Somatic Experiencing (SE)
Traumatic and overwhelming experiences whether short-lived or occurring over a long period of time can drastically change the way our body & mind function creating long lasting undesirable effects.
Signs of Trauma: When a traumatic event overwhelms your ability to handle it, the memory is stored as direct sensory information, rather than being processed and stored in the usual way. The physical and emotional shock of the event is also stored in the body. The body and spirit do their best to work around the unprocessed memory and shock, but there is a continuing toll on
energy, emotional well-being, and physical health. Over time,
signs of unprocessed trauma urges us to seek healing.
Some Signs of Trauma Include:
- Physical Pain
- Mood Swings
- Highly Sensitive
- Repeated Illnesses
- Loss of Vitality, Joy etc
- Feeling numb or blank a lot
- Suicidal thoughts or feelings
- Chaotic, painful relationships
- Anxiety, Panic Attacks, Phobias
- Constant tension, inability to relax
- Feeling Disconnected, Detached or Dissociated
- A fiercely critical internal voice that just won't quit
- A feeling of impending doom even when life is going well
- Strong startle response to unexpected touch, sound, or light
- Consistently shallow breathing - from the chest rather than the belly
- Chronic pain or recurring injuries which aren't responding to treatment.
- Dissociation - consistent spaciness, feeling distant from current experience
- Finding it challenging to keep up with basic self-care (laundry, meals, showers)
- High Impact Trauma: Falls, motor vehicle accidents, concussions, whiplash syndromes
- Avoiding emotions by overuse of alcohol, other drugs, sugar, exercise, overwork, etc
- Flashbacks - re-experiencing a past event through one or more senses (hearing, sight, emotions, etc.)
Physical Trauma examples:
- Car Accidents
- Physical injury
- Surgery - Medical & Dental
- Illnesses (chronic, life threatening)
Relational Trauma examples:
- Birth Trauma
- Physical Abuse
- Anger & Violence
- Emotional Abuse
- Suicide of loved one
- Rape, Incest, Sexual Abuse
- Bonding break with parents
- Constant Criticism & Judgements
Global Trauma examples:
- Plane crash
- Fetal distress
- Near drowning
- Birth complications
- Early separation from parents
- Illnesses during early childhood
Trauma Treatment Provides Highly Effective Success For:
- Sleep problems (insomnia, sleep disruptions, nightmares)
- Anxiety, panic attacks
- Suicidal ideas
- Relationship problems
- Social withdrawal
- Chronic fatigue and/or pain,
- Temporomandibular joint disorder
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Eating disorders (bulimia, anorexia, overeating)
- Irritability, anger, rage, violence
- Memory and attention problems
- Flashbacks of trauma (images, sounds, smells, taste, touch)
- Re-enactment of trauma (chronic accidents or injuries)
- Addictions (substance abuse, gambling, sexual addictions)
- Over sensitivity to light, noise, environments, sounds, smell
Self-Regulation Therapy (SRT)
SRT is a safe and effective psychophysiological treatment that aims to decrease excessive activation in the nervous system from trauma. SRT assists clients in using resources to integrate overwhelming experiences & learn to regulate their nervous system over time. Through gentle & safe ways, clients can complete thwarted responses of fight, flight, or freeze during trauma that present as symptoms. New neural pathways gradually are developed with SRT to increase flexibility to deal with present challenges and stressors. A balanced mind/body system is developed so that clients can experience pleasure, fulfillment, vitality & resilience in their lives.
What is SE Trauma Work?
Trauma is usually thought of as an event that is overwhelmingly threatening to the very life of the person experiencing it. I see trauma not being defined by the event itself but by the body's ability to process the event. What is traumatizing for one person may be just a challenging situation for another. It all depends on the sensitivity and the resiliency of your nervous system. So, a more comprehensive definition would be: Trauma is an experience of, or witnessing of, a life-threatening or intense event that causes pronounced fear, helplessness, or horror which creates in its wake persistent changes in the functioning of the nervous system, reducing connection through the senses to the present environment.
