From Pain to Purpose: How Dr. Peter Levine’s New Autobiography Inspires Worldwide Community


April 2, 2024

Dear Global Somatic Experiencing® Community,

Today, I sit in awe, in awe of the global SE™ community. And it all began with one person’s journey. For the first time, the story of that journey is public in the form of Dr. Peter Levine’s autobiographyAn Autobiography of Trauma: A Healing Journey, which was released today. In it, he tells his story, which serves as an inspiration to all of us to tell ours as we have begun doing in SEI Connections this year. This letter is more personal than most because I want to use this opportunity to share my story with all of you in the hope of inspiring others to do the same. Through our shared stories, we come together in community to demonstrate the power of healing through SE, along with the possibility of inspiring others to learn how Somatic Experiencing® can transform their lives.

I met Peter early on in my years on the SEI Board of Directors. The first thing I noticed about him was his kindness and his heart. As you will read in The Autobiography of Trauma, Peter came to the holistic nature of SE™ through many paths and avenues, but the through line was his heart, his care, and his hope that what we call healing could be available to everyone. The book is, in part, his trauma narrative. And there are moments of difficulty reading about the pain of someone whose life and life’s work have impacted so many of us. Reading the Somatic Experiencing® origin story reminds us that we all have the potential and power to transform our lives. At SEI we are changing lives through SE™. In a world of uncertainty, disruption, and trauma, our work is more important than ever.

If we really want the power and potential of SE™ to be known and available to everyone, we need to share our own stories of healing. Sharing stories brings them out of the shadows, reduces shame and stigma, and connects us together as a community. Like so many of you, my SE™ origin story is one of disconnection and pain. And like so many of you, my ongoing SE™ story is about finding my place within myself and the world in a way that lets me live the fullest version of myself and to meet the complexities of the world with increased capacity and connection. I found SE™ after having back surgery and remaining in chronic pain. At the time, I was a lawyer representing children in foster care. Anyone in the SE™ community knows the impact of vicarious trauma on the nervous system, and SE™ was the only modality that touched the physical pain I experienced. But something far deeper happened than helping me with my chronic pain (to no one’s surprise reading this).

I went to a SE™ training where we were all invited to share our pronouns on our name badges. I went to write mine and froze . . . because I had no idea what to write. In that moment, however, my entire life made sense– all the bullying for being too masculine, all the time my younger clients asked if I was a boy or a girl, all the ways my body did not feel “right.” I still did not know what to put for my pronouns. What happened in that moment, however, was the beginning of finding myself, not only in my gender identity but in so many other ways.

Somatic Experiencing® has given me the ability to feel into who I am, in every moment, to come back to myself and to come back to SE™ skills when the overwhelm hits. This helps me to know how deeply profound what Peter envisioned really is – SE™ is not held in any single healing mode; it is a way of supporting what we already do and doing it better. And for me, that has included being, I hope, a better person, not only for myself but for others. And it is that lesson and connection that drives what we do here at SEI.

Somatic Experiencing® International is a nonprofit organization with a mission to bring more education and training about nervous system regulation to an ever-changing world from a place of compassion for all people. For the past 30 years, SEI and its partner organizers have spread the healing power of SE™ to tens of thousands of students and practitioners through 20 different languages in 50 countries. There are now more than 50 faculty members, and increasing. We have grown so much since those early days, not only in size but in how we respond to the world. In response to the global need for effective crisis intervention, SEI offers Crisis Stabilization and Safety training and the SCOPE™ overview in more than 40 languages and offers humanitarian webinars for free with interpretation and translation. SEI is expanding our global reach through support for international organizers who start trainings in new locations around the world. Here in the United States, SEI offers scholarships to support practitioners who would not otherwise be able to participate in the training to take the work back to their communities.

SEI is also improving access and striving for more inclusivity and connection by addressing the diverse needs of our communities. We are working on our first Spanish-English bilingual training and first ASL-interpreted training in the United States. We now have specific training on Systemic Trauma from a SE™ perspective and a modified online advanced training for people who are unable to attend in-person trainings because of health needs. We continue to clarify how we speak about what SE™ is and what it means in the world as we continue to grow and meet the needs of today.

Going back to Peter’s story, SE™ is not just about healing the past; it is about how we navigate the world moving forward. By increasing our window of tolerance, SE™ has the potential to help us show up in the world in new ways. We aim to do that every day here at SEI. Peter ends his book by focusing on leaving the world a better place than we found it. At SEI, we hold that vision with Peter, to consistently show up and do our part to co-create a world where all humans can feel safe, connected, and whole. We hope you will join us in sharing your SE™ story, both what brought you to SE™ and how it has impacted your life. Together, we can see how our shared language of Somatic Expriencing® impacts ourselves, our community, and the world.