By William Schroeder, LPC
Somatic Experiencing (SE) is a form of therapy developed by Dr. Peter Levine to help individuals who have experienced trauma. It is based on the idea that trauma is stored in the body and can manifest as physical and emotional symptoms. SE focuses on releasing this stored energy by working with the body’s natural mechanisms for processing and resolving traumatic experiences.
What are the key concepts of Somatic Experiencing:
- Trauma as a physiological response: SE posits that trauma is not just a psychological experience but a physiological response to an overwhelming event. When faced with a threatening situation, our bodies instinctively activate the fight, flight, or freeze response. If these responses are not able to complete or are interrupted, the body may hold onto the energy, which can lead to symptoms of trauma.
- Working with the body: Instead of focusing solely on talking about the traumatic event, SE works with the body’s sensations and movements to help release the stored energy. By observing and working with the body’s responses, SE can help individuals reconnect with their bodies and release the tension held in their muscles, organs, and nervous system.
- Titration and Pendulation: Two important concepts in SE are titration (slowly processing small amounts of trauma at a time) and pendulation (moving between states of activation and relaxation). These approaches help prevent retraumatization and overwhelm during the therapeutic process.
- Resource-building: SE also helps individuals build resources and develop coping skills to handle difficult emotions and sensations. These resources can be internal (e.g., feeling grounded and connected to the body) or external (e.g., supportive relationships and safe environments).
How does Somatic Experiencing help individuals who have experienced trauma?
- Releasing stored tension and energy: By working with the body’s natural responses, SE helps release the energy that has been stuck due to incomplete fight, flight, or freeze responses. This can help reduce physical and emotional symptoms associated with trauma.
- Building resilience: By building resources and helping individuals process their traumatic experiences, SE can increase their ability to cope with stress and challenges in the future.
- Reconnecting with the body: Many people who have experienced trauma may feel disconnected from their bodies or struggle with body awareness. SE helps individuals reconnect with their bodies and develop a healthier relationship with their physical sensations.
- Improving overall well-being: By addressing the physiological and psychological effects of trauma, SE can help improve overall well-being, including physical health, emotional stability, and interpersonal relationships.
Is Somatic Experiencing evidence based?
Since its inception, researchers and clinicians have been studying SE’s efficacy. There are a limited number of research studies on Somatic Experiencing, but the body of evidence has been growing. Several studies have suggested that SE can be beneficial for individuals with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other trauma-related issues.
Some of the evidence includes:
- Naturalistic Studies: These are studies where SE is applied in real-world settings without the rigorous controls of a randomized clinical trial. Some of these studies have indicated positive outcomes for individuals who received SE therapy.
- Randomized Controlled Trials (RCTs): A few RCTs have investigated the effectiveness of SE. Some of these studies have shown that SE can be effective in reducing trauma-related symptoms, although more high-quality RCTs are needed to establish SE as a gold standard, evidence-based treatment.
- Qualitative Studies: These studies gather detailed narratives from participants, which can provide rich insight into their experiences. Some qualitative studies on SE have reported that participants felt a profound sense of relief and improvement in trauma symptoms after undergoing the therapy.
It’s essential to approach evidence with a nuanced perspective. While there is evidence suggesting that SE can be effective for some individuals, the body of research is still relatively small, and more high-quality, large-scale studies are needed. Additionally, what works for one person may not work for another, so it’s always essential to consider individual factors and needs.