About Dr Peter Levine and the development of Somatic Experiencing

SOMATIC EXPERIENCING

Somatic Experiencing® is a body-oriented approach to the healing of trauma and other stress disorders. It is the life’s work of Dr Peter A. Levine, resulting from his multidisciplinary study of stress physiology, psychology, ethology, biology, neuroscience, indigenous healing practices, and medical biophysics, together with over 45 years of successful clinical application. The SE approach releases traumatic shock, which is key to transforming PTSD and the wounds of emotional and early developmental attachment trauma.

THE SE APPROACH

Offers a framework to assess where a person is “stuck” in the fight, flight or freeze responses and provides clinical tools to resolve these fixated physiological states. It provides effective skills appropriate to a variety of healing professions including mental health, medicine, physical and occupational therapies, bodywork, addiction treatment, first response, education, and others.

THE SCIENCE

Trauma may begin as acute stress from a perceived life-threat or as the end product of cumulative stress. Both types of stress can seriously impair a person’s ability to function with resilience and ease. Trauma may result from a wide variety of stressors such as accidents, invasive medical procedures, sexual or physical assault, emotional abuse, neglect, war, natural disasters, loss, birth trauma, or the corrosive stressors of ongoing fear and conflict.

HOW IT WORKS

The SE approach facilitates the completion of self-protective motor responses and the release of thwarted survival energy bound in the body, thus addressing the root cause of trauma symptoms. This is approached by gently guiding clients to develop increasing tolerance for difficult bodily sensations and suppressed emotions.

How animals discharge shock

Dr Levine was inspired to study stress on the animal nervous system, when he realized that animals are constantly under threat of death, yet show no symptoms of trauma. What he discovered was that trauma has to do with the third survival response to perceived life threat, which is freeze. When fight and flight are not options, we freeze and immobilize, like “playing dead.” This makes us less of a target. However, this reaction is time-sensitive, in other words, it needs to run its course, and the massive energy that was prepared for fight or flight gets discharged, through shakes and trembling. If the immobility phase doesn’t complete, then that charge stays trapped, and, from the body’s perspective, it is still under threat. Somatic Experiencing® works to release this stored energy, and turn off this threat alarm that causes severe dysregulation and dissociation.

Renegotiation

In Somatic Experiencing®, the traumatic event isn’t what caused the trauma, it is the overwhelmed response to the perceived life threat that is causing an unbalanced nervous system. The aim is to help you access the body memory of the event, not the story. So we don’t discuss what happened if you don’t want to.

Take your time

Here we introduce the concept of titration – slowly releasing energy. Somatic Experiencing operates in cycles, where you sense your way through the normal oscillations of internal sensation – contraction/expansion, pleasure/pain, warmth/cold – but only at the level that you can handle. This repeated, rhythmic process helps you to develop a greater capacity to handle stress and stay in the present moment, where you belong.

Bottom up processing

Like other somatic psychology approaches, Somatic Experiencing® professes a body first approach to dealing with the problematic (and, oftentimes, physical) symptoms of trauma. This means that therapy isn’t about reclaiming memories or changing our thoughts and beliefs about how we feel, but looking at the sensations that lie underneath our feelings, and uncovering our habitual behaviour patterns to these feelings.

Pendulation

Pendulation is a term used by Dr Levine to describe the natural oscillation between opposing forces of contraction and expansion. Somatic Experiencing® utilizes this philosophy to help a client experience a sense of flow.