How Somatic Experiencing Can Help You Overcome TraumaSomatic Experiencing is a type of therapy developed by Dr. Peter Levine, which seeks to help resolve the psychological and emotional aftereffects of trauma by releasing residual tension from the body. The theory behind Somatic Experiencing holds that, when you experience a traumatic event, whether it is a singular event like an accident or an ongoing one like child abuse, your autonomic nervous system initiates the fight-or-flight response. Along with this response comes a burst of physical energy, designed to help you survive the situation.

After the traumatic event has passed, the body will naturally release any unused tension by shaking, trembling and other movements. However, if your body doesn’t have the chance to relieve the tension, Dr. Levine and other Somatic Experiencing practitioners believe that psychological symptoms can occur. Somatic Experiencing seeks to relieve these symptoms by releasing the residual physical tension associated with traumas of the past.

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Your Body’s Physical Response to Trauma

Dr. Levine began forming the ideas that would lead to his development of Somatic Experiencing thanks to his research into the behaviors of wild animals. Wild animals frequently experience events that human beings would find traumatic, like attacks from predators. In his observations of wild creatures, however, Dr. Levine found no evidence that these potentially traumatic experiences caused any lasting psychological damage for the animals experiencing them. He theorized that that’s because the physical tension built up during the fight-or-flight response is dissipated when a wild animal successfully fights or flees, and that any tension not used up in this way is later released through a physiological response, like shaking or trembling.

For humans, the fight-or-flight response is just as instinctive as it is for animals. You can’t control the way your body responds to a traumatic or threatening situation, nor should you attempt to. However, in today’s society, most of the threats humans face cannot be successfully dealt with by fighting or fleeing, so the energy that the body generates during this autonomic response is useless. Your body may release fight-or-flight energy after the danger has passed, through repetitive movements or trembling. If this doesn’t happen, however, your body and mind are unable to process the shock. PTSD and other psychological symptoms could result.

Somatic Experiencing for Trauma Resolution

If you need treatment for addiction, PTSD or other mental health issues, it’s likely that you’re struggling with some unresolved trauma. Therapy for trauma resolution can be difficult because, for many patients, remembering or re-living the traumatic experience only serves to worsen the trauma.

Somatic Experiencing for Trauma ResolutionSomatic Experiencing seeks to help patients resolve trauma in a way that doesn’t require them to relive or re-experience the trauma. Instead, the therapy focuses on restoring the ability of the autonomic nervous system to regulate itself after a potentially traumatic experience. It’s important to note, however, that many Somatic Experiencing practitioners believe that the unresolved trauma behind residual tension need not be something that consciously registers as traumatic. Just because you’ve dismissed an event, such as a minor accident, as not serious enough to be traumatic doesn’t mean your nervous system agrees. Similarly, an event that occurred when you were too young to remember could also cause residual tension, even though you might not consciously remember it.

This form of therapy is usually performed on an individual basis, between a single client and a single therapist. During Somatic Experiencing, you will need to keep a journal of the physical sensations you experience during your sessions. You will be encouraged to connect with your surroundings and to pay close attention to the feelings in your body during each session. By paying attention to and tracking your feelings, you can help the therapist better meet your needs.

If you’re concerned about becoming overwhelmed by your emotions during Somatic Experiencing, don’t be. The technique teaches you how to observe and process your emotions without feeling overwhelmed. You will be encouraged to examine powerful feelings carefully and slowly, so that you aren’t re-traumatized by overpowering emotions. You will also learn how to use your awareness of your physical state as a tool to take control of your emotional state. In this way, you can learn to control the intensity of your feelings, and even prevent dissociation.

Somatic Experiencing is a form of psychotherapy used to promote trauma resolution by encouraging patients to focus on the physical feelings that arise during difficult emotional states. It is based on the theory that residual tension related to shock and trauma may remain trapped in the body and lead to psychological or emotional symptoms. It makes a great complement to other therapeutic techniques, especially for the treatment of PTSD and substance abuse disorders.