Somatic experiencing is a recent development in the field of psychiatric treatment. It was designed specifically to treat symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder and other trauma-related mental health issues.
Dr. Peter Levine invented somatic experiencing in the 1990s, and in 1997 he introduced it in his book, Waking the Tiger. This treatment is based on his observations of wild animals and the ways they recover from the life-threatening experiences that are normal parts of their existence. According to Dr. Levine, wild animals have the capability of “fluid adaptation,” which allows them to avoid traumatization following repeated traumatic events. Teaching humans to adapt in similar ways can help them recover from the effects of trauma.
According to somatic experiencing theory, trauma disrupts the autonomic nervous system (ANS) from regulating itself. The theory postulates that symptoms of trauma develop when survival responses (the “fight or flight” reflex) are triggered during a traumatic event, but they are not fully discharged following the event. In other words, the patient’s survival response is left switched on even after the event subsides, resulting in symptoms like persistently reliving the traumatic event. According to practitioners, somatic experiencing can help discharge the survival response and help the ANS regulate itself again.
Practitioners of somatic experiencing are usually licensed psychotherapists who have undergone an additional three years of training in these techniques. They may use this treatment alone or in conjunction with other forms of psychotherapy. Somatic experiencing is flexible and can treat two broad categories of trauma-related conditions. It may be effective in a very short time (one to six sessions) for treating shock, but it may also work for years to address developmental trauma, which occurs due to problems in childhood development. In cases of developmental trauma, somatic experiencing often works alongside other therapeutic techniques.
Somatic experiencing techniques include “titration,” in which the patient is exposed to small but increasing levels of distress designed to help her become tolerant to stress. On the other hand, it also incorporates “pendulation,” in which the patient is guided through alternating states of arousal (deregulation) of the ANS and discharge (regulation).
Somatic experiencing has yet to be subjected to a double-blind clinical study to determine its efficacy, but practitioners cite substantial anecdotal evidence to promote how effectively it treats trauma. Somatic experiencing helps patients explore and understand how trauma affects their psychological, emotional and physical wellbeing. If you suffer from the effects of trauma and think somatic experiencing may help you, please call our toll-free helpline today. Counselors are available 24 hours a day to answer any questions you may have about somatic experiencing, and they can help you find therapists who practice the technique.