Nature's Lessons in Healing Trauma
Trauma is a Fact of Life … but it doesn’t have to be life sentence.
A single brief exposure to an overwhelming event can throw a normally functioning individual into an abyss of emotional and physical suffering.
Whether or not a person rebounds from this dark edge of near insanity, or tumbles more deeply into the ''black hole'' of trauma (or even exactly what causes it), has been an enigma to modern psychiatry.
Somatic Experiencing®(SE)is a naturalistic approach to the understanding and healing of trauma developed by Peter A Levine over the past 40 years and taught throughout the world. SE®is a clinical methodology based upon an appreciation of why animals in the wild are not traumatized by routine threats to their lives while humans, on the other hand, are readily overwhelmed and traumatized. Fortunately, the very same instincts (and related survival based brain systems) that are involved in the formation of trauma symptoms can be enlisted in the transformation and healing of trauma. Therapeutically, this “instinct to heal” and self-regulate is engaged through the awareness of body sensations that contradict those of paralysis and helplessness, and which restore resilience, equilibrium and wholeness.
Because human responses to potential threat vary so greatly, it is difficult to identify or classify sources of trauma. Most people associate trauma with events like war, violence, extremes of physical, emotional or sexual abuse, crippling accidents, or natural disasters. However, many ''ordinary'' or seemingly benign events can also be traumatic. For example, so-called minor automobile “whiplash'' accidents frequently lead to bewildering and debilitating physical, emotional, and psychological symptoms. Common invasive medical procedures and surgeries (particularly those performed on frightened children who are restrained while being anesthetized), can be profoundly traumatizing. Somatic Experiencing® utilizes basic tools (and “building blocks”) but also works differentially with various sources of trauma. These diverse categories include:
- Medical: hospitalizations, surgeries, invasive medical procedures, anesthesia, burns, poisoning, fetal distress and traumatic birth.
- Accidents: falls, high impact accidents (including auto accidents), head injury, electrocution.
- Suffocation: drowning, strangulation.
- Attack: rape, war, bombings, physical abuse, mugging, molestation, physical injury, stabbing, gunshot wounds, animal attacks.
- Natural and man made disasters: earthquakes, fires, tornadoes, floods, terrorism, dislocation from the natural world and community.
- Horror: Seeing an accident (especially with blood, gore and dismemberment), watching someone else being abused, raped, killed or tortured, killing or hurting someone.
- Developmental: neglect, abandonment, loss and ongoing abuse.
- Torture, repeated rape and systematic abuse
Somatic Experiencing Compared
In distinction to cognitive and emotional based therapies (“top-down” approaches which focus on insight and emotions first and only secondarily focus on somatic responses to trauma), SE is a “bottom-up” approach. It focuses on the brain stem and its survival-based functions which are not under conscious or emotional control. Access to these instinctual action and arousal systems is through the vehicle of physical bodily sensations. Cognitions and emotions are included in SE practice but they are secondary or derivative from physical sensations through bottom-up processing.