Somatic experiencing for pain management and relief
About the author
Call Elevate Wellness at 530-541-9355 to set up a free 25-minute consultation with Emily Winter, MPH, SEP candidate, E-RYT, or to book your first session. Visit www.traumahealing.org for more information on SE.
What is Somatic Experiencing (SE)?
Somatic Experiencing is a body-based method to resolve symptoms of traumatic stress, including tension and pain. Pain and trauma often go hand-in-hand, and involve a complex overlapping of physical and emotional symptoms. Pain and trauma can be challenging to diagnose and treat when the approach is specific to either the mind or the body but does not consider the interconnection of the two. SE works with the bi-directional communication between the body and brain and addresses both physical and emotional responses as they emerge. As such, it can be a powerful tool in managing, and relieving, chronic pain and tension holistically.
SE offers gentle, guided practices that support you to:
Build body awareness
Identify and work with your triggers
Cultivate techniques to regulate your own nervous state and relieve symptoms
Release stress energy and resolve tension that leads to pain
Re-negotiate your nervous system’s response to new or old traumas
Re-inhabit your body in a comforting and safe way
SE was developed by Dr. Peter Levine following his observation that animals in the wild do not appear to suffer from symptoms of trauma, even though they are faced with life threatening situations every day.
Dr. Levine observed the mechanisms by which animals are able to naturally resolve the high levels of nervous system arousal, associated with stressful events, and return to their daily lives without symptoms of trauma.
SE addresses the root cause of trauma symptoms by resolving self-protective stress impulses that have been thwarted and thus bound in the body. Through narrative, sensory exploration, breathing exercises, and organic movements, SE works directly with the nervous system to gradually facilitate the discharge of this survival energy.
SE is not talk therapy, and may be utilized on its own, or as a compliment to other forms of cognitive, behavioral, and/or somatic therapy. It has over 45 years of successful clinical application in the treatment of shock and developmental trauma and does not involve the re- living of traumatic experiences.
Addressing Pain with SE
Acute and chronic pain may be caused by a variety of injuries, illnesses, physical and emotional stressors, and/or traumas. Sometimes pain shows up in our bodies, and we can’t even be sure what caused it. Somatic Experiencing can support management and relief from pain by:
Addressing the root cause of pain by renegotiating the way your nervous system is responding to stress and past or present traumas, injuries, and illness
Increasing bodily awareness and interoception (the ability to sense into your body, stay present, and find tolerability or comfort)
Gently expanding your awareness of and tolerance for bodily sensations associated with tension, stretch, release, movement, and breath
Identifying where you carry tension in your body and discharging the energy (resolving the neural impulses) that caused the tension in the first place
Building the ability to regulate and resolve the emotion of fear, including fear of and hypersensitivity to pain, and fear of physical movement
Introducing new neural pathways that support relief of muscular tension, calm the nervous system, and promote feelings of safety and presence
Through the lens of SE, post-traumatic stress and chronic pain are addressed as aspects of a whole continuum — not as separate diagnoses “isolated” from one another.
When a client seeks out SE for both pain and trauma, their concerns are addressed as part of a continuum that includes their body, emotions, spirit, cognition, and trauma history.
The physiological and behavioral symptoms experienced with post-traumatic stress and chronic pain are accompanied by suffering. At a minimum, this suffering can be alleviated and symptoms will be reduced with SE.
Complete alleviation though, is possible with SE, proper nutrition, exercise, medication management, and social and emotional support.
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