Lessons from the Wild: Recovering from trauma (Part II)
In Part I of this series (appearing in the Tribune on March 26), I introduced Somatic Experiencing® (SE). Today, I’ll share more about the SE approach to help you decide if this modality might be a good fit for you or someone you know.
What is Somatic Experiencing® (SE)?
Somatic Experiencing® was developed by Dr. Peter Levine following his observation that animals in the wild do not appear to suffer from post-traumatic stress, even though daily they are faced with life threatening situations. Dr. Levine observed the mechanisms by which animals are able to shake off the high levels of nervous system arousal and return to their daily lives. He then developed an approach to working with the human nervous system to not only reduce symptoms of stress and trauma but to also release the energy that is embedded in the underlying system. A holistic and multidisciplinary approach, SE now has over 45 years of successful clinical application in the treatment of shock and developmental trauma and is taught throughout the world as an effective method for resolving symptoms of traumatic stress.
Among other things, SE can support recovery from:
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) • Anxiety/hyper-arousal
Emotional and behavioral concerns • Unexplained physical symptoms
Developmental (early childhood) trauma
Medical and/or dental procedures, surgery
Ongoing fear or conflict
Witnessing trauma or death of another person
What should I expect during an SE session?
SE offers a gentle approach to treating trauma. Rather than reliving or re-enacting the trauma, SE supports you to develop body awareness and renegotiate the way your nervous system responds to certain triggers and experiences. My job is to facilitate the session, monitor your stress levels, and assure you don’t go too far, too fast or become overwhelmed by your experience.
First, we will sit down together, orient ourselves to the room, and settle in. We will then begin to explore your experience, while tracking the sensations that occur in your body as you share your story. These bodily sensations offer clues about the activity of your nervous system and reveal patterns of any stress-related impulses that may be unresolved. We will then utilize your body’s innate abilities and instinctual movements to bring these “bound” stress impulses to resolution.
Each session involves:
Learning to track physical sensations: The first few sessions, you may feel like you are learning a new language. That’s because you may be! Sensation is the language of the nervous system, but being present in our bodies is a skill, and may feel unfamiliar at first. With practice and guidance, you will refine the art of sensory tracking and employ it as a tool to regulate your nervous system.
Resourcing: Initially, we will attend more to bodily sensations of calm and settling, establishing a “resource” for you that we will return to throughout the session. A resource may be a memory, image, physical movement, breathing practice, phrase, or something else that brings your body and mind into a state of rest.
Titration: Once we have established a resource, we will begin to move through the sensations associated with your trauma/stressors and identify what instinctual movements, energetic discharge, vocalizations or emotions failed to be resolved/completed at the time of the event. We will slowly release this bound stress energy in a way that is not overwhelming to your nervous system.
Pendulation: A key component in self-regulation is the practice of alternating between the sensations associated with trauma, and those that are a source of strength and comfort. SE operates in cycles that mirror the natural, rhythmic expansion and contraction of a healthy nervous system. Pendulation involves touching lightly into traumatic material, then back into resourced/restful states, and repeating this process throughout each session. This supports the nervous system’s fluidity, flexibility, and return to equilibrium.
Integration: SE places an emphasis on maintaining awareness of the present moment, while allowing survival energies to be safely, gently experienced and gradually discharged. This way, you may start to integrate your experience in a more embodied and regulated way, while simultaneously experiencing a growing sense of safety, wholeness, and empowerment.
How is SE® different from other forms of trauma healing?
SE is not psychotherapy. SE involves focused awareness on your present-moment sensory experience. The aim is to access the body’s memory of the event, not the story. While we may talk a little bit about what happened, the focus of SE is on the bodily sensations and instinctual movements that naturally arise within you as you recall parts of your experience.
I am not a licensed mental health clinician. As an Experienced Registered Yoga Teacher (E- RYT) and Somatic Experiencing Practitioner (SEP) in training, I provide both classical Somatic Experiencing sessions, as well as sessions that integrate Somatic Experiencing with trauma- informed yoga poses and breathing exercises.