Home Mental Health What is Somatic Experiencing? Everything You Need To Know

What is Somatic Experiencing? Everything You Need To Know

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When life throws us curveballs like trauma, illness or stress, it can feel like our bodies are betraying us. We start to lose touch with what’s really going on beneath the surface and become disconnected from our innate bodily wisdom.

One therapeutic modality aiming to reconnect mind and body is somatic experiencing. In this article, we’ll explore what somatic experiencing is, how it works and why it’s gaining popularity as a natural way to address health challenges at their root.

What is Somatic Experiencing?

Somatic experiencing (SE) is a body-focused method for releasing trapped physical and emotional energy and re-establishing self-regulation.

It was developed by American psychotherapist Peter A. Levine, PhD based on his research into how animals release stress and return to homeostatic balance after threatening or life-threatening events.

At its core, somatic experiencing is about listening to your body’s innate self-healing wisdom rather than trying to intellectually process or suppress uncomfortable physical sensations.

Through gentle mind-body exercises and guided sensory awareness practices, SE facilitates the “discharge” and completion of autonomic nervous system responses left frozen or incomplete due to trauma, injury, surgery or other sources of dysregulation.

The goal is to help clients “re-negotiate” disturbing memories and re-establish self-regulation, enabling them to respond to present-day stressors with more flexibility instead of becoming re-traumatized.

Over time, this process helps reverse the effects of toxic or cumulative stress and restores health, resiliency and a greater sense of aliveness. SE has proven effective for conditions including PTSD, chronic pain, epilepsy, addiction and more.

How Somatic Experiencing Works

While techniques vary depending on a client’s symptoms and history, several key principles underlie the SE process:

Tracking Sensations in the Body – Clients learn to closely notice subtle body signals without judging or trying to change them. This helps bypass cognitive defenses and make underlying patterns and physiological “stuck points” consciously available.

Following the Flow of Sensations – Rather than resisting or trying to control felt sensations, clients are guided to simply track where feelings move within the body moment to moment. This “titrating” approach prevents re-traumatization.

Calibrating Level of Arousal – Exercises are intended to move clients specifically to a “window of tolerance” where they feel just outside their comfort zone but not overwhelmed. SE aims to correct both hyper- and hypo-arousal.

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Revisiting Imprints of Trauma – Under guidance, trauma memories and events are gently revisited and completed through the body rather than relived, allowing adaptive energy to discharge.

Reconnecting to the Wisdom of Instincts – SE helps clients regain trust in their innate survival capabilities by re-establishing clear communication from body to mind.

Neuroception and Self-Regulation – Through tracked sensations, clients develop abilities to accurately “neurocept” safety and danger cues while regaining control over automatic stress responses.

Community Support for Healing – Group SE classes provide education about trauma’s effects while cultivating a peaceful, nourishing environment for recovery.

As clients learn to follow inner bodily cues instead of suppressing or denying them, they can begin reorganizing dysregulated nervous system states at a cellular level. Over time, this releases deep-seated distress and restores capabilities lost to chronic hyperarousal or dissociation. The goal is helping trauma survivors fully re-inhabit and regain confidence in their bodies once again.

Applying Somatic Experiencing Principles to Common Health Issues

While originally developed for treating PTSD, SE principles have proven applicable to a wide range of issues involving disruptions to the autonomic nervous system and mind-body connections. Some conditions that often respond well to SE include:

Stress and Burnout – Toxic or cumulative stress take a physiological toll, and SE can help repair damage by facilitating the release of unfinished stress responses. Reestablishing physical and emotional resiliency helps people thrive despite life’s challenges.

Chronic Pain Conditions – Trauma, surgery and other injuries that don’t fully resolve can metabolize into nagging musculoskeletal issues. SE addresses pain at its root by re-establishing equilibrium in the nervous system.

Autoimmune Disease – When the immune system remains on high alert due to unresolved fight-or-flight mechanisms, it starts attacking the body. SE calms both physical and emotional inflammation.

Anxiety and Depression – These mental health issues often correlate to bodily dysregulation like tension patterns. SE teaches coping skills to manage over- or under-arousal through focused attention to present-moment sensations.

