Somatic Experiencing - Berlin & Munich

Somatic Experiencing® is a pioneering body perception method to heal and work with traumas. In the here and now, the focus of the client is on the perception of his or her sensory impressions or body sensations. This allows the emotional and physiological effects of trauma, stress and related anxiety and depression to subside and dissolve.

Somatic Experiencing helps you to become aware of how your body responds to stress or threat. If, for example, you react with helplessness and collapse, you can now find new, appropriate answers. In Somatic Experiencing we learn that an overwhelming event takes place physiologically in the body and that our body has the strength and ability to overcome such an overwhelming event. The physiological basics leading to the combat, escape or solidification reaction we humans share with all mammals. Read more in Basics of Somatic Experiencing.

Somatic Experiencing - Berlin & Munich

Photo by Hidde Rensink on Unsplash

What is a trauma?

Every person can have experiences in everyday life that overwhelm him and perhaps frighten him beyond all measure. He may get into a car accident or become a victim of a robbery, or he may see a loved one die. These are drastic examples of experiences that can deeply impress, shape and hurt a person. This psychic injury is called “trauma”. Read more in What is a trauma?.

A typical Somatic Experiencing Session

Suppose you had recently experienced a violent car accident. Since the occurance of the event, there is a load of eergy trapped in your nervous system. Your body does not know where to put this large amount of energy. This leads to various symptoms. In the Somatic Experiencing session you will find out step by step how to calm your nervous system and discharge this high concentration of energies. This ability to calm down and remain calm will help you to feel safe again. In Somatic Experiencing you focus your attention on your own sensory impressions – on what you are experiencing right now. For example, you may pay attention to what you are hearing or what colour you are seeing, or how the chair you are sitting on feels at that moment. By perceiving such simple things, you will learn to calm down.

Suppose you were thrown forward in that accident, and your arm tried to fend off the impact. The movement of your arm could not prevent the impact. Your body is now stuck in this “incomplete” movement, which leads to symptoms in the shoulder. In the Somatic Experiencing session you and your body will learn to “complete” this movement. In this way you can change your body memory for this protective arm movement: So your body memory gets an update. This can resolve the symptoms in the shoulder. – Such an update affects your entire body-mind system. Read on in Trauma session after car accident.


Video on the topic:

In this video Peter Levine explains the basics of Somatic Experiencing in an interview. In the second part of the video you can see a Somatic Experiencing session that Levine gives to a US Navy that survived a bomb explosion. The video lasts 27 minutes.

„Nature’s Lessons in Healing Trauma: An Introduction to Somatic Experienting®“

When is Somatic Experiencing used?

Somatic Experiencing was developed for shock traumas such as car and motorcycle accidents, falls from great heights, sudden events such as explosions or earthquakes, serious injuries or operations, after the death of a loved one, strokes of fate, domestic violence or assaults. Somatic Experiencing is suitable for treating the acute symptoms and consequences of such an event, as well as those that often persist for years.

You can also use Somatic Experiencing to find a way out of chronic stress, burnout or nervous breakdown and create the basis for a new beginning.

The symptoms triggered by trauma and shock manifest themselves in many ways. They often occur six months after the event, so you don’t make the connection with the event at all. The beginning is insidious. You may always get headaches or become extremely nervous when you see falling leaves because the car accident happened in autumn. Read more in List of symptoms shock trauma.

What does Somatic Experiencing do?

With Somatic Experiencing you find your way back to a regulated state step by step. You become calmer, more relaxed and can cope better with stress. You have more energy at your disposal – because trauma and stress are energy thieves. Your symptoms will subside or disappear. You are more emotionally balanced, more open and more friendly. Your ability to approach people and talk to them in a relaxed and open manner increases. Your joy of life returns.

“Trauma cannot be ignored. It is an inherent part of the primitive biology that brought us here. The only way we will be able to release ourselves, individually and collectively, from re-enacting our traumatic legacies is by transforming them through renegotiation. Whether we choose to transform these legacies through group experiences, shamanic practices, or individually, it must be done.
Peter A. Levine, Trauma Healing: The Awakening of the Tiger


A book worth reading on the subject:

Peter A. Levine, In an Unspoken Voice 384 pages, 19,16 €,North Atlantic Books September 2010, ISBN-13: 978-1556439438
In this book Levine combines his groundbreaking research on stress and trauma and his immense therapeutic experience with the latest findings from brain research, neurobiology and integrative body-mind-medicine. Using impressive case studies, he shows that traumatic reactions are part of an intelligent psychosomatic self-protection system that unintentionally blocks professionals and laypersons alike. However, if we learn to listen to the wisdom of the body expressing itself in a language without words, a trauma can be transformed and resolved.


