The body is a multilingual being. It speaks through its colour and its temperature, the flush of recognition, the glow of love, the ash of pain, the heat of arousal, the coldness of non-conviction. It speaks through the leaping of the heart, the falling of the spirits, the pit at the centre, and rising hope.
- Clarissa Pinkola Estés
Somatic Experiencing® is a body-centered therapeutic model for healing trauma and other stress disorders. It provides practical clinical tools to resolve 'stuck' patterns and states and is a blend of psychology, ethology, biology, neuroscience, indigenous healing practices and medical biophysics.
WHAT CAN SOMATIC EXPERIENCING®
HELP YOU WITH?
Somatic Experiencing® will enable you to feel more alive - more connected to your body and the world around you; being able to fully experience feelings of calm, joy and freedom. It will also increase your resilience and capacity to manage the stresses and ups and downs of life.
It can also help if you are experiencing any of the following:
Resistance to change
Irritability; anger; mood swings
Burnout or mental breakdown
Feeling stuck or lethargic and disconnected
Unexplained physical symptoms such as recurring migraines, aching joints, digestive problems and disturbed sleep
Chronic pain and conditions such as fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue
Recovery from physical traumas such as falls or car accidents, including long after the event
HOW DOES SOMATIC EXPERIENCING® WORK?
The aim of Somatic Experiencing is to teach the nervous system to bring itself back into regulation. It works with a 'body-first' approach to release frozen or stuck energy and turn off the threat alarm in the nervous system, thus addressing the root causes of trauma symptoms and creating resilience and flexibility in our daily lives.
The process begins with gently guiding you to first develop ‘resources’ and learn to develop sources of strength and comfort that enable you to tolerate traumatic material - sensations, thoughts and emotions. You’re guided to an awareness of what feels ‘good’ or ‘better’ and in what ways you’re able to ‘experience’ this – as emotions, thoughts, images and sensations.
One of the keys to SE is a technique known as titration. Rather than diving straight into the heart of a trauma or ‘story’, you’re guided to work at a level and pace that feels manageable and tolerable to you. As sessions progress, you develop increasing tolerance for being with more difficult bodily sensations and suppressed emotions as they arise, building confidence and safety and integrating the experience as you go.
We might also work with pendulation, which involves helping you to safely experience the movement between a state of activation (a ‘stress’ state) and then back to a place of safety and self-regulation again in order that you increasingly learn how to ‘self-soothe’ and regulate your nervous system independently. Essentially, you learn the practices and tools to be your own medicine.
THE SCIENCE of SOMATIC EXPERIENCING®
SE™ was first developed in the 1970s by psychologist Dr Peter Levine, who later went on to found the Somatic Experiencing Trauma Institute.
Levine's approach initially grew out of his observations of the way animals respond to stressful or life-threatening situations in the wild. He noted that whilst many animals face daily threats to their survival, they don't appear to become traumatised by these experiences.
When a wild animal faces a threat to its safety, there’s a mobilisation of energy in the animal's body – fight or flight - that enables it to either confront or avoid the danger. If neither of these options is successful, often the animal will freeze (there’s a collapse in the nervous system); from the outside it looks as though they may already be dead. If and when the danger passes, the animal's body and nervous system then discharges any leftover stress energy and it resumes its previous activities as though nothing has happened.
This process of discharge might involve finding ways to complete fight or flight movements that were interrupted, such as running away, or the animal will come out of the inanimate freeze state and tremble, pant or shake.
In contrast to animal behaviour in stress situations, Levine noted that human beings – probably due in part to our more evolved brain function - have a tendency to override these natural responses, so this energy or pattern remains stuck in the system.
Trauma can start as acute stress from a perceived life-threat or as the end product of cumulative stress. Both types of stress can seriously impair a person’s ability to function with resilience and ease.
Trauma can result from a wide variety of stressors such as accidents, invasive medical procedures, sexual or physical assault, emotional abuse, neglect, war, natural disasters, loss, birth trauma, or the corrosive stressors of ongoing fear, conflict or isolation.
The theory behind Somatic Experiencing® states that trauma doesn't lie in the event but rather in our response to it. In the wake of any traumatic experience, if there wasn’t the space, opportunity or SAFETY to process and discharge the massive energy of fight/flight/freeze, then that charge stays trapped.
Trauma lies in how our body stores the experience.
Our nervous system can end up stuck on high alert; we’re still ‘fire-fighting’ and experiencing a sense of danger or threat, long after the danger passed and the house stopped burning.
If there was a freeze, the system may remain partly shut down, leaving a person unable to fully participate and be present in their life. When it occurred, the ‘freeze’ response was the only one available to the nervous system, to become less of a target or avoid further injury or damage. However, not knowing or understanding this can sometimes lead to feelings of self-blame, guilt or shame later, as we judge ourselves for ‘not reacting’, ‘not fighting’ or ‘not doing enough’.
After a traumatic experience, someone can end up with both the energy of freeze and of flight/flight stuck in the system. Living with this is like trying to drive a car with one foot hard down on the accelerator and the other pressed on the brake.
If it sounds exhausting, that’s because it is.
The problem is that when stuck in these states, patterns of chronic tension inevitably build up over time – perhaps even a life-time - and we begin to experience physical and psychological symptoms of discomfort and pain that can last for decades and become so familiar that we come to think of them as normal. But normal doesn't necessarily mean healthy.
It’s important to understand that none of this is a question of conscious choice which means we can’t only think or talk our way out of an experience that’s stored in the nervous system and the tissues of the body. This is why a body-first approach is so valuable.
I got to the root of patterns I'd struggled with for decades
“I started Somatic Experiencing® sessions about 6 months into recovery from a fairly serious concussion. As I write this just 5 months later, my condition has improved significantly and my energy levels are more stable than they were pre-concussion. Working with Fiona to process both this physical trauma, as well as previous trauma, has been an enormously helpful part of my recovery.
Fiona is one of the best therapists I’ve ever worked with, and I love how SE™ was able to get to the root of patterns I’d been struggling with for decades. I’ve worked with a few psychologists at different time which had helped me recognize patterns and find strategies, but this was effective at a deeper level. I have never experienced such significant shifts in my core patterns.”
Heather, Copenhagen (Denmark)
Let's work together
1:1 Somatic Coaching is tailored for you and the time frame is anything from 8 weeks to 6 months. I work both online and in person.
If you’d like to find out how we can work together, book a free 20 minute chat.
Please fill in the contact form below and I’ll be in touch to organise a time.
You can tell me a little about your situation and ask me any questions you may have. We’ll find the way forward that will benefit you most.
GET YOUR FREE CALM BODY, CALM MIND MEDITATION
This 15 minute somatic meditation will help you calm painful or anxious thoughts and feelings of overwhelm. It comes with a pdf explaining why we feel anxious (and what we can do about it) and is recorded with a backing track of Alpha Waves, designed to help generate calm & focus.