by Dianne Shelton
Somatic Experiencing (SE) is a form of healing designed to relieve and resolve the symptoms of post-traumatic stress injury and other mental, physical and spiritual trauma-related health challenges by focusing on the client’s real and perceived body sensations. These sensations are known as somatic experiences. The SE approach releases traumatic shock (physical and/or relational), which is essential to transforming disease and the wounds of emotional trauma by working with the nervous system. SE has become recognized as a compassionate healing model, as it does not require the traumatized person to retell or relive the traumatic event. Instead, the focus is on sensations rather than the story of the trauma.
How SE Works
The Somatic Experiencing Practitioner (SEP) facilitates the client through the stages of trauma resolution during faceto- face sessions. The SEP helps the client by promoting awareness and release of physical tension that remains in the body as part of the aftermath of trauma. The physical tension occurs when the survival response (also known as the arousal cycle) continues a pattern where the immobilized energy is not released and fully discharged. This pattern of tension can take the form of orienting, fight, flight, collapse or freeze of the autonomic nervous system.
The survival cycle is a part of the body that signals whether or not everything is okay. This cycle activates and communicates to the body how to take action. Often, however, the survival cycle is ignored or not trusted, which further complicates the trauma pattern. At this point, the individual then needs support to release the survival responses they may be experiencing.
Examples of these symptoms can include:
- Headaches and other chronic pain
- Digestive problems
- Chronic fatigue
- Anxiety and panic attacks
- Sleep disturbances
- Feelings easily hurt
- Excessive worrying
- Abrupt mood swings
- Uncontrollable rage
- Problems connecting with others
- Being easily startled
- Attraction to danger
- Accident proneness
- Shakiness or dizziness
- Hypersensitivity to sound or light
- Disruptive thoughts
- Flashbacks or nightmares
Through SE, an individual can resolve these symptoms. After a series of SE sessions many individuals report feeling more alive and experiencing greater resiliency.
The SE Process
Although it may be helpful to talk about past events or symptoms, the primary goal is to allow the body the opportunity to come into alignment with one’s personal truth as it stands in this moment. Clients are not required to tell their stories or “relive” the traumatic event unless there is a compelling therapeutic need. Instead, the SE practitioner will begin working with patterns in the body (nervous system), mind (thoughts) and emotions to begin the healing process.
A skillful SEP will gently approach patterns, symptoms and trauma by guiding awareness towards one’s sensations and experiences. Many times a physical sensation such as trembling and/or an emotional release will discharge energy from the nervous system that was fixed in the body during the actual trauma. SEPs concur that trauma is not something clients can “talk” their way out of. Instead, the focus is on the body, feeling and exploring sensations.
After a session, some clients report feeling tired and needing rest. This is normal, as it indicates that the nervous system is moving toward integrated coherence for a relaxed recovery. However, many clients report feeling energized and excited about the personal insights gained in session.
Dianne Shelton is a trauma healing practitioner and Somatic Experiencing Practitioner at The One Center Austin, 1518 W. Koenig Ln., in Austin. For more information, call 512-420- 0750 or visit TheOneCenterAustin.com.