If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me in my practice in Berlin or Munich. Here you will find the contact page.

Somatic Experiencing - Berlin & Munich

Whether it is an electric shock, or a car accident, or the sudden death of a loved one. Such events occur suddenly and have a very intense effect on us. The more intense and sudden the event, the more likely we are to receive a shock.

Psychological symptoms

  • Flashbacks and nightmares
    You experience the event again and again. These flashbacks can be extremely realistic with all the emotions, sweats and noises from back then. Minor things in everyday life can trigger a flashback. For example, if you had a car accident in the rain in autumn, raindrops or falling leaves can cause a flashback.
  • Avoidance behaviour & deafness
    The experience can be so painful or stirring that you avoid any memory of it. You try to distract yourself, perhaps through a hobby, through too much work, or by spending your time crosswording. You avoid places, situations and people who remind you of them. You try to cope with your feelings by not feeling anything anymore. You become emotionally numb. You communicate less with people. They then find living together or working together with you exhausting.
  • Excessive vigilance
    You are constantly on your guard. You cannot relax, you do not sleep well and your fellow human beings perceive you as erratic, quick to react and easily irritable. You yourself do not know why this is so.
  • Feelings of panic and fear
    You may notice that certain triggers cause anxiety or panic. These triggers can be snowflakes, for example, when the accident took place in winter when there was a lot of snow. These feelings can occur subtly throughout the day or they can flood you massively. You only know that this was not the case in the past.
  • Depression
    Your depression may be directly related to a traumatic experience (shock trauma). You may discover during therapy that the cause lies in your childhood (complex trauma). A recent shock trauma can also activate a previously sleeping childhood trauma and plunge you into a deep depression.
  • Danger
    You feel attracted to risky situations or to hazardous people. You cannot then say no or escape the situation.
  • Emotional fluctuations
    Your actions and reactions are impulsive and sometimes exaggerated. Because of trifles you get upset or very aggressive or get into deep helplessness or apathy. Your emotions shoot up and you probably have problems with your control. These mood swings are exhausting. You feel like you’re involuntarily sitting in an emotional roller coaster and never know what’s next.
  • Sleep problems
    You have nightmares. You wake up at night with an “alarm feeling”. Your sleep is not restful. Accordingly, you are overtired during the day. That consumes energy.
  • Concentration problems
    You are distracted or mentally absent, disconnect at every opportunity, have concentration problems, cannot think clearly, have decision-making difficulties or orientation problems, have no plan, lose track quickly, are forgetful, misplace objects or bump into furniture.
  • Overstraining
    You feel constantly overwhelmed. Everything is simply too much for you. This can lead to shame, anger, depression or the feeling of having extremely weak nerves.
  • Contact problems
    Your friends and colleagues find living together or working with you exhausting. You yourself have contact problems, are unable to get involved, do not receive the feedback you wish for, find it difficult to receive affection and love from others. The constant preoccupation with your own inexplicable sensitivities and symptoms prevents you from making and maintaining open contacts.

