WHAT IS SOMATIC EXPERIENCING®?
The Somatic Experiencing® method is a body-oriented approach to the healing of trauma and other stress disorders. It is the life’s work of Dr. Peter A. Levine, resulting from his multidisciplinary study of stress physiology, psychology, ethology, biology, neuroscience, indigenous healing practices, and medical biophysics, together with over 45 years of successful clinical application. The SE™ approach releases traumatic shock, which is key to transforming PTSD and the wounds of emotional and early developmental attachment trauma.
THE SOMATIC EXPERIENCING® APPROACH
Offers a framework to assess where a person is “stuck” in the fight, flight or freeze responses and provides clinical tools to resolve these fixated physiological states. It provides effective skills appropriate to a variety of healing professions including mental health, medicine, physical and occupational therapies, bodywork, addiction treatment, first response, education, and others.
Trauma may begin as acute stress from a perceived life-threat or as the end product of cumulative stress. Both types of stress can seriously impair a person’s ability to function with resilience and ease. Trauma may result from a wide variety of stressors such as accidents, invasive medical procedures, sexual or physical assault, emotional abuse, neglect, war, natural disasters, loss, birth trauma, or the corrosive stressors of ongoing fear and conflict.
HOW IT WORKS
The Somatic Experiencing® approach facilitates the completion of self-protective motor responses and the release of thwarted survival energy bound in the body, thus addressing the root cause of trauma symptoms. This is approached by gently guiding clients to develop increasing tolerance for difficult bodily sensations and suppressed emotions.
HOW ANIMALS DISCHARGE SHOCK
Dr. Levine was inspired to study stress on the animal nervous system, when he realized that animals are constantly under threat of death, yet show no symptoms of trauma. What he discovered was that trauma has to do with the third survival response to perceived life threat, which is freeze. When fight and flight are not options, we freeze and immobilize, like “playing dead.” This makes us less of a target. However, this reaction is time-sensitive, in other words, it needs to run its course, and the massive energy that was prepared for fight or flight gets discharged, through shakes and trembling. If the immobility phase doesn’t complete, then that charge stays trapped, and, from the body’s perspective, it is still under threat. The Somatic Experiencing® method works to release this stored energy, and turn off this threat alarm that causes severe dysregulation and dissociation.
In Somatic Experiencing®, the traumatic event isn’t what caused the trauma, it is the overwhelmed response to the perceived life threat that is causing an unbalanced nervous system. The aim is to help you access the body memory of the event, not the story. So we don’t discuss what happened if you don’t want to.
TAKE YOUR TIME
Here we introduce the concept of titration – slowly releasing energy. Somatic Experiencing® operates in cycles, where you sense your way through the normal oscillations of internal sensation – contraction/expansion, pleasure/pain, warmth/cold – but only at the level that you can handle. This repeated, rhythmic process helps you to develop a greater capacity to handle stress and stay in the present moment, where you belong.
BOTTOM UP PROCESSING
Like other somatic psychology approaches, Somatic Experiencing® professes a body first approach to dealing with the problematic (and, oftentimes, physical) symptoms of trauma. This means that therapy isn’t about reclaiming memories or changing our thoughts and beliefs about how we feel, but looking at the sensations that lie underneath our feelings, and uncovering our habitual behavior patterns to these feelings.
Pendulation is a term used by Dr. Levine to describe the natural oscillation between opposing forces of contraction and expansion. Somatic Experiencing® utilizes this philosophy to help a client experience a sense of flow.
ABOUT SOMATIC EXPERIENCING® TRAUMA INSTITUTE
Support trauma resolution and resilience through culturally responsive professional training, research, education and outreach in diverse global communities.
Transforming lives through healing trauma.
- Support: Foster and nurture hope and empowerment.
- Compassion: Lead with empathy and understanding.
- Excellence: Deliver quality professional education in a spirit of innovation, creativity and research.
- Community: Cultivate trust and safety through acceptance, equity, inclusion, and unity.
- Vitality: Inspire new possibilities and restore resilience through increased organizational capacity and self‐regulation.
About Our Founder
Dr. Peter A. Levine received his PhD in medical biophysics from the University of California in Berkeley and also holds a doctorate in psychology from International University. He has worked in the field of stress and trauma for over 40 years and is the developer of the Somatic Experiencing® method. Peter’s original contribution to the field of Body-Psychotherapy was honored in 2010 when he received the Lifetime Achievement award from the United States Association for Body Psychotherapy (USABP). That same year he also received the honorary Reis Davis Chair in Child Psychiatry for his innovative contribution to therapy for children and adolescents.