Addiction Recovery – Substances are commonly used to self-medicate unconscious bodily discomfort from past wounds. SE provides alternative methods for self-soothing while supporting the clearing of deeper anxieties.

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Eating Disorders – Dysregulated hunger, fullness and other bodily cues contribute to conditions like anorexia or bingeing. SE fosters re-ownedership of one’s visceral self through gentle sensation-tracking exercises.

IBS, GI Issues & Pelvic Pain – Strong emotions manifest physically when stress responses get lodged in the gut, pelvis and other regions. SE techniques help unlock and shift stuck energies from these areas.

By bringing calm, clarity and choice back to the autonomic nervous system, somatic experiencing allows hidden sources of imbalance to surface and heal from the bottom-up. It empowers clients to manage life’s challenges from a place of empowerment centered in their revitalized body’s core wisdom.

The SE Process: Phase 1 – Tracking Sensations & Releasing Stuck Patterns

When beginning somatic experiencing sessions, clients focus on closely observing, following and reporting bodily sensations without interpretation or judgment.

This intentional tracking helps shift focus into interoception – the ability to sense inner physical states – and moves clients out of their heads and into direct experience of the present moment.

With guidance from their SE practitioner, they bring gentle attention to different areas of the body one region at a time. Any areas of tension, congestion, distress or lack of sensation are noted.

Tracking often brings previously unconscious physiological patterns to light, like chronic muscular bracing, urges to contract or flee, or numbness in areas related to past traumas.

As these patterns are consciously experienced without reaction, biological drive begins mobilizing stuck energies toward resolution and release. With time, blocked survival responses transition out of protection modes and back into equilibrium.

Physical sensations may shift and move in ways that feel liberating as the body takes this opportunity to finish intrinsically-driven healing processes left incomplete by past overwhelm.

Trembling, shaking, rolling sensations, changes in breathing and other autonomic releases are encouraged to naturally discharge through the system without interference.

Practitioners monitor clients’ experience and arousal levels, ensuring they don’t retraumatize but stay within their optimal “window of tolerance.” Over sessions, maladaptive patterns gradually unwind, restoring functionality and range of motion to constricted areas.

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Phase 2 – Trauma Resolution & Completion Processes

As stabilization and patterning shifts take hold, clients develop skills in self-regulation that allow them to gently track into more emotion-laden regions and periods linked to traumatic memories. Practitioners use tracking to help navigate clients’ internal experience and guide completion of survival responses that didn’t come to natural conclusions in the past.

Breath and image work may invoke past flashes to bring resolution in the present. Clients describe in present tense without re-experiencing, focusing on sensations. Practitioners help separate current felt senses from past events and reassure clients of their safety now.

Traumatic imprints gradually discharge affect while regaining integration through completing survival drives to fight, flee or tend-and-befriend responses.

This allows the visceral “who knows” that encodes danger to update its orientation to the actual facts of current safety. With completion comes an easing of discomfort and reclaimed empowerment, independence and control where helplessness once dominated.

Overarching sensations of fear, confusion and overwhelm connected to the original trauma begin dissipating as resolution settles into the system. Clients emerge returned to themselves with a surer foundation from which to face life’s twists.

Review of Somatic Experiencing Methods and Benefits

In this article, we covered the core principles and phases of somatic experiencing – a body-centered approach for healing trauma, chronic stress, pain and illness by releasing incomplete survival responses below the level of cognition.

Through guided sensation awareness practices and natural discharge techniques, SE brings clarity and completion to physiological patterns of protection, defense and imbalance etched into the nervous system by past overwhelm.

By renegotiating stressful imprints and reestablishing orderly communication between brain, mind and body, SE restores self-regulation, resiliency, confidence and a felt sense of “home” within one’s core self.

For conditions involving disruptions to the autonomic nervous system and mind-body connection, it provides an effective low-risk alternative or complement to talk therapy and medication. Bottom line is, somatic experiencing is a powerful way to address health issues and stressors by tapping into the body’s own intrinsic and profound capacity for self-repair.

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