings to take place harmlessly.

Somatic Experiencing techniques are experienced by patients to be grounding, centering, balancing, calming, and positively energizing. There isa specific emphasis on rediscovering the natural ability to self-soothe.

The following 5 techniques give an idea of what to expect when working with an SE Practitioner:

  1. Soothing Breath – slow, deep breathing
  2. Noticing Physical Comfort – training awareness to follow what feels good, comfy, pleasant, and safe in the body

III. Grounding and Centering – techniques to connect with here-and-now physical reality through the body’s unforced experiences of the sensory world

  1. Self-Soothing Touch – techniques of calming self-touch that create feelings of being safely held
  2. Resourcing – directing attention towards physical-sense memories of safety, enjoyment, and success being one’s authentic best self with others

What can Somatic Experiencing help with?

Somatic Experiencing is mainly used for treating trauma. It is relevant for anyone with a diagnosis of PTSD, and for people with addiction, as the incidence of traumatization in people with addiction is very high.

Somatic Experiencing can be used to help with mental health struggles as well, many of which are believed to be stemming from unaddressed trauma patterning.

Somatic Experiencing can help with any trauma symptoms: anger, rage, depression, phobias, irritability, anxiety, obsessions, numbness, flashbacks, intrusive thoughts, and stress.

What are the benefits of Somatic Experiencing?

SE’s key gift is in lifting the many burdens of trauma. There are countless knock-on negative effects of trauma.

Mental effects of trauma include brain fog, confusion, detachment, and sensations of unreality, as well as problems focusing. Physical body symptoms related to trauma include restricted breath, heart problems, and stiffness or constricted mobility. Emotional symptoms related to trauma include anxiety, depression, anger problems, phobias, moodiness, irritability, and low self-esteem. Addiction is also highly correlated with trauma.

Somatic Experiencing is reported to help with reducing physical pain and discomfort, reducing stress, improving mood, and restoring confidence. Increased meaning, self-love, acceptance, hope and resilience, better relationships, and better sleep are also associated with trauma recovery.

What is the effectiveness of Somatic Experiencing?

Somatic Experiencing has been used effectively for four decades and has no side effects. While some clinical studies have been funded which show promise, by practitioner and client testimony there is also a fair body of anecdotal evidence indicating the method is a powerful assist in the nationwide struggle to address the trauma epidemic.

As with all techniques, we suggest informing yourself of the known benefits and limitations of the modality and deciding based on whether SE feels resonant for you personally. We at Villa Kali Ma are big supporters of Somatic Experiencing based on what we have seen and discovered in our own journeys of healing. It works, we like it, and it makes sense to us.

What are things to consider with Somatic Experiencing therapy?

Somatic Experiencing has found that in order to recover, you will need to safely re-experience the physical sensations associated with scary things you have already survived.

However, it is not required to dwell or dig into these past difficulties, but to touch into them just enough to summon up the body’s memories and pent-up sensations in order to release these once and for all.

Most of SE is centered on creating pleasant feelings of safety, containment, grounding, peace, and possibility.

Villa Kali Ma Offers Somatic Experiencing Therapy

Villa Kali Ma Offers Somatic Experiencing Therapy.Villa Kali Ma offers Somatic Experiencing Therapy for women who receive treatment with us. We have seen that Somatic Experiencing is very helpful for women recovering from addiction, mental health challenges, and trauma.

Somatic Experiencing is an effective way to restore your natural rights to feel safe, strong, peaceful, and positive within your own body and mind awareness.

All women deserve a chance to live freely and safely according to the truth that resides in their hearts. Villa Kali Ma is dedicated to serving women by offering techniques and methods from Eastern traditions and the best of Western modalities so that anyone who wants in their heart of hearts to recover has what they need to be able to do so.

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