Physiological Symptoms

  • Tension and pain in the flexor muscles
    Those tensions occur when the fighting, flight and dead position reflexes activate the flexor muscles. However, if the survival energy provided is not released, tension and pain occur. – The flexors are the muscles you use when you contract into a ball or when you adopt the posture of a boxer or an angry, hissing cat with an arched back. This includes the deep pelvic, abdominal, chest, jaw and neck muscles, as well as the flexors of the arms and legs.
  • Headaches
    If you tighten the flexor muscles, the neck muscles are affected. This hampers blood flow and oxygen supply to the brain. As a result, you are prone to headaches or migraines.
  • Orientation problems
    You can hardly orient yourself in road traffic. At home you often displace objects and have to search for them. All in all you quickly lose track and don’t know what’s next or where to go.
  • Diarrhoea – irritable bowel syndrome
    When mammals fight or flee, digestion is stopped and the intestine emptied. This is why many people have diarrhoea before an exam situation or have to go to the toilet shortly before. This mechanism cannot be switched off after a shock trauma. This then manifests itself in chronic or changing diarrhoea and stomach complaints. Occasionally an “irritable bowel” is diagnosed.
  • Irregular heartbeat
    You notice unusual heart actions. They are perceived as too fast, strained, too strong or irregular. However, your cardiologist will not be able to determine the cause.
  • Excessive alcohol consumption
    Alcohol relaxes and lets you forget your “unsolvable” problems for a short time. This is not addictive behaviour, but rather self-medication. However, it can later turn into addiction.
  • Drugs including painkillers or sedatives
    In order to survive your everyday life and remain functional, you regularly take medication such as sedatives, stimulants, mood enhancers, sleeping pills, painkillers or muscle relaxants. You may also resort to illegal drugs.
  • Feelings of numbness
    You do not feel parts of your body or have numbness in certain parts of your body. Neurologically, however, nothing can be detected.
  • Sensitivities
  • You are sensitive to light, sounds, smells or skin touches.
  • Exhaustion
  • You are repeatedly in a state of exhaustion or are constantly physically and psychologically exhausted. Accordingly, you are constantly working and living at your performance limits. You feel exhausted. Everything is too much for you.
  • Willingness to perform
    You have the feeling that you are constantly under power. You have far too much energy at your disposition. You don’t know where to put so much energy. Thereby you quickly exceed your physical limit. This alternates with deep states of exhaustion.
  • etc.

„Trauma is perhaps the most avoided, ignored, belittled, denied, misunderstood, and untreated cause of human suffering. Although it is the source of tremendous distress and dysfunction, it is not an ailment or a disease, but the byproduct of an instinctively instigated, altered state of consciousness. We enter this altered state, let us call it survival mode, when we perceive that our lives are being threatened. If we are overwhelmed by the threat and are unable to successfully defend ourselves, we can become stuck in survival mode. This highly aroused state is designed solely to enable short-term defensive actions; but left untreated over time, it begins to form the symptoms of trauma.“ Peter A. Levine, Waking the Tiger


Syndromes

The following syndromes are associated with trauma:

Diagnosis

If the symptoms subside within six weeks of the shock event, it is a normal adjustment reaction without trauma. If the symptoms last longer than six weeks, it is probably a trauma.

  • Basically, the more intense the shock, the higher the probability of trauma. But even an insignificant car body damage can cause a trauma.
  • The symptoms occur immediately after the shock situation or with a delay of up to 18 months.
  • The symptoms appear insidiously and can persist for years.
  • You yourself do not recognize the connection between the symptoms or only incompletely.
  • The symptoms are sometimes bizarre, very individual and difficult for you to classify.
  • In general, your fellow human beings do not notice what is going on in you.

If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me in my practice in Berlin or Munich. Here you will find the contact page.

Somatic Experiencing - Berlin & München

Animals experience stress without trauma. Why is this so? All mammals, including humans, have an extremely effective survival strategy: the Fight Flight Freeze Response. In life-threatening situations your organism suddenly provides the necessary energy. This strategy has proven itself in evolution.

The Fight Flight Freeze Response consists of three phases:

Animals experience stress without trauma. Why is this so? All mammals, including humans, have an extremely effective survival strategy: the Fight Flight Freeze Response. In life-threatening situations your organism suddenly provides the necessary energy. This strategy has proven itself in evolution.

The Fight Flight Freeze Response consists of three phases:

  • Provide energy (adrenalin, glucose, hormones, sympathetic activation)
  • Fight Flight Freeze Response
  • Energy discharged = self-regulation (Trembling, vibrating, shaking and deep spontaneous breathing

Provide energy:
A dangerous situation can occur suddenly. Be it by a surprising attack from ambush or the necessity of an escape. Within milliseconds stress hormones are released and the organism is on alert.

Fight and flight:
The energy provided is used for combat or escape.

Freeze response:
When a fight is hopeless and an escape impossible, the animal freezes. It falls “as if dead” to the ground. A dead reflex or rigor mortis are states of complete inability to move. They have an advantage in evolution, because some predators react primarily to the movement of the prey animal. It can also happen that the predator is distracted and the hunted animal awakes from the solidification and flees during this time.

Energy discharge:
When the animal is safe again, it discharges the excess energy through various reactions such as trembling, vibrating, shaking and deep spontaneous breathing. It then returns to its herd as if nothing had happened. – No trauma remains.

Somatic Experiencing - Berlin & München

Photo by Chris Sabor on Unsplash

Why people get stuck in trauma:

In the human organism these three phases take place in the same way as in mammals. However, our thinking cerebral cortex enables us to interrupt the third phase – the discharge phase – in our body. This disrupts the self-regulation of our body. We suppress the trembling vibrations, shaking and also the spontaneous deep breaths, because these violent autonomous reactions unsettle us. The intensity of the survival energy within us frightens us so that we try to control it and reduce it to a bearable level.

