Somatic Experiencing Therapy

The integration of the body into the treatment of trauma is an essential element that has been missing from the conventional western medical modelsOnly talking about trauma isn’t a sufficient enough approach to bring about resolution and healing.  If a person has insufficient self-regulatory capacities in place, the mere retelling of a traumatic story can in fact be a re-traumatizing experience.  Somatic Experiencing integrative approach has proven to be effective because of it’s holistic approach, “drawing on verbal and emotional processing only secondary to sensory motor processing,” states Peter Levine, in Waking the Tiger.  When these incomplete motor response are aided toward their completion, a person’s symptoms may begin to subside.

Somatic Experiencing’s understanding of the connection between all of the aspects of a person, mind, body, and the physiology is imperative in understanding how to treat people with trauma and PTSD.   “Few psychologist have the sufficient background in physiology to recognize the aberrations of experience that can be produced when physiological processes are not allowed to complete,”says Levine.  A traumatized person’s self protective responses are left with their “on” buttons pressed all the time. These highly activated neuro-physiological states that their bodies are constantly trying to manage, over time are what causes PTSD.

Depending on the type and severity of the trauma , the effects on the body will be in varied. For example, when someone is living with an un-resolved experience of being attacked , their physiology may get stuck in trying to compete and unresolved “fight” response.  Their heart and breathing rate will tend to be higher than normal on daily basis, and they often will experience emotions of anger.   On the opposite end of the spectrum, people who have reached a threshold of activation in their nervous systems from a traumatic event and live in the “immobility response”, their heart and breathing rate will tend to be lower than normal.  This physiological state is an efficient and intelligent metabolic response to threat, but over time, these dysregulated patterns if not resolved can cause disruptive symptoms.

Somatic Experiencing understands that when someone is unable to return to a state of equilibrium after a traumatic experience, these high levels of stress that they’re holding neuro-physiologically, over time can lead to serious health problems.  Therefore symptoms are addressed at their origins within the body, brain, and nervous system which hold the key to their resolution.  The following are physical symptoms that have been linked to the traumatic stress response: changes in brain volume, loss of bowel and bladder control, shaking trembling, and increased heart rate, myofacial pain, diabetes, heart disease, immune systems disorders to name a few.  In the long term, trauma effects the endocrine, autonomic, and central nervous systems.

Western medicine traditionally will treat people’s physical symptoms with medications, unaware that trauma can in fact cause dysregulated nervous systems patterns that over time lead to physical symptoms.  Medical researchers are looking for drugs that can counter the reactions to trauma, for example shaking.  Peter Levine comments in Waking the Tiger that these drugs will just be buying time, and that prolonged periods of use may suppress the body’s own balancing response to stress and interfere with healing.

With these inner tools people can learn to find the their own innate healing capacity.  Peter Levine says  “ Most trauma therapies address the mind through talk and the molecules of the mind with drugs. Both these approaches can be of use. However, trauma is not, will not , and can never be fully healed until we also address the essential role played by the body. We must understand how the body is affected by trauma and it’s central position in healing it’s aftermath. Without this foundation, our attempts at mastering trauma will be limited and one sided.”

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