Thursday, October 17, 2013

What is Somatic Experiencing® - and why do it?

Somatic Experiencing®  - from the bloggers point of view

Somatic Experiencing® is a form of mind-bodywork that works in quite an opposite way to psychotherapy, which is about mind-processing and behavioural changes and patterns, amongst many other things.

Somatic Experiencing® is a way of exploring the body and bodily sensations and as a very subtle and oblique way of looking at releasing bodily traumas that have been held, often for many years, without actually revisiting the trauma. In fact, the therapist who leads, guides and facilitates the work will not be interested in the story. What they are interested in is what can be felt and experienced in the body and whether or not this evokes any emotions - such as sadness or anger, or previously formed patterns or responses, such as 'freezing'. Somatic Experiencing® therefore deals with the part of the nervous system where such types of responses and emotions are held perhaps from previous traumas - some might be dramatic ones, such as a near-death experience (being operated on in surgery) , abuse, witnessing a horrific event. Others might be milder ones. Some of the traumas or stresses we may have no awareness or memory of, whilst others we will have memories of the events, but cannot erase them. It appears that what is happening, is that the normal Fight or Flight response that is evoked in response to danger remains perpetually on and we unfortunately remain in this loop of response, that is not naturally cellularly and physiologically dispersed, as it is in animals, who do not hold on to these fears (as far as we are aware).

Peter Levine coined the term Somatic Experiencing® or SE® in his book 'Waking the Tiger' and wrote about the need to release the energy that is trapped and the remaining loop of 'fight or flight' that has been stored in the nervous system in a safe way, so that the symptoms, that might be associated with trauma, can be safely released. The types of symptoms are very much the ones found in relation to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD. This was first noticed in first world war soldiers who had what was called 'Shell-Shock'  Some symptoms might be:

Symptoms of PTSD and Trauma

·         Hyperarousal
·         Constriction
·         Dissociation (including denial)
·         Hypervigalence
·         Intrusive memory or flashbacks
·         Extreme sensitivity to light and sound
·         Hyperactivity
·         Exaggerated emotional and startle responses
·         Nightmares and night terrors
·         Abrupt mood swings (e.g. rage, temper tantrums, shame)
·         Reduced ability to deal with stress
·         Difficulty sleeping
·         Frequent crying
·         Inability to make commitments
·         Feelings of detachment, alienation and isolation (“living dead”)
·         Chronic fatigue or very low physical energy
·         Psychosomatic illnesses – particularly headaches, neck and back pain, asthma, digestive spastic colon, asthma, severe PMT
·         Inability to love,  nurture or bond with individuals
·         Amnesia and forgetfulness
·         Feelings and behaviours of helplessness
(from Levine, P (1997). Waking The Tiger , p.148-149)

During a session of SE®, the therapist always ensures that the client is in a place of safety through all work. In fact, the initial sessions are all about safety anchors before exploring some of the more unpleasant bodily sensations the client might experience. Even then, everything is done in a very careful, safe and controlled way to avoid any further trauma to an already 'traumatized' person. Over time, some of the unpleasant feeling disperse, leaving the client in a better and more bodily 'complete' state.

It is difficult to determine how many sessions of therapy might be required, but each session is approximately one hour long. The Somatic Experiencing® website (UK Branch) has far more information

My intention in this blog is to document my own journey through SE® work. It is therefore a very personalized account and must only be read with this in mind. The experiences are therefore my own and should not be interpreted in any other way, since everyone's experience would be different (with similar themes to treatment. My therapist will be referred to as 'T' for therapist, at their request.

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