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Somatic Experiencing is a body-awareness approach to healing trauma. Biophysicist and Psychologist, Peter Levine, PhD, developed this method to help restore the natural balance of a healthy functioning nervous system. Dr. Levine found that talk therapy and cognitive interventions failed to fully alleviate the effects of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) on the nervous system. Traditional talk therapies engage the higher analytical functions of the brain, which overrides or dismisses critical information communicated directly from the body. This is problematic because the body is the level at which the most debilitating effects of trauma can be found. Somatic Experiencing (SE) addresses the body’s failure to process adverse events and successfully integrate the experience into psychological reality.


Observing prey animals in nature, Dr. Levine noted that they are routinely confronted with life-threatening events and yet, are rarely traumatized. Human beings, however, are readily traumatized when confronted with threatening or high stress life events. Since humans and other mammals possess nearly identical brain- and body-based survival mechanisms, Dr. Levine sought to identify what was interfering with the human threat-recovery process. Additionally he worked to develop tools for restoring people's innate capacity to rebound following overwhelming, traumatic experiences.


All mammals, including human beings, have built in biological responses to threat, also known as the survival mechanisms of fight, flight, and, freeze. When threat is perceived, the body is flooded with massive amounts of energy to mobilize these primitive self-defense mechanisms. If the fight or flight responses are unsuccessful or not possible, the body will freeze and shut down. Freeze renders the ‘prey’ immobile and numb to pain. At this point in nature, the animal may be assumed dead by its predator and left alone. Having survived, the animal awakes from its state of shock and shakes off the immense amounts of energy mobilized for its escape thereby resetting the nervous system to restore equilibrium. Then, off it goes to resume the business of living as if nothing happened. Human beings, however, often get stuck in the freeze response and are unable to discharge the energy generated to aid in their survival.  Why is this so, if humans and other mammals possess such similar primitive survival mechanisms?


Like other mammals, humans are similarly designed to rebound from high-intensity survival states. However, unlike other mammals, we also have the ability to cognitively override the natural discharge of excess survival energy. In other words, our thoughts interfere with natural body processes keeping us in a state of freeze. Through rationalizations, judgments, shame, and fear of our bodily sensations, we may disrupt our innate capacity to self-regulate and restore nervous system balance. When the nervous system does not reset after an overwhelming experience, it can significantly disturb sleep, cardiac, digestion, respiration, and immune system function. Unresolved physiological distress can also lead to an array of other physical, cognitive, emotional, and behavioral symptoms.


Somatic Experiencing facilitates the completion of self-protective responses and the release of thwarted survival energy bound in the body. Put differently, it helps thaw the freeze response in which the body is stuck. SE techniques also cultivate a client’s increased tolerance for uncomfortable body sensations and intense emotional experiences.


Unlike other therapeutic interventions, SE does not require the person to re-tell or re-live the traumatic event. Instead, it offers the opportunity to engage, complete, and resolve the body's instinctual fight, flight, and freeze responses. For those locked in anxiety or acute anger or rage SE gives rise to a growing sense of peace and safety.  For those stuck in depression, SE slowly enables them to transform their feelings of hopelessness and helplessness into empowerment, triumph, and mastery.  In short, SE resets the nervous system to restore inner balance, enhance resilience to stress, and increases one's vitality, equanimity, and capacity to actively engage in life.

To learn more about Somatic Experiencing, visit:

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- Michele
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