the living body in its wholeness
the art and science of the personal and collective soma.
a treatment that helps someone feel better, grow stronger, etc., especially after an illness
What is Somatic Experiencing?
One of the methods I use to empower clients to regulate the nervous system and effectively heal unresolved trauma so they can engage with life purposefully and joyfully is Somatic Experiencing® (SE™). Developed by renowned trauma researcher Dr. Peter Levine, SE™ has over 45 years of successful clinical application and is currently practiced on six continents. The Somatic Experiencing® method is a powerful body-oriented approach to the healing of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and the wounds of emotional and early developmental attachment trauma as well as stress related disease.
I have a difficult time describing Somatic Experiencing® because as the term implies, it’s meant to be experienced. I found this form of therapy by accident and divine design when I was studying yoga and social justice. I’d just incurred three car accidents – in a single year. Thankfully, none of these were “major,” but I wondered: what are the chances of three similar motor vehicle accidents – none in which I was at fault – in a single year? What we don’t heal, we reenact. In my mind, I believed I was fine. However, my body hadn’t realized that the accidents were over.
When we sense a threat to our safety – real or perceived – the body turns on its instinctive stress physiology: fight, flight, or freeze. Repeated or prolonged exposure to stress keep us in an activated state of dis-ease, where we become unable to digest food, to rest well, to engage with life free from fear. Animals in the wild (not domesticated animals) do not experience PTSD at the rate that humans do because they rely upon their innate instincts to release the energy of the attack. Humans, however, often talk about the experience or try to forget about it. Cognitively, they may understand that all is well now, but they continue to experience the symptoms of unresolved trauma because the body does not know that the threat is over and it is safe.
This scientifically describes why driving had become increasingly challenging, and whiplash continued to plague me. I had thrown tremendous time and resources at everything from acupuncture to energy work, prayer, yoga, weight lifting, massage, and more in my quest to get better. While my symptoms improved or subsided intermittently, they always returned because inside my body were the energy of impulses to survive (i.e., to brake, steer away, etc.) that I did not have a chance to complete at the time of impact. In a few SE™ sessions, I was healed. I awaited the return of PTSD symptoms only to find they never returned. The healing that happens via somatic work occurs as a profound, yet subtle nervous system shift.
I continued to study, albeit a bit skeptically, as practitioner and student of this profound practice and have since experienced relief from the chronic anxiety and depression that’s plagued me since birth. It is my nature that when I find something good, I want to share it. I believe that’s why we are here: to help each other.
“Trauma is a fact of life. It does not, however, have to be a life sentence.”
– Peter A. Levine
Sometimes people say, “But Amber, I haven’t experienced trauma.” And perhaps you’re right.
But, for the purposes of my work, trauma is defined as anything which overwhelms the nervous system, leaving the individual feeling helpless, hopeless, or out of control. Therefore, it’s unique to the individual. What’s traumatic for one might not be for another. It is contingent upon how your nervous system responds to the event.
Symptoms of a dysregulated nervous system:
- chronic pain
- chronic fatigue
- insomnia / restlessness
- vertigo / disorientation
- digestive issues
- emotional and behavioral concerns
- autoimmune disease
- fear / phobias
- low blood pressure
- tools to orient you to present moment awareness
- various strategies to promote grounding
- exercises in mindfulness
- breathing techniques
- touch work: non-manipulative contact to facilitate nervous system regulation
- protocols to track physical sensation, expanding pleasure brining relief to pain
* In trauma, the individual loses choice. Therefore, in our work together, you always have the freedom to choose which techniques to utilize in your session.
how is SE
different from other therapy?
Although I studied Counseling, I am not a licensed psychotherapist. As a trauma-informed yoga teacher and Somatic Experiencing® Practitioner, I provide both classical Somatic Experiencing® sessions, as well as sessions that integrate Somatic Experiencing® with trauma-informed yoga poses and breathing exercises. Depending on your circumstances, I may recommend that you work with a therapist in addition to having sessions with me. Or, I may refer you to another practitioner if I feel your needs are better served by someone else.
SE™ is not talk therapy. While talk therapy is concerned with the narrative, SE™ is concerned with the body’s memory of the event. Rarely will we spend time discussing the details of events in your life; the aim is to access the body’s incomplete responses and release stored traumatic energy.
Talk therapy engages the “thinking” neocortical brain and the “emotional” limbic brain; SE™, on the other hand, deals with the most primitive part of the brain: the reptilian brain which is primarily concerned with survival and also regulates our involuntary nervous system and instinctual responses.
For people who’ve experienced shock, developmental, or complex trauma, discussing the event(s) can prove re-traumatizing. As a gentle approach, SE™ supports you to develop body awareness and renegotiate the way your nervous system responds to certain triggers and experiences.
Unlike in talk therapy, where the onus is often on the therapist to present interventions for the client, SE™ sessions are ultimately guided by your bodily sensations and the activity of your nervous system. While the healing happens in relationship, SE™ is experienced as your own journey of self-empowered healing, rather than someone else “healing you.”