"Every living thing is affected by its environment, physically and emotionally. Human beings retain impressions of all that happens to us on our journey from life to death. Some of these impressions are heightened, if they were particularly positive or negative, some are hidden deep in our subconscious; every human being is affected by every one of their experiences and by the total sum of them all." - Charlie Ryrie, "The Healing Energies of Water"
When we experience a traumatic event, we can often times become stuck in a fight or flight, flee or freeze response. If we can not, for whatever reason, fully discharge the energy that builds in our body when in the threat of danger, that energy can remain in our tissue, waiting to be released. This held energy can manifest in several ways. Sometimes, when we are in a situation that increases our adrenaline in the same way it was increased during the event, that place in us can be stimulated and we may react as though we were in the middle of our traumatic event rather than what might be appropriate for the current situation. Our body is on hyper-alert, waiting to act out and discharge this held energy. It is not uncommon to suffer physical symptoms as a result of this trapped energy. When it is unable to run its course and release its charge, it can settle in a particular area of our body, resulting in "body armoring," physical pain, or illness. Finding a safe way to release this trauma held within us can be invaluable.
When we are stuck in patterns of fight, flight, or freeze, SE helps us release, recover, and become more resilient. It is a body-oriented therapeutic model applied in multiple professions for healing trauma and other stress disorders. It is based on a multidisciplinary intersection of physiology, psychology, ethology, biology, neuroscience, indigenous healing practices, and medical biophysics and has been clinically applied for more than four decades and is the life's work of Peter Levine.
Receiving bodywork from a compassionate practitioner who has understanding and experience working with trauma has proven to be very effective in healing any underlying patterns of unresolved energy. As the practitioner touches on areas of physical holding, he/she acts as neutral witness, creating a safe place for you to allow these feelings to rise, finish their process, and release.
The SE approach releases traumatic shock, which is key to transforming PTSD and the wounds of emotional and early developmental attachment trauma. It offers a framework to assess where a person is “stuck” in the fight, flight or freeze responses and provides clinical tools to resolve these fixated physiological states.
Trauma may begin as acute stress from a perceived life-threat or as the end product of cumulative stress. Both types of stress can seriously impair a person’s ability to function with resilience and ease. Trauma may result from a wide variety of stressors such as accidents, invasive medical procedures, sexual or physical assault, emotional abuse, neglect, war, natural disasters, loss, birth trauma, or the corrosive stressors of ongoing fear and conflict.
HOW IT WORKS
The Somatic Experiencing approach facilitates the completion of self-protective motor responses and the release of thwarted survival energy bound in the body, thus addressing the root cause of trauma symptoms. This is approached by gently guiding clients to develop increasing tolerance for difficult bodily sensations and suppressed emotions.
Dr. Levine was inspired to study stress on the animal nervous system when he realized that animals are constantly under threat of death, yet show no symptoms of trauma. What he discovered was that trauma has to do with the third survival response to perceived life threat, which is freeze. When fight and flight are not options, we freeze and immobilize, like “playing dead.” This makes us less of a target. However, this reaction is time-sensitive, in other words, it needs to run its course, and the massive energy that was prepared for fight or flight gets discharged, through shakes and trembling. If the immobility phase doesn’t complete, then that charge stays trapped, and, from the body’s perspective, it is still under threat.
The Somatic Experiencing method works to release this stored energy and turn off this threat alarm that causes severe dysregulation and dissociation. SE helps people understand this body response to trauma and work through a “body first” approach to healing.
For more information on the affects of trauma, read " In An Unspoken Voice: How the Body Releases Trauma and Restores Goodness,” by Peter Levine.