"Trauma is a fact of life, but it does not need to be a life sentence" - Peter Levine, Founder of Somatic Experiencing
Somatic Experiencing was developed by Peter Levine to address the effects of trauma. Peter Levine developed this approach after observing that prey animals, whose lives are routinely threatened in the wild, are able to recover readily by physically releasing the energy they accumulate during stressful events. Humans, on the other hand, often override these natural ways of regulating the nervous system with feelings of shame and pervasive thoughts, judgments, and fears. Somatic Experiencing aims to help people move past the place where they might be “stuck” in processing a traumatic event.
Individuals experience trauma everyday, in all different ways, whether it be in war, a random attack, betrayal in relationships, child physical or sexual abuse, neglect, medical procedures, death of a loved one, car accidents, sudden attacks, etc. Trauma is stored within the body if it is not processed and healed. It can affect the neurological, physical and mental systems in such ways as to cause discomfort, flashbacks, anxiety and pain.
Often in talk therapy, an individual continues to relive the story of the past experience. And while it is important for the story to be heard, the retelling of it alone does not enable the body to create a new and more empowered relationship with the past experience.
Somatic Experiencing is different. Somatic Experiencing includes talking, but the talking is used to track body sensation and meaning attached to experiences, rather than bring the individual back into the event of the trauma. When we bring the body into the therapy process and facilitate a way for the individual to physically move through the experience with a sense of safety, the relationship to the experience changes and the stuck energy will discharge.
Sherilyn Dalke has seen people recover from the most enduring traumas through Somatic Experiencing that dramatically reframes our understanding of traumatic experiences and the recovery process. Originally trained as a talk therapist, for the past three years Sherilyn has devoted herself to helping trauma survivors find relief, tranquility, and renewed strength through Somatic Experiencing.
What Does a Typical Somatic Experiencing Session Look Like?
Somatic Experiencing sessions involve the introduction of small amounts of traumatic material and the observation of a client’s physical responses to that material, such as shallow breathing or a shift in posture. The therapist will frequently check in with the client to assess and record somatic sensations that may be imperceptible to the practitioner, such as feelings of heaviness, tightness, or dizziness.
Practitioners proceed carefully and cautiously to avoid re-traumatizing or triggering the client, and they help clients to develop and employ self-regulating strategies. A key component to enhancing one’s ability to self-regulate is the practice of alternating, or “pendulating,” between the sensations associated with trauma and those that are a source of strength and comfort.
The SE practitioner will help the client find places of safety, whether that be a place in the body that is not activated by the trauma, or a physical place to retreat to in one’s mind. Experiencing the sensations related to the traumatic event in a safe way allows a person to fully process the trauma. Clients also achieve heightened awareness of their physical responses to stress, and this skill can serve them in everyday life.