Somatic Experiencing And Its Effect on Trauma

People who suffer from trauma and continue to experience it carry with them a heavy burden. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) can last months to even years if left untreated. The stress affects their physical, mental, and emotional health. It can even manifest through nightmares and flashbacks. Traumatized individuals are more likely to experience depression and anxiety, too. How can trauma be treated? One of the ways is through somatic experiencing, and we’ll tell you more about it below.

What Is Somatic Experiencing?

Somatic is a term that relates to the “body.” Somatic experiencing (SE) is a therapy approach that taps into the mind-body connection, which can help treat the psychological and physical symptoms of people who suffer from PTSD, mental health issues, and other types of trauma.

Dr. Peter Levine developed somatic experiencing. He believed that when an individual suffers a traumatic experience, this can cause a dysfunction in the person’s nervous system. As a result, the dysfunction hinders the individual from being able to fully process the traumatic experience. Consequently, the more traumatic experiences a person has, the harder it will be to process them.

What Somatic Experiencing focuses on is observing and being more aware of bodily sensations that are a result of mental health issues. Through this awareness, the individual can be able to understand and work through his or her painful experiences.

The Freeze Response and Trauma

You might have heard about the fight-or-flight response wherein the body responds to physical threats through either fighting or fleeing. When in such a situation, the body’s muscles become tense, the heart rate goes up, breathing is faster, and the body produces more hormones. These changes equip the body to be more prepared for fighting or fleeing.

On the other hand, there is another response called the freeze response where people just freeze or don’t do anything when they feel like they don’t have a chance of either fighting or escaping the threat. The biggest problem with the freeze response is the aftermath – the person can get trapped in this response long after the threat is over.

How does that happen? It has something to do with energy. When you’re in a life-or-death situation, the energy that allows you to take action (fight or flight) builds up. However, when you freeze, that energy remains and it continues to linger in the body. This is what prevents you from moving past the traumatic experience. There is no reset and you become trapped with the experience, which leads to the manifestation of trauma symptoms.

How Is Somatic Experiencing Done?

Somatic Experiencing helps address the lingering energy inside the body so the individual can start processing the physical and emotional symptoms. Some of the physical symptoms include chronic pain, digestive issues, sleep issues, muscle pain, muscle tension, and respiratory problems.

How can it be done?

1. Bodily Sensations

As mentioned earlier, Somatic Experiencing encourages more awareness of bodily sensations. SE therapists or practitioners believe that these bodily sensations are linked to emotions, feelings, and memories of the traumatic experience. They approach the situation from the bottom and then work their way up.

Somatic Experiencing therapy starts with the therapist guiding you through how your autonomic nervous system works and how it processes a traumatic experience. Usually, traumatized individuals feel confused as to how they can address what they’re thinking and feeling. This first step will be a great help to them to acknowledge those lingering negative emotions and let the therapist address them one by one.

2. Resourcing

Resourcing is one of the tools that Somatic Experiencing therapists use to help patients gain access to their inner strength and resilience. It also helps patients find a sense of peace. The process involves focusing on the positive memories whenever the patient feels distressed or finds himself/herself in a triggering situation. Resourcing teaches the patient to be calm and focus on the present in such cases.

3. Titration

When the patient already knows the resourcing tool, the SE therapist will now proceed to titration. It is when the therapist starts to revisit the traumatic event as well as the sensations related to it. 

Titration is a slow and gradual process. The SE therapist will have to gauge how the patient can handle it and if the patient is ready. The therapist will record the patient’s responses and bodily sensations throughout the titration process. Some of the things that therapists observe are breathing changes, change in tone of voice, hot/cold sensations, dizziness, heaviness, clenched fists, numbness, etc.

4. Pendulation

Pendulation is the process wherein the therapist guides the patient through shifting his/her attention from negative to positive, hence, pendulating. For instance, when the patient is crying or shaking when remembering the traumatic event, the therapist teaches the patient to utilize relaxation or breathing techniques. So that even if the patient is alone, the patient can find a sense of calmness and peace. As the patient gets used to this practice, the shifting to a neutral and calmer state becomes more natural.

If you are going through a traumatic ordeal or know someone who does, consider Somatic Experiencing therapy. The mind-body connection is strong, and you can seek help to access that. Nonetheless, make sure to only consult with certified Somatic Experiencing Practitioners. Dealing with trauma is no joke and there are well-studied approaches to treating and addressing it.