SE trauma resolution does not require the traumatized person to re-tell or re-live the traumatic event. Instead, it offers the opportunity to engage, complete, and resolve—in a slow and supported way—the body’s instinctual fight, flight and freeze responses. Individuals locked in anxiety or rage then relax into a growing sense of peace and safety. Those stuck in depression gradually find their feelings of hopelessness and numbness transformed into empowerment, triumph, and mastery. SE trauma resolution catalyzes corrective bodily experiences that contradict those of fear and helplessness. This resets the nervous system, restores inner balance, enhances resilience to stress, and increases people’s vitality, equanimity, and capacity to actively engage in life.
Traumatic symptoms stem from the frozen residue of energy that has not been resolved and discharged in the nervous system.
— Peter Levine
What is Nervous System Dysregulation?
The autonomic nervous system's (ANS) job is to regulate heart rate, digestion, respiration rate, perspiration, among others. It does these things automatically without our having to focus on them, so that we can focus on other tasks without being flooded by too much information. The real job of the ANS is to assure our survival under all of the conditions we may find ourselves in. When trauma or accumulated stress is present, the ANS tends to become dysregulated. For instance at rest the heartbeat may be racing & breath may be rapid, blood pressure may be high, we may break out in a sweat or digestion may slow down. Heart rate variability (HRV) is the natural & healthy tendency of the heart to speed up when we inhale & to slow down when we exhale. This is regulated by the Vagus nerve, an important component of ANS.
The autonomic nervous system is the first thing to come on line when we are developing in utero and is the last thing to shut down if we are suffocating. So, nature tells us it is the most important part of nervous system. When the ANS is dysregulated we are not firing on all cylinders and we can expect life to seem difficult. Relationships are severely impacted, health is compromised, and emotional well being is not often achieved. When we talk about the desire to have healthy, supportive relationships then it is imperative to first get our autonomic nervous system back to functioning like a well oiled machine. Thankfully, there is now a therapy that is extremely effective at autonomic nervous system healing. That therapy is called Somatic Experiencing® (SE®).
Typically, SE® sessions look a lot like psychotherapy. The orientation process helps to settle the nervous system into social engagement. We slow down the trauma story as this is quite over activating and we want to help metabolize it.. The objective is to relieve trauma in small titrated doses rather than all at once. Diving in too deeply and too rapidly can further compound and reinforce trauma.
As part of the orientation process the practitioner helps to resource client before venturing into the areas that are scary & unsettling. The mindful state is the home base that we want to start from and keep coming back to. Then we move into the trauma topic, a bit, then back to resourcing, so the nervous system
does not get overwhelmed. This pendulation process regulates the ANS.
Pendulation is achieved by focusing the awareness on sensations in the body along with images, behaviors, affect, and the meaning of what is coming up. Usually sensations in the body are the most important starting point. In trauma we tend to lose connection to our sensations. Since trauma reduces connection through the senses to the present environment, we start with the sensations & body experience most of the time. We want to restore our ability to sense our environment using a quiet state of mindfulness.
This quiet mindful exploration of what is happening inside of your process will tend to lead to what is unfinished trauma stored in your bodymind. As we settle into mindful observation of sensations the body will begin to swing towards whatever is unresolved and life threatening. The practitioner's job is to help monitor the body and assure that the client doesn't go too far, too fast and end up getting sucked down a trauma vortex. His job is also to help provide safety in the room so that the client feels safe enough to turn inward to deal with the unresolved traumas.
At some point in the pendulation process it is likely that some micromovements in the arms or legs or core of the body will occur, as the body begins to run its motor plan for escape again. As we draw awareness to these movements they tend to grow and we encourage the client to let the body gently and slowly follow what the nervous system is trying to do rather than override it. In so doing the motor plan is able to complete and that stuck loop is permanently healed. Each time we heal one of these the body's stress burden is lifted a little. That energy which was going into the vigilance of keeping this protective motor plan in play can now go to healing body and mind. There may be some aftereffects of shakiness, or lightness, or fullness of breath as the experience is integrated. There is a quietness that comes into the body and a real sense that something profound just happened. Something just healed.