Somatic Experiencing (SE)
Dr Peter Levine, an American psychologist, was struck by the fact that animals in the wild do not seem to suffer the effects of stress and trauma in the same way that humans do. We have all seen the wildlife documentaries of seemingly contented and relaxed antelope and impala grazing within munching distance of a pride of lions. You might have seen films or witnessed animals being chased by a predator intent on lunch. If the hunted prey escapes to live another day, then they usually shake themselves down and after a couple of minutes they are back to nibbling the vegetation, seemingly scarred by their near-death encounter.
Humans in a comparable situation often respond quite differently. The traumatic event is often difficult to let go of and may become locked-in or somatised, physically in the tissues of the body as contraction or holding, and psychologically as ideas, images and behaviors.
By understanding how our nervous system works in response to extremely stressful events, we can learn how to best support ourselves in coping with difficulty and challenge. We can also use this understanding to begin to undo and gently release, many of the locked-in responses from past traumatic events.
Peter Levine makes the point that 'Trauma is in the body not the event'. It is our bodies response to an overwhelming situation that creates trauma not the event itself. This means that you can begin to free yourself from the effects of past trauma by bringing attention to those parts of the body where it is most held. You do not have to endlessly re-tell the story of the event or situation. You don't need to rummage through the recesses of your memory to find the missing piece that might make you whole again. By learning to notice how your body responds to difficulty, feeling how your breathing changes, where there is tension and holding, where there is sensation and those areas that are numb; you can gently allow your whole system to release what it has been protecting you from.
SE works with the bodies innate capacity for self-regulation and healing. Sometimes that natural ability in you needs to be gently brought to light. It is your capacity for healing that actually does the work. It takes an experienced therapist to support you in working with trauma and exploring what might be difficult territory. Your body needs to feel safe and psychologically you need to know that you are safe too. We cannot begin to work with issues that at root are based in a lack of safety, without it. During an SE session we will explore ways that those feelings of safety can be supported and affirmed. (to be continued...)
'Waking The Tiger' by Peter Levine
A great read if you want to know more