Somatic Experiencing® (SE), developed by Dr. Peter Levine, provides a holistic and brief strategy to achieve healing and resolution of trauma or emotional wounds. This method is founded on the research that although wild animals are often threatened, they rarely show signs of trauma as a result. These animals rely on inner resources that allow them to develop and maintain a level sense of being and productivity in the aftermath of a traumatic experience.
The Somatic Experiencing theory derives that a human’s autonomic nervous system (ANS) is dysfunctional in relation to automatically regulating the release of energy associated with the sudden arousal during trauma. This technique focuses on targeting the ANS’s own ability to regulate and restore itself to balance in order to allow a client to regain a normal level of functioning after experiencing a trauma.
Somatic Experiencing is most often practiced in a one-on-one fashion and requires that a client keep a record of his or her specific felt-sense experiences. The tracking of emotions provides valuable information to the therapist and enables him or her to be able to better ascertain the needs of the client. This form of therapy is often used for developmental traumas and can be combined with other forms of psychotherapy. The method itself aims to affect a decrease in physical tensions that are formulated immediately after a body experiences trauma.
Tensions remain within the body for years, and somatic experiencing is just one method of treatment to release these challenging tensions. The tension is a result of the survival mechanism within all people that creates a heightened state of arousal of the ANS, as in with animals. However, in humans, the ANS is not depleted after the trauma has ended; therefore the residual tension stays in the body system. Somatic Experiencing allows the body to find relief from these tensions.
Somatic therapy for sexual concerns addresses emotional, physical and relational issues. This technique teaches the client how to become more comfortable with acceptance and gradually re-introduced the body back into the sexual experience. Clients are encouraged to explore the reasons they are closed off sexually, and are given the tools to practice verbal and physical exercises that bring them closer. Somatic sexual therapy may even involve kissing, caressing, touching or hugging in session, usually for limited periods of time with the therapist leaving the room. These activities are usually combined with verbal appraisals that fill emotional needs. The result is often the reduction of maladaptive emotional responses the breaking down of physical barriers. Somatic sexual therapy uses traditional somatic strategies as well, including focused breathing and physical sensation awareness. Taken together, the cognitive and somatic approach can produce highly desirable results for couples struggling with sexual impairment.
EMDR combines elements from various therapeutic disciplines, including cognitive, experiential and somatic therapies. However, EMDR is distinctly different from these other approaches in that it relies on bilateral stimulation to achieve results. In EMDR, a client is instructed to visually focus on something while they explore difficult emotional experiences or traumatic memories. At the same time, the therapist introduces noises, such as tapping or clapping, during a period of no more than a minute. The client and therapist then examine what emotions or feelings were elicited as a result of the exercise, and they use that information to begin the next set of stimulation. During EMDR, the rapid eye movement activates the client’s neurological process and causes the client to become desensitized to disturbing memories.
Somatic therapies are similar to EMDR in that they integrate the physical body into the therapeutic process. However, traditional somatic therapies, also known as body-centered psychotherapies, incorporate the whole body in order to gain awareness and insight. In somatic therapy, clients are taught how to focus on the present moment by listening to their breathing and their body sensations. Stress, pain, trauma and other negative emotions are remembered both cognitively and physically, and can manifest through pain, injury or illness. Somatic exercises teach a client how to identify the emotional distress in their physical bodies. With this awareness, a client can then use physical and mental exercises to remove the emotional blockage that results in discomfort. Somatic therapies integrate creativity, meditation, movement and attention to achieve positive a mind, body and spirit.
Last updated: 07-29-2013
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