what is somatic experiencing®?
Somatic Experiencing (SE™) aims to resolve symptoms of stress, shock, and trauma that accumulate in our bodies. When we are stuck in patterns of fight, flight, or freeze, SE helps us release, recover, and become more resilient. It is a body-oriented therapeutic model applied in multiple professions and professional settings—psychotherapy, medicine, coaching, teaching, and physical therapy—for healing trauma and other stress disorders. It is based on a multidisciplinary intersection of physiology, psychology, ethology, biology, neuroscience, indigenous healing practices, and medical biophysics and has been clinically applied for more than four decades. It is the life’s work of Dr. Peter A. Levine.
The SE approach releases traumatic shock, which is key to transforming PTSD and the wounds of emotional and early developmental attachment trauma. It 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. SE 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.
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. SE helps people understand this body response to trauma and work through a “body first” approach to healing.
What our practitioners are saying
“SE provides the basic natural healing and core nervous system skills for all the work I do, and its natural mindfulness as well. It helps clients attune to what's happening in their bodies, slow down and pause fast energies, wake up and balance sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. Learning to consciously titrate gives clients a boost in self-awareness, and confidence in their capacity to change and heal. These basic and natural SE practices and tools help clients re-enter a traumatized or dissociated body slowly, at their own pace, and gradually (for some) more safely.”
~Craniosacral Therapist from Huntington Beach, CA USA
SE 101 VIDEOS
In this 5-minute video, Dr. Peter Levine, founder of Somatic Experiencing, discusses how he came to create his powerful approach to trauma.
This video tells the compassionate story of the healing process of Ray, a Marine who had been injured by two improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and diagnosed with both severe PTSD and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). Dr. Levine demonstrates the power of SE as a tool to heal the wounds of war.
Dr. Peter Levine uses his famous “Slinky” presentation to demonstrate the effects of trauma on the nervous system, and his philosophy of treating trauma, which involves slowly releasing (or titrating) this compressed fight-or-flight energy a bit at time to give the individual the ability to reintegrate it back into the nervous system.
SE VIDEO RESOURCES
Discover what’s new & what’s next in the world of Somatic Experiencing® from Dr. Peter Levine himself, plus experts like Stephen Porges, Dick Schwartz, Jack Kornfield, Diane Poole Heller, and many more in this video on-demand collection! Get lifetime access to the entire 40 video collection HERE.
HOW TRAUMA AFFECTS SUPPORT, SUSPENSION, AND BREATH – BETSY POLATIN
This experiential and informative workshop is a wonderful opportunity to discover the many different ways the undeniable unity of body, mind, and spirit shows up in life. During this course, I will offer guidance and simple exercises to enhance sensory skills by exploring the musculoskeletal, respiratory, and nervous systems, and how they relate …MORE
TRAUMA AND POLYVAGAL THEORY – STEPHEN PORGES AND PETER LEVINE
The Polyvagal Theory is a major scientific advancement in neuroscience with clinical applications to a new brain-body medicine providing insights into the treatment of trauma-related mental and physical health challenges. The theory describes how, via evolution, a connection emerged in the brain between the nerves that control the heart and … MORE
CO-REGULATING WITH SE – GLYNDIE NICKERSON
For many engaging in contemplative practices in modern non-collective societies, they are missing an important element to deepen one’s spiritual practice that is often unrecognized and unnamed: co-regulation. Collective societies’ co-regulation practices throughout the lifespan teach the nervous system to settle …MORE
ABOUT OUR FOUNDER
Dr. Peter A. Levine received his Ph.D. 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.
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
Dr. Levine 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
If you are experiencing a life-threatening emergency, in danger of hurting yourself or others, or in crisis, we have a number of resources available.
FIND A SOMATIC EXPERIENCING® PRACTITIONER
Find the best Somatic Experiencing trained practitioner to help you move through unresolved trauma or crisis and strengthen resiliency.