We all experience trauma. Our life experiences and resilience levels vary and effect the degree to which trauma impacts us. Untreated, trauma symptoms limit enjoyment of life and productivity. Common signs of trauma and Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) include difficulty regulating emotions, anxiety, an inability to maintain stable or fulfilling relationships, feelings of unreality and/or gaps in memory (dissociative symptoms), depression, anger, nightmares, emotional numbness, unwarranted guilt, sleep problems, substance abuse, eating disorders and paranoia. The senseless acts of fear, hate and violence in Minnesota, Baton Rouge and Dallas this week, along with today’s global and political climate, create despair, grief and uncertainty and exacerbate pre-existing trauma symptoms.
In my practice, I have witnessed the lasting effects of trauma: bullying, addiction in the family, emotional, verbal and physical abuse, accidents, invasive or upsetting medical procedures, sexual assault, neglect, natural disasters, loss, birth trauma, nasty divorces, the lingering effects of 9/11 plus those with multiple accumulated traumas.
A few years ago I began to offer less talk therapy and employ more guided imagery, breath work, meditation and other relaxation techniques with clients who felt “stuck”. Pleased with the positive response clients reported from mind-body work, I found myself eager to gain an even higher level of expertise.
In 2015 I began studying Somatic Experiencing (SE), a body-oriented approach to healing trauma and other stress disorders. Developed by Dr. Peter A. Levine, it incorporates his 45 years of clinical experience, aspects of stress physiology, psychology, ethology, biology, neuroscience, indigenous healing practices, and medical biophysics.
The SE approach gently increases capacity for difficult bodily sensations and suppressed emotions and helps the body move through and out of the fight, fight or freeze mode caused by trauma. A Somatic Experiencing session can be conducted by a mental health clinician or a body worker, and can be done with or without physical touching.
After almost two years of engaging in SE training, I have had the good fortune to not only practice as therapist, I have also been the lucky recipient of SE while in the client role. The results have reaffirmed the belief I held for this therapeutic form. Multiple talk therapy sessions for a decades-old traumatic car accident had helped me, but not in the same way that SE did. The physical and emotional benefits have been profound.
One of the many aspects of SE I like is that it is well suited to people who don’t like to talk a lot. A skilled SE practitioner may only have a client talk for several minutes before beginning SE, which doesn’t require a verbal narrative from the client. This is very freeing to many who feel self-conscious, who are not verbally adept, or are afraid to tell their story. I have witnessed clients make extensive progress in their healing after a few sessions of SE. Children are also great candidates for SE, as they are often more self-aware of bodily sensations and have had less practice than adults have at intellectualizing their distress. Clients who are already very self-aware and/or have identified very specific treatment goals make tremendous progress with SE.
I became a clinical social worker to reduce suffering and enhancing quality of life for others. I am deeply grateful SE is available not only to my clients but also to the many others around the globe who are survivors of life’s biggest challenges.
For additional reading on the foundations of Somatic Experiencing, I recommend Waking the Tiger: Healing Trauma, by Peter Levine. For more information on Somatic Experiencing and the Foundation for Human Enrichment, visit http://traumahealing.org.