By interrupting the discharge phase, the body remains physiologically stuck. It is as if the accelerator pedal is stuck at full throttle. What happens then? The energy remains in the body, it is not broken down. This can lead to various symptoms such as sleep problems, heart problems, digestion problems, breathing problems, nervousness, emotional problems, cognitive problems, behavioural problems.


In this video, Peter Levine shows what happens in the body with trauma energy.

Biological Completion:

If, for example, you have had a car accident, the memory of the movement is stored in your body as you fend off the impact with your arm. Your body is stuck in this “incomplete” movement, which leads to symptoms e.g. in the shoulder.

In the Somatic Experiencing Session, you now lead this arm movement “to the end” in many small steps. So you complete the arm movement and thus the autonomous self-protection reaction of your body. This is also called “biological completion”. This allows your body to discharge the energy it has accumulated since the trauma. In this way, you can reintegrate the experience, i.e. you move from fragmentation to integration. Your system is released from solidification and can thus better regulate itself. Self-regulation increases its resilience, which means that in the future you will be able to cushion the “hardships of everyday life” better.

The special thing about Somatic Experiencing:

In many forms of therapy you have to tell the traumatic event again and relive it. Regression and catharsis are the methods you aim for. These methods are certainly justified, but in the event of a trauma they can be extremely stressful for you as a client and then lead to retraumatisation. From the point of view that the past decides who you are in the present, much attention is paid to your past.

Somatic Experiencing says that the past does not determine our present at all. What negatively affects our current experience is the persistence of survival structures from the past and the resulting disorganization in the present nervous system, which in turn leads to the distortion of identity.

Somatic Experiencing always refers to the present moment through the felt sense. By attentively perceiving our sensory impressions in the here and now, we achieve a self-regulation of the nervous system. This is the prerequisite for coming into better contact with being and feeling more alive again. According to the Somatic Experience approach, healing regulation can occur fully when you are in contact with yourself and your body – and when you are in relationship with others.


“By learning to recognize body sensations and to make contact with them, we connect to our instinctive origins in the reptilian brain. In themselves, instincts are nothing more than reactions. But when these reactions are complemented by our emotional mammalian brain and our typical human cognitive abilities, we experience the fullness of our evolutionary heritage … Without the intact connection to our instincts and feelings, we cannot feel our connection to the earth, to our family and to the whole of existence. This is where the roots of trauma lie.” Peter A. Levine, Trauma Healing: The Awakening of the Tiger


A book worth reading on the subject is:

Peter A. Levine, Waking the Tiger – Healing Trauma 288 pages, $15.42 , North Atlantic Books, ISBN-13 978-1556432330
Peter Levine became famous with this book. He shows the reader in great detail why it is so important to focus on sensory impressions. He makes a wide bow to neurobiology and explains why animals in the wild do not suffer trauma. In 30 years of clinical experience, he has developed the body-oriented Somatic-Experiencing method from these findings. This is vividly described in the book.


If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me in my practice in Berlin or Munich. Here you will find the contact page.

    • Provide energy (adrenalin, glucose, hormones, sympathetic activation)
    • Fight Flight Freeze Response
    • Energy discharged = self-regulation (Trembling, vibrating, shaking and deep spontaneous breathing

Provide energy:
A dangerous situation can occur suddenly. Be it by a surprising attack from ambush or the necessity of an escape. Within milliseconds stress hormones are released and the organism is on alert.

Fight and flight:
The energy provided is used for combat or escape.

Freeze response:
When a fight is hopeless and an escape impossible, the animal freezes. It falls “as if dead” to the ground. A dead reflex or rigor mortis are states of complete inability to move. They have an advantage in evolution, because some predators react primarily to the movement of the prey animal. It can also happen that the predator is distracted and the hunted animal awakes from the solidification and flees during this time.

Energy discharge:
When the animal is safe again, it discharges the excess energy through various reactions such as trembling, vibrating, shaking and deep spontaneous breathing. It then returns to its herd as if nothing had happened. – No trauma remains.

