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What is Somatic Experiencing&Reg;?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 10 November 2016
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Somatic Experiencing® is a type of trauma therapy. Practitioners of Somatic Experiencing® believe that there is a clear physiological link between the experience of trauma and the long term effects of trauma. The idea is that undergoing psychotherapy may not help a patient who has experienced physical or emotional trauma, because psychotherapy will not address the underlying physiological fallout of the trauma. Patients who are interested in exploring Somatic Experiencing® can find practitioners in many regions of the world.

This type of therapy was introduced in 1997 by Dr. Peter Levine. Dr. Levine based his Somatic Experiencing® concept on his studies of wild animal populations. He noted that animals could experience severe trauma and bounce back, and he theorized that humans had the same capacity to recover from trauma, even if they couldn't access it automatically. According to Dr. Levine, physical or emotional trauma activates the autonomic nervous system, an ancient physiological response which is part of the instinct for self preservation. However, in humans, the autonomic nervous system may fail to return to a natural or neutral state, causing people to live in a constant state of physical tension as a result of stress and trauma. Somatic Experiencing® is designed to relieve this physical tension so that patients can overcome the trauma.

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A session of Somatic Experiencing® can be conducted by a psychotherapist or a bodyworker who has undergone the three year training program required for practitioners, and who has kept up with continuing education requirements. Sessions are conducted on an individual basis, much like psychotherapy, except that instead of talking through the trauma, patient and therapist work together to increase the patient's physical awareness. The therapist moves carefully to prevent triggering the trauma, focusing on getting the patient's body to release.

It may take numerous Somatic Experiencing® sessions to experience a difference. The therapy is gentle and very slow, to avoid retraumatizing the patient, which would undermine the utility of the therapy. Individual practitioners may integrate techniques from other areas of therapy, such as massage or talk therapy. Over time, the patient should experience a reduction in psychological and physical stress as a result of the therapy.

Somatic Experiencing® is recommended for a range of issues, including post traumatic stress disorder, physical trauma, emotional trauma, and stress. Therapy can be tricky, and some people may experience benefits and progress during Somatic Experiencing®, while others may not. People seeking therapy should definitely meet with several practitioners to find a person they feel comfortable with, and they should give therapy a chance, taking several sessions before deciding whether or not a method will work for them.

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