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What is Somatic Experiencing?

Written by Wendy McMahon

Somatic Experiencing is a holistic approach to establishing the natural flow between mind and body. It is an effective, non-invasive, yet powerful way to approach the resolution of trauma symptoms and relieve chronic stress.  In the past 25 years, research has demonstrated SE’s effectiveness in healing physical and emotional trauma, PTSD, overwhelm, and other stress related conditions. SE was developed by Peter A. Levine, PhD who was curious about the fact that animals in the wild are not traumatized by their life and death existence, while people can be traumatized by events that seem inconsequential to many of us.  

SE integrates different disciplines to address the physiology of stress and trauma.  It focuses on the physiological responses that occur when someone experiences or remembers an overwhelming or traumatic event, in his or her body, rather than only through the thoughts or emotions connected to it.    

In terms of trauma and sexuality, sex is enjoyed not only in the mind but also in the body, where sensations live.  But, the avoidance of sex, the fear of arousal, and the lack of libido are often closely linked to trauma. In any situation, sexual or not, where there is or there might be a threat to our well-being, it is important to understand that we have no choice but to respond, and we have only three fundamental possible responses: fight, flight, or freeze. These three self-protective responses come pretty quickly and automatically from very deep and primal parts of the brain.  Nothing else matters but survival. From an SE perspective, we understand that these symptoms are merely unresolved activation or energy “stuck” in the body.  We want those symptoms to resolve.  

Over time, unresolved energy and the accumulation of stress chemicals, can create difficult and complex trauma symptoms.  Some typical symptoms associated with trauma are: 

•    Hyper-arousal (increased heart rate, difficulty breathing, racing thoughts, bodily tension, worry, and cold sweats)
•    Hyper-vigilance (being on guard all the time)
•    Intrusive imagery and flashbacks
•    Hyperactivity or restlessness
•    Startle responses to sudden loud noises/movements
•    Feelings of helplessness, powerlessness, and depression
•    Abrupt mood swings (rage reactions, temper tantrums, shame)
•    Difficulty sleeping
•    Anxiety, panic attacks
•    Excessive anger

SE can help people with various experiences of trauma such as:

•    Natural disasters
•    Severe childhood emotional, physical, or sexual abuse
•    Violence or witnessing violence
•    Rape or assault
•    Catastrophic injuries or illness
•    Loss of a loved one
•    Automobile accidents (even minor ones)
•    Invasive medical or dental procedures
•    Falls (especially for children or elderly people)
•    Abandonment, especially for babies and young children
•    Combat experiences

Healing trauma may take time, depending on the severity of trauma and how long the symptoms have existed.  When we heal trauma, we free up energy, connect with our deepest self and can live our lives in fuller, less inhibited ways.  

To learn more about how SE may help you or to schedule a consult or appointment with a Somatic Experiencing practitioner call Equilibriya Behavioral Health & Wellness at 651-342-2175.

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