Somatic Experiencing is a treatment that is used to help relieve psychological and physiological disorders by focusing on physical sensations in the body. It is a form of trauma therapy that was originally developed in 1997 by the psychologist Dr Peter Levine, a former stress consultant for NASA. The procedure is based on his observations of how animals in the wild are able to react to and recover from life-threatening situations very quickly.
Trauma symptoms in humans are a dysfunction of an individual’s autonomic nervous system, which under normal circumstances helps regulate many areas of body functions. However, following a traumatic incident our bodies often become stuck in a trauma reaction mode, from which the body is unable to recover to a normal healthy state.
What does the treatment involve?
Dr Levine noticed how, in the wild, animals are able to “reset” their autonomic nervous system by discharging the excess trauma energy – once they are safe from the threat – through shaking, trembling or deep spontaneous breaths.
Medical application of Somatic Experiencing works in a similar fashion by helping a client discharge excess or trapped traumatic energy to restore the body’s ability to self-regulate. This approach to treatment works by educating individuals on how their bodies cope with stress and teaching them how to track related thoughts and feelings.
It helps clients recognise the existence of physical tension and how to release it. This tension can otherwise reinforce addictive behaviour and many other types of disorders.