Beginning in the 1970’s, Peter’s explorations into how animals deal with threat led to the development of the Somatic Experiencing method, a method that is highly effective in dealing with the effects of overwhelm on our nervous system, called Somatic Experiencing® (SE™). 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 often subject to the traumatic symptoms of hyper arousal, shutdown and dysregulation.
WAKING THE TIGER
The image of the tiger was invoked by Dr. Peter A. Levine during his first session with “Nancy,” who suffered from an array of symptoms, in an event that would define and shape his career.
Without warning, Nancy suddenly froze, her pulse skyrocketing as she began reliving the moments before a traumatic childhood surgery, including being bound and anesthetized with ether. “I’m going to die! Please don’t let me die!” she repeated, helplessly. Amidst this chaos, Dr. Levine was compelled, by a seemingly prescient vision of a charging tiger, to say: “Nancy, you're being chased by a tiger. Run! Run for the nearest tree!” It was at this moment, as Nancy began kicking her feet, that Dr. Levine first witnessed the human animal’s innate ability to heal from shock and terror,by completing the instinctual, self-protective act that had been overwhelmed and frozen into her body’s nervous system, over 20 years earlier. On repeated follow up, this single session had a dramatic impact on Nancy's life, including the dissolution of her agoraphobia, cessation of her migraines, and a renewed, sustained vigor in living.
The Tiger has become a symbol of our aliveness, our innate nature.
BEST SELLING AUTHOR
Peter is the author of the best-selling book Waking the Tiger: Healing Trauma — which was published in 24 languages and sold over 250,000 copies. His other published work includes:
- Healing Trauma: a Pioneering Program in Restoring the Wisdom of Our Bodies
- In an Unspoken Voice: How the Body Releases Trauma and Restores Goodness
- Sexual Healing: Transforming the Sacred Wound.
- co-author of Trauma through a Child’s Eyes: Awakening the Ordinary Miracle of Healing
- co-author of Trauma-Proofing Your Kids: A Parent’s Guide for Instilling Confidence, Joy and Resilience
- co-author of Freedom from Pain: Discover Your Body's Power to Overcome Physical Pain
- Trauma and Memory: Brain and Body in a Search for the Living Past: A Practical Guide for Understanding and Working with Traumatic Memory
BOARD OF DIRECTORS
The Somatic Experiencing® Trauma Institute is under leadership of an engaged and active Board of Directors who—on the basis of their specific knowledge, skill, and experience—make valuable contributions to our current functioning and future development. The Board, with members from both within and outside of the SE™ community, collectively holds responsibility for stewardship of the Institute. The Board seeks guidance as necessary from advisors recommended by and including Peter A. Levine, PhD; from a number of committees addressing various aspects of the Institute’s work; and from expert consultants in a variety of disciplines.
From the Chair of the Board of Directors
Welcome to the SE Institute. This work has been life changing for each and every one of us on the board of directors, and we want to welcome you to this community. We want to thank Dr. Peter Levine, our global faculty, coordinators, assistants, and students for their ongoing work bringing SE out into the world. For more than 25 years, all of you have been our greatest ambassadors. Together, we aim to bring more awareness to individual and collective trauma and healing, and we hope the information on our website, in our trainings, and through our practitioners can bring you closer to every aspect of who you are. These are difficult times for the world, but we know that together we can find individual and collective healing, and we invite you to share that with us. Thank you.
REBECCA STAHL, JD, LLM, SEP
SOMATIC EXPERIENCING TRAUMA INSTITUTE BOARD CHAIR
Our experienced faculty come from diverse professional backgrounds and teach Somatic Experiencing® throughout six continents. Potential faculty members are carefully screened and selected from a group of senior SE™ Practitioners and undergo a rigorous and extensive faculty training and mentoring program. Our faculty are held to the highest professional and ethical standards and are monitored through regular class evaluations.
To learn more about how to become SE™ Faculty, please visit: traumahealing.org/faculty-track.
*approved to teach Advanced | **emeritus
Committees and Workgroups
Annual Conference Committee
Karine Bell Hugentobler
Paulina Garcia Hubard
Su Messerschmidt Mount
Sonja Cole (staff liaison)
Ariel Giarretto (co-chair)
Glyndie Nickerson (co-chair)
Marv Tuttle (Executive Director)
Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Committee
Ana Paula Bastian