Somatic Experiencing - Berlin & München

Photo by Chris Sabor on Unsplash

Why people get stuck in trauma:

In the human organism these three phases take place in the same way as in mammals. However, our thinking cerebral cortex enables us to interrupt the third phase – the discharge phase – in our body. This disrupts the self-regulation of our body. We suppress the trembling vibrations, shaking and also the spontaneous deep breaths, because these violent autonomous reactions unsettle us. The intensity of the survival energy within us frightens us so that we try to control it and reduce it to a bearable level.

By interrupting the discharge phase, the body remains physiologically stuck. It is as if the accelerator pedal is stuck at full throttle. What happens then? The energy remains in the body, it is not broken down. This can lead to various symptoms such as sleep problems, heart problems, digestion problems, breathing problems, nervousness, emotional problems, cognitive problems, behavioural problems.


In this video, Peter Levine shows what happens in the body with trauma energy.

Biological Completion:

If, for example, you have had a car accident, the memory of the movement is stored in your body as you fend off the impact with your arm. Your body is stuck in this “incomplete” movement, which leads to symptoms e.g. in the shoulder.

In the Somatic Experiencing® Session, you now lead this arm movement “to the end” in many small steps. So you complete the arm movement and thus the autonomous self-protection reaction of your body. This is also called “biological completion”. This allows your body to discharge the energy it has accumulated since the trauma. In this way, you can reintegrate the experience, i.e. you move from fragmentation to integration. Your system is released from solidification and can thus better regulate itself. Self-regulation increases its resilience, which means that in the future you will be able to cushion the “hardships of everyday life” better.

The special thing about Somatic Experiencing:

In many forms of therapy you have to tell the traumatic event again and relive it. Regression and catharsis are the methods you aim for. These methods are certainly justified, but in the event of a trauma they can be extremely stressful for you as a client and then lead to retraumatisation. From the point of view that the past decides who you are in the present, much attention is paid to your past.

Somatic Experiencing says that the past does not determine our present at all. What negatively affects our current experience is the persistence of survival structures from the past and the resulting disorganization in the present nervous system, which in turn leads to the distortion of identity.

Somatic Experiencing always refers to the present moment through the felt sense. By attentively perceiving our sensory impressions in the here and now, we achieve a self-regulation of the nervous system. This is the prerequisite for coming into better contact with being and feeling more alive again. According to the Somatic Experience approach, healing regulation can occur fully when you are in contact with yourself and your body – and when you are in relationship with others.


“By learning to recognize body sensations and to make contact with them, we connect to our instinctive origins in the reptilian brain. In themselves, instincts are nothing more than reactions. But when these reactions are complemented by our emotional mammalian brain and our typical human cognitive abilities, we experience the fullness of our evolutionary heritage … Without the intact connection to our instincts and feelings, we cannot feel our connection to the earth, to our family and to the whole of existence. This is where the roots of trauma lie.” Peter A. Levine, Trauma Healing: The Awakening of the Tiger


A book worth reading on the subject is:

Peter A. Levine, Waking the Tiger – Healing Trauma 288 pages, $15.42 , North Atlantic Books, ISBN-13 978-1556432330
Peter Levine became famous with this book. He shows the reader in great detail why it is so important to focus on sensory impressions. He makes a wide bow to neurobiology and explains why animals in the wild do not suffer trauma. In 30 years of clinical experience, he has developed the body-oriented Somatic-Experiencing method from these findings. This is vividly described in the book.


If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me in my practice in Berlin or Munich. Here you will find the contact page.

Somatic Experiencing - Berlin & Munich

The car accident took place two years ago on a rainy day. Marianne – our imaginary client – was standing with her car at an intersection when a van hit her car from behind. In her rear-view mirror, she recognized the van that was driving fast towards her only a few seconds before the collision. The hospital later diagnosed whiplash and severe bruising.

Since the car accident:

She had the whiplash trauma treated by a chiropractor for half a year, however the constant headaches and tension in her neck did not improve. Marianne has had sleep problems since the rear-end collision. Panic attacks wake her up in the middle of the night, during the day she repeatedly has flashbacks of shattering glass and again feels the impact in her body. She is often distracted, misplaces things, and clumsily bumps into pieces of furniture. When she drives, she constantly looks in the rear-view mirror and struggles with panic when she has to stop at a crossing with traffic lights. She avoids driving as best she can.

When does safety come into play?

When Marianne visits the practice for her first Somatic Experiencing®, she seems overtired, pale and a little nervous. She immediately begins to talk about the accident. Already with the first sentence she becomes wide awake and gesticulates with her arms. Friendly, I interrupt her and say:

“I would like to listen to everything that happened to you at that time at a later time – but now I have another question for you: When did you feel safe again for the first time after the accident?

