Somatic means "the body." Somatic experiencing involves working with what the body is experiencing in the present moment. Developed by Peter A. Levine, PhD, Somatic Experiencing® (SE) is a body-oriented approach to the healing of trauma and other stress-related disorders. SE uses knowledge of the nervous system to address the physiology of stress and trauma and the connection between our brain and body.
We can't think our way out of trauma. Humans often feel trapped and overwhelmed by our own physical and emotional states. Somatic interventions can help you learn how to settle and release physical activation from your body, which is key to transforming PTSD and the wounds of early developmental/attachment trauma.
When you become stressed, fearful, or overwhelmed by a situation, your brain tells your body to either fight (get aggressive!), flee (avoid! get away!), fawn (I'll do whatever it takes to make you happy, so I don't get hurt!), or freeze (don't move!) - known as fight flight, fawn, and freeze. For various reasons, these stress responses can get stuck in our bodies. Our bodies experience these stress responses in many different situations - conflict, pressure from work/school, relationships, public speaking, etc.
During traumatic events, your nervous system instinctually makes the decision to fight, flee, fawn, or freeze based on what it believes will help you survive. (This is not a cognitive choice!) If your brain decides fighting or trying to get away could potentially cause more harm, it instinctively turns to fawn or freeze. As kids, fawn and freeze are often our only options because the situations are vastly beyond our capacity to handle. Here's the problem - what was adaptive as a child (freezing, people-pleasing, perfectionism, care taking, dissociating, etc) can become frustratingly unhelpful as you get older. In other words, the same coping methods that helped you survive, can often become the behaviors that prevents you from fully living and enjoying your life as an adult. SE aims to help the body get unstuck from fight, flight, fawn, and freeze responses, release stored energy from the body, and return to a sense of regulation and harmony.
Additionally, trauma often can leave us feeling unsafe in our bodies. SE focuses on developing self-regulation skills, regaining an internal sense of safety, restoring balance in the nervous system, and reconnecting you with your body's wisdom. Instead of focusing on past memories and reliving the details, we will explore what happens in the body in the present moment, in a safe and supportive way. SE helps individuals shift old patterns and develop new neural pathways that provide alternative ways of responding to our environment.
During SE sessions, we will work on the following:
Understanding how the body responds to stress and trauma
Observing and exploring body sensations moment-by-moment, without feeling overwhelmed by them
Becoming more curious and aware of your own patterns, and beginning to shift patterns that have been held in your body
Expanding your capacity to be with uncomfortable emotions and sensations and handle life stressors
Enhancing internal resources to help you feel empowered
Here's what can happen in the body during...
Fight/Flight: heart rate goes up, pupils dilate, blood pressure increases, dry mouth, sweating, tense muscles, shaking, stomachaches, chest pain
Freeze: heart rate drops, blood pressure decreases, breathing slows down and becomes shallow, muscles become limp
Examples of body sensations: shaky, trembling, throbbing, pounding, heavy, warm, cold, grounded, empty, frozen, twitchy, tingling, buzzing, burning, nauseous, achey, open, bubbly, spacious, expansion, flowing