Sadly, trauma can make your life miserable. From psychological shock to total body shut down, it can be an overwhelming experience that just never seems to go away.
Maybe you have nightmares. Maybe you are unable to sleep.
A great deal of emotional and physical pain can be traced back to unresolved trauma in a person’s life, which might be the result of a wide variety of experiences.
Some examples of events that can cause trauma are:
- Automobile accidents
- Natural disasters
- Military combat
- Physical, emotional, and/or sexual abuse
- Sports injuries
- Medical procedures
Yes, even medical procedures can result in lasting trauma. Whatever the cause, trauma lingers in the brain’s limbic system (“the emotional brain”), and the reptilian brain, where it is difficult to access and treat.
However, there are forms of trauma therapy that can bring it out and allow healing to take place. One of these forms is called Somatic Experiencing, or SE.
SE was developed by Dr. Peter Levine, author of Waking the Tiger: Healing Trauma. Dr. Levine, a University of California-Berkeley grad with a PhD in medical biophysics and a PsyD from International University, has been successfully practicing SE and teaching it to other practitioners for decades.
SE in a nutshell
It all started back in the 1970’s, when Dr. Levine was inspired by observing the way animals cope with threats. He noticed that although animals are under constant threat, they never seem to experience lasting trauma.
It makes sense that animals are naturals when it comes to dealing with threats and surviving them without any traumatic side effects. Their very lives depend on it. Humans, on the other hand, are not oriented to shake off trauma, and many of us often experience the effects of trauma for a very long time.
Survival response – Fight, flight, or freeze
There are three survival responses to a perceived threat–fight, flight, and freeze–and each response needs to complete its cycle by fully discharging energy from the body.
If you can fight back or flee, the energy built up in response to a threat is discharged with the exertion, and the cycle completes. If you can’t fight back or flee, the body is unable to discharge energy, and a “freeze” response (the animal version is to play dead) ensues. Your body continues to feel threatened, and experiences trauma. Animals automatically complete the “freeze” cycle by literally “shaking it off,” and resetting their nervous system.
Humans often interrupt that cycle. Overwhelmed and overcome, we get stuck.
SE is a clinical methodology that can help release that energy and put an end to the ongoing traumatic shock. As Dr. Levine’s website, SomaticExperiencing.com, outlines, SE has been effective in helping:
- Combat veterans
- Rape survivors
- Holocaust survivors
- Automobile accident survivors
- Patients with post-surgery trauma
- People with chronic pain
- Infants after traumatic births
Since the theory behind SE involves the body’s response to threat–and not the threatening event itself–the therapy focuses on the body’s memories and suppressed emotions (i.e., somatic experiences). So, there is no need to revisit the actual event. The SE framework allows you to access the pent-up energy and slowly release it in cycles until the body understands that its survival response has completed.
This system is called “bottom-up processing,” as it’s a body-first approach that starts with your perceived sensations and works up from there. That’s why SE is often the first choice for treating clients who are experiencing physical symptoms rather than emotional symptoms.
Take the first step…
Are you suffering from unresolved trauma? If so, SE could help you process your experiences and find relief. You do not have to continue to endure unnecessary suffering. When you are ready to heal your traumatic history, I would like to help. Please contact me via voicemail or email so we can discuss how we might work together to achieve your therapeutic goals as quickly and effectively as possible.
I look forward to hearing from you.
Linda K. Laffey, MFT