Marianne is surprised by the shift in focus. She then tells me about her husband and how he arrived into the emergency room. I ask Marianne what she is perceiving right now at the thought of this situation and she reports a feeling of warmth in her legs and how her neck and then the whole body relaxes. I can observe that her previously flat breathing relaxes and her breaths become deeper and more regular. She continues to talk about individual sensations and how she feels more and more comfortable and secure in her body. A state she has missed since the accident.

When the autonomic nervous system is overwhelmed:

I explain to Marianne that her autonomous nervous system was overwhelmed by the impact and the loud noises. It’s like sending high voltage current through a 220-volt power grid. The nervous system does not know where to put all this energy. This then leads to the feeling of being constantly under current, to the alarm and panic states she repeatedly experiences, and to the subsequent deep exhaustion into which she falls. – She nods understandingly. In Somatic Experiencing we assume that the trauma is not in the event itself, but takes place in the nervous system. Therefore, it is important to give the autonomous nervous system the opportunity to calm down and rearrange itself.

Next, I ask Marianne what helped her to survive the difficult time after the accident. Marianne talks about various family members, friends and helpful activities such as listening to quiet music or riding a bicycle. Again I draw her attention to what she is feeling right now as she talks about her helpful friends and pleasant experiences. What helps to become calmer?

What helps to become calmer?

I explain to her that in Somatic Experiencing we first of all create a place of safety and tranquillity that she can visit again at any time if it becomes “too much” for her. By now experiencing and savouring a feeling of calm and security when she thinks of all the situations that have helped her, we are giving her nervous system the chance to regulate itself anew. – Marianne is silent for a long moment. I watch as her facial features relax and her gaze becomes clearer.

Now I suggest a little experiment.

“How about we go to the very first moment when you realized something was going wrong and you freeze that moment like a photo?

She talks about the picture of the van in her rearview mirror and how she gets goose bumps and nervous at the same time. “How about you imagine the van at some distance away? At a distance where you feel less threatened by it, but can still see it? Marianne places the van several hundred metres further back in her imagination, so that it can be seen very small in the rear-view mirror. She also reports how her nervousness slowly subsides and she becomes calmer. We give this “calming down” a lot of space and time

Somatic Experiencing - Berlin & München

Photo by Rendiansyah Nugroho on Unsplash

Progress through very small steps:

Progress through very small steps: Then I explain: “Such an accident is like a film consisting of individual images on a film reel. The nervous system doesn’t care whether the images on the film reel correspond to the reality of that time or not. It is essential that you have found a picture that helps you to think of the van without getting nervous or panicky.

We now proceed in small steps. Picture by picture, we can rotate the roll of film back and forth as you wish.” Marianne leans back in her chair. We turn back to the frozen picture of the far away van. When asked what her body would most like to do at this sight, her spontaneous answer is.

“Step on it!“ (accelerate)

We’ll try that out now. She feels a warm flow of energy flowing through her leg. After we have given the room and welcomed the relief into her body, we return to the situation again. Again I ask for her need to look at the picture again. This time she reports a deep anger and that she wants to insult the driver. We also look at this situation together and see how her body reacts. After several Somatic Experiencing sessions over a period of six months Marianne is able to cope with most of her fears. The majority of her symptoms also gradually disappear.


This text is based on the following article by Diane Poole Heller and Larry Heller. If you are interested in the theoretical background of Somatic Experiencing and would like to learn more about the function of the autonomic nervous system using Marianne as an example, please read Somatic Experiencing® in the Treatment of Automobile Accident Trauma, by Diane Poole Heller, Ph.D. and Larry Heller, Ph.D. Abstract


“The dynamic of trauma is partly that it separates us from the inner experience in order to protect our organism from sensations and emotions that we may not be able to cope with. It may take some time before we develop enough confidence to allow for small inner experiences. Be patient and always remember that you do not need to experience everything on the spot. This heroic journey consists of many small steps that you take one by one.”

Peter A. Levine, Trauma Healing: The Awakening of the Tiger


A book worth reading on the subject is:

Diane Poole Heller/Laurence S. Heller, Crash Course – A Self Healing Guide to Auto Accident, Trauma & Recovery 232 pages, $15.26 , North Atlantic Books, ISBN-13: 978-1556433726

This book shows you how you can help yourself after a car accident so that no trauma symptoms remain behind. It is a do-it-yourself guide to shock trauma.


If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me in my practice in Berlin or Munich. Here you will find the contact page.

Somatic Experiencing - Berlin & München

Every person can have experiences in everyday life that overwhelm him and frighten him beyond all measure. He can get into a car accident, become a victim of an attack or watch a loved one die. Such drastic experiences can deeply impress a person and also hurt him psychologically. Such an injury is called “trauma”.

What is posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)?

Everyday life continues after the event and most people learn to cope with it without having received help. After a few weeks, the violent feelings and symptoms slowly subside. In some people, however, such a traumatic event causes a reaction that lasts for months and years. The reaction to the trauma is called posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

What causes trauma and PTSD?

Shock traumas cause PTSD, e.g. triggered by

  • Car accidents, accidents, falls from great heights (experienced or witnessed!)
  • Military deployment, torture, catastrophes
  • Loss of limbs, mutilation
  • Fistfight, rape, abuse, assault
  • Diagnosis of a life-threatening disease
  • Surgery (also dental surgery), injury, birth stress
  • Loss of a loved one

What is only a massive thrill for one person can have a traumatising effect on another. In general, the more violent and threatening the event, the greater the likelihood that the body will no longer be able to cope with the energy and respond with symptoms.

Symptoms of PTSD

Many people have feelings of deep sadness, depression or guilt and anger after a traumatic experience. In addition to these very understandable emotions, there are three symptoms that often occur and can last for years:

  • Flashbacks and nightmares
    You experience the event again and again. These flashbacks can be extremely realistic with all the emotions, sweats and noises from back then. Minor things in everyday life can cause a flashback. If, for example, you had a car accident in the rain, a rainy day can trigger a flashback.
  • Avoidance behaviour and deafness
    The experience may have been so painful or stirring that you avoid any memory of it. You try to distract yourself, perhaps through a hobby, through too much work, or by spending your time crosswording. You avoid places, situations and people who remind you of them. You try to cope with your feelings by not feeling anything anymore. You become emotionally deaf. You communicate less with people. They then find living together or working together with you exhausting.
  • Hypervigilance
    You are constantly on your guard. You cannot relax, you do not sleep well and your fellow human beings perceive you as erratic, quick to react and easily irritable. You yourself do not know why this is the case.

Somatic Experiencing - Berlin & München

Photo by Nicole-Mason on Unsplash

Other PTSD symptoms include

  • Tension, muscle pain
  • Diarrhoea
  • Headaches
  • Feelings of panic and anxiety
  • Depression
  • Irregular heartbeat (palpitations)
  • Excessive drinking
  • Drug and painkiller use

How can I tell if I have PTSD?

You have had a corresponding experience.

  • You have flashbacks, vivid memories or nightmares.
  • You avoid anything that reminds you of it.
  • You feel emotionally dull or deaf.
  • You are constantly on the go, quickly irritable, but don’t know why.
  • You distract yourself to deal with it.
  • You are depressed and exhausted.
  • You find it difficult to deal with others.
  • You eat more, drink more alcohol, take drugs or sedatives.
  • Your emotions shoot up uncontrollably.

If the event was less than six weeks ago and the symptoms are slowly diminishing, this is part of the normal adjustment process.
If the event occurred more than six weeks ago without the symptoms improving, you should talk to a doctor.


„Some traumas – loss, death, accidents, disease or abuse are explicit. Others, like the emotional deprivation of an unloved child, are more subtle. And some, like my own feelings of estrangement, seemed to come from nowhere. But it’s hard to imagine the scope of an individual life without envisioning some kind of trauma. And its hard for most people to know what to do about it. . . It’s rare for someone to get through life without experiencing trauma. . . (My father) did his best to keep it out of his consciousness as long as he could.“

Mark Epstein, The Trauma of Everyday Life


Why is PTSD often not recognized?

  • You don’t like to talk about things that upset you, worry you, or frighten you deeply. (This is the case with most people.)
  • People close to you and even doctors feel uncomfortable when you try to talk about cruel events. Then why should you reveal yourself to these people?
  • You don’t want to admit that you have one symptom or another because you don’t want others to judge you as weak or mentally unstable.
  • You notice a few symptoms, but you don’t see their connection or cause.
  • It is much easier for you to talk about accompanying problems (such as headaches, sleep problems, tension, problems with alcohol or work) than about the cause itself.
  • You hope that at some point the symptoms will stop by themselves.

