Somatic Experiencing (SE) is a form of body-centred trauma therapy that was created by the renowned psychologist Peter Levine, author of the seminal book ‘Waking the Tiger’.
Sessions are generally structured like seated talking therapy, where the therapist supports the client to access and relay their bodily experience, including sensations, images, memories and emotions that are present. SE works with the biological survival mechanisms of fight, flight and freeze to restore balance to the nervous system. Using interventions, the therapist supports this journey, ‘shepherding’ arousal and discharge cycles of the nervous system, integrating and restoring balance.
SE is useful for a full range of issues, from acute episodes such as physiological stress resulting from high impact events such as a car accident, to the everyday accumulation of stress from normal life situations, work, destructive lifestyles and relationships.
SE is unlike traditional therapy in that the balancing effect on the nervous system begins from the first session. The initial sessions will hopefully yield noticeable benefits for the client. Some clients choose to finish working after 10 sessions, while others continue over an extended period.
Trauma is defined as anything that was too much to handle or process at the time when it happened. Maybe we were too young, too small? Or maybe it happened so fast we could not respond at all. If we had been able to deal with it, it would be remembered as a difficult challenge that was successfully overcome. The events that we successfully overcome are things that make us stronger.
Trauma is not in the memory of the event. It is in the body. It is the body’s protection mechanism that was installed, or locked away when the traumatic event occurred.
Overcoming Trauma with a process such as Somatic Experiencing takes trauma from being a locked away fearful memory, and reframes it into being a challenge that we overcame successfully. Our entire life is then seen differently and the world seems safer when we successfully overcome what we previously could not.