Somatic Experiencing – What is it? – An introduction

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.