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What are complex traumas (complex PTSD) ?

People with complex trauma have a history in which they have been subjected to long-term totalitarian control. These include

  • Sexual abuse
  • Child sexual abuse
  • Neglect in early and earliest youth
  • Physical abuse
  • Emotional abuse
  • Domestic violence
  • Torture, concentration camps – and all those forms of trauma in which the victim cannot flee or does not think he can flee, for example when he is buried under an avalanche and does not know if help will come.

“In all of us there is a force that spontaneously strives for contact, health and vitality. As much as we have retreated and isolated ourselves, or as serious as the trauma we have experienced may be, at the deepest level there is an impulse in each and every one of us towards being connected and healing, comparable to the way the plant grows towards the sunlight.”
Laurence Heller/Aline LaPierre, Healing Developmental Trauma


Symptoms of complex PTSD

Complex traumas occur weeks or months after the event, but it can take years for them to be detected. The loss of trust in people – and in the world in general – is a central part of complex PTSD. Some children respond by being defensive or aggressive. Other children disconnect from what is happening and grow up with a sense of shame and guilt. They feel uncomfortable in their skin and have no confidence.

In addition to the classic symptoms of PTSD, complex PTSD also has the following symptoms:

  • Feeling of deep shame and guilt, lack of self-esteem, negative self-image.
  • Feeling light-headed or numb.
  • Feeling of alienation (depersonalization).
  • Feeling of helplessness, defencelessness and helplessness.
  • Feeling of subliminal threat.
  • Lack of body awareness up to the blackout of body areas.
  • You can’t trust anyone and would prefer to always stay in control.
  • You cannot rejoice, do not react to the joy of others, lack of empathy.
  • You control your feelings through drugs or alcohol.
  • You disconnect yourself internally from what is happening in your environment (dissociated).
  • You cannot express your feelings in words.
  • You very often deal with thoughts of suicide.
  • You spontaneously take risks, do things spontaneously, have problems with aggression and impulse control.
  • You have problems with contact to other people. You have the feeling that you don’t belong anywhere and feel like a burden.
  • You have problems setting limits and saying no bluntly.
  • You feel constantly stressed and under pressure.
  • You discover a lot of flaws in yourself and react very vulnerable to rejection.
  • You simply don’t know what you need and feel that your needs don’t deserve to be met.

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Worsening factors in complex PTSD are:

  • The younger the person, the worse the trauma.
  • The trauma is caused by the primary caregiver (e.g. the mother).
  • The trauma lasts for a long time.
  • You are isolated.
  • You still have contact with the person or situation that threatens or abuses you.

Worth reading books on the subject are:

Judith Lewis Herman, Trauma and Recovery: The Aftermath of Violence–From Domestic Abuse to Political Terror) 304 pages, $30,58, Basic Books, ISBN-13:978-0465087303,
J. L. Herman is a professor at Harvard University and has introduced the term “complex PTSD”. In her book, she describes the effects and parallels of domestic violence, private terror such as rape, and public terror as experienced by veterans and victims of political terror. The book provides an understanding of problems that have so far been dismissed as “personal problems” and relates them to a broader socio-political framework. Published in 1992, the book has changed the way people think about trauma and how trauma is treated.

Susan Hart, The Impact of Attachment: Developmental Neuroaffective Psychology, 427 pages, 40,95 €, W. W. Norton & Company, ISBN 978-0393706628
Susan Hart, Brain, Attachment, Personality: An Introduction to Neuroaffective Development, 400 pages, 54,40 €, Karnac Books , ISBN 978-1855755888
Susan Hart combines the findings of neurobiology with those of interpersonal relationships and shows the effects on early childhood bonding patterns. With many examples from daily life and from her practice, she explains how a healthy mother-child relationship develops and what can go wrong.

Laurence Heller/Aline LaPierre, Healing Developmental Trauma 320 pages, 19,31 €, North Atlantic Books, ISBN 978-1583944899
This book explores the deepest human needs. It leads to a profound understanding of the fundamental conflicts between oneness and separateness, these two seemingly irreconcilable opposites, and shows a path to personal growth and maturity. It describes how early childhood trauma undermines the ability to relate to oneself and others. The resulting diminished liveliness is the hidden dimension behind many psychological and physiological problems.


References:
http://patient.info/health/post-traumatic-stress-disorder-ptsd
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Complex_post-traumatic_stress_disorder


If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me in my practice in Berlin or Munich. Here you will find the contact page.