What is Somatic Experiencing?
Somatic Experiencing (SE) is a cutting edge treatment to heal from stress and trauma. Research suggests we hold memories of how our body felt during traumatic or stressful events, and these physical or somatic sensations can contribute to traumatic responses.
How is the nervous system involved?
Many mental health issues can be viewed as related to chronic hyperarousal or hypoarousal of the nervous system. When stressful or traumatic events happen, the autonomic nervous system activates its defense mechanisms (fight/flight/freeze) for survival. Sometimes the system is either overwhelmed by the stressor, or the stressful events are continual, which results in a chronic activation of the system. The nervous system struggles to return to normal functioning and becomes dysregulated. This dysregulation can be felt in anxiety, depression, irritability, anger, panic attacks, physical illnesses (migraines, chronic pain, fibromyalgia, digestion/stomach issues), distressed relationships, trouble focusing and thinking, insomnia, emotional numbness and a host of other symptoms.
Somatic Experiencing is based on polyvagal theory, and helps resolve these memories of the physical part of the trauma, while teaching the person how to deactivate this part of the nervous system so the memories no longer cause physical symptoms.
Somatic Experiencing by Telehealth
Somatic experiencing techniques are available through telