How Does Somatic Experiencing Work?

The goal of a Somatic Experiencing is to help a person return to a state of equilibrium after a disruptive traumatic event by helping them reconnect to their instinctual nature. Peter Levine in Waking the Tiger states, “Trauma puts the primitive brain into a state of constant activation.  The results are impulsive, automatic reactions, which alternate between frenzy, withdrawals, and immobility / paralysis.”

This continuum of “relative resiliency” is what Bob Scaer, in his book “The Trauma Spectrum Hidden Wounds and Human Resiliency,” has called the “trauma spectrum.”  On the sympathetic side of the spectrum after traumatic events we would be left with feelings of anger and rage, and in the parasympathetic branches we would be in a frozen and numb state of depression. The goal of Somatic Experiencing is to meet a person where they are in the spectrum and support them in deactivating these high states of energy at each phase in their physiology so they can live symptom free, and in balance.

Resembling face to face psychotherapy, in a Somatic Experiencing session the practitioner and client talk and tend to various perceptions and bodily sensations that a client experiences.   Peter Levine has coined the acronym S.I.B.A.M. which is used to describe the gestalt of a clients experience, sensations, images, behaviors, affect, meaning.

The intention of the session is client directed, where there is usually a desire to be free of disruptive symptoms.  In Somatic Experiencing this freedom from symptoms is achieved through finding the “inherent rhythm” back and forth between activation and deactivation (expansion and contraction), leading to greater health within their nervous system.  In Somatic Experiencing, this is principal is know as “pendulation”.   Using the neo cortical brain activity of “conscious awareness,” the body’s internal sensations are tracked.  Connecting to the felt sense in the body is a way of “re-initiating an instinctual processing of energy that was interrupted when the trauma occurred,” states Levine in Waking the Tiger. This activity engages the limbic circuits and reptilian brain which creates a re-integration of the three parts of the brain  (the Neo-Cortex, Limbic Brain, and Reptilian Brain), the elements needed for a person’s recovery.

- Felicia Samata Mihich, S.E.P, C.M.T. is a Los Angeles based Somatic Experiencing Practitioner specializing in S.E. Touch Therapy.