Somatic Experiencing is an extremely powerful method for resolving trauma and post-traumatic stress.
Somatic Experiencing is a naturalistic,
Bodymind approach to undoing the
effects of trauma.
The international web site for this
A note here: the usual term from
psychology and psychiatry is "PTSD",
for "Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder".
But since SE is a Bodymind approach,
it views the condition differently.
The SE term is "PTSS", for "Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome". The troubling symptoms are not seen as a kind of illness (a disorder) but rather as signs of a natural but obstructed healing process.
SE is an extremely effective way of enabling that natural healing process to complete itself.
SE was developed by Dr. Peter Levine, and is described in his book, Waking the Tiger.
It is based on his observation that prey animals in the wild do not suffer from PTSS! (A recent book on stress, Zebras Don't Get Ulcers, expresses the same idea). All animals have a built-in method for recovering from trauma; even a zebra who has had multiple near escapes from lions can graze at ease within sight of a pride.
Humans have exactly the same mechanism; however due to our much more complex mind, we get scared of the healing process itself and stop it from happening, thus keeping ourselves stuck in unresolved trauma.
Dr. Levine recognized that trauma is not primarily a matter of thoughts or even of emotions: trauma happens on the level of the autonomic nervous system, the "fight-or-flight" system. This why talk therapy, or even emotional abreaction, often fails to help.
To resolve trauma, we need to work directly with the autonomic nervous system; and Dr. Levine realized this was possible by attending to bodily sensations. This also has the advantage that it feels a lot safer than remembering the trauma directly, confronting the scary images and emotions. By paying attention to the physical sensations, the nervous system is able to discharge the blocked trauma energy and restore balance and ease to body and mind.
SE: Safety First!
SE is practiced one-on-one; the client (not the patient!) is usually seated; and the practitioner starts by ensuring that the client feels safe and comfortable. That has to come first, or else one should not approach the trauma!
Then the practitioner gently guides the client, one little bit at a time, to pay attention to the sensations that arise in their body when the mind edges in towards the trauma.
When done very gradually, this enables a discharge to happen, often in the form of shaking or trembling, perhaps a wave of heat or a feeling of expansion, sometimes tears or other emotional expression--but always at a level that feels safe, handleable, not overwhelming.
Even a little bit of discharge immediately lessens the internal pressure and makes further release a bit easier.
As the trauma energy is discharged, the client's mind is able to open more and more. Instead of needing to keep the awareness rigidly confined lest it touch on the intensely scary thoughts and images, the awareness now feels safe and is able to expand and open. Deeper parts of one's being become accessible. Successfully working through trauma can become a doorway to spiritual discovery!
Of course the word "Spiritual" is a loaded word, used to mean very different things by different people. To me the word has no religious or moral connotations, but rather refers to one's wholeness, to consciousness or awareness itself, and to who or what we really are--the nature of our true identity beyond the ideas we have about ourselves. More about this on the Non-Dual Awareness page!