Somatic Experiencing (SE)
What is Somatic Experiencing Therapy?
Somatic Experiencing Therapy describes a therapy modality that leverages the connection between a person’s physical being and their mental or emotional states. The mind-body connection is the belief that the mind and body are dependent on one another and not separate elements of living. Clients who begin Somatic Experiencing Therapy first engage their bodies in the healing process, with the goal of decreasing their cognitive symptoms later on.
Somatic Experiencing Therapy relies on clients’ ability to assess their body’s comfort – and specifically, how their bodies feel in the face of stress, the presence of difficult memories, or when experiencing a “freeze.” Freezing is a common reaction to stress or perceived danger. When we become distressed, we may freeze instead of activating the “fight-or-flight” response. When this occurs, the body’s systems sometimes can’t recalibrate, even after the removal of the threat or stress trigger. Our bodies’ energy becomes trapped, holding us back from processing through the trauma and moving forward. According to Somatic Experiencing Therapy, this is the reason why some individuals develop PTSD or anxiety after traumatic events.
To free this trapped energy, Somatic Experiencing Therapy asks clients to release the tension in their bodies in a systematic way. Clients use physical sensations and cues to recalibrate their body’s stress levels, with the goal of bringing the body – and, therefore, the mind – back into a place of peace and comfort.
What happens in a Somatic Experiencing Therapy session?
There are many elements to Somatic Experiencing Therapy and a trained, certified Somatic Experiencing therapist can help you use the modality to decrease your mental health symptoms. Many therapists begin Somatic Experiencing Therapy by teaching their clients relaxation or mindfulness practices. By learning how to utilize deep breathing or grounding techniques to calm down, these tools can be called upon at any stage of Somatic Experiencing Therapy. While clients learn these tools, therapists encourage them to become hyper-aware of their body sensations. They may ask the following questions:
- What can you tell me about your heart rate?
- Does your body feel sweaty at all? Your palms, forehead, neck?
- Where do you feel tension? Move your body around to tell if you have any muscles that are tightening.
- Pay attention to your body language as we talk – what do you notice?
- When your body feels this way, how does your mind or heart feel?
Somatic Experiencing therapists’ aim is to tie physical sensations to mental wellbeing. If a client is feeling tension, they’re more likely to feel stress. The therapist wants to help the client relax so they can process through the stress and move forward. When clients become upset talking about their past experiences or difficult thoughts, therapists ask them to use their relaxation skills. This is called pendulation. Eventually, the therapist and client will approach conversing about their past trauma.
What can Somatic Experiencing Therapy help with?
Somatic Experiencing Therapy is mostly used with clients who previously experienced traumatic events. Many of these clients develop PTSD or anxiety as a result of these traumatic events. Others may have developed depression or substance abuse disorders.
Because the nature of Somatic Experiencing Therapy includes the treatment of trauma, it’s important to find a trauma-informed therapist who can create a safe environment in therapy sessions. Many Somatic Experiencing therapists are trained in providing trauma-informed care, however it’s best to find a therapist with certification in supporting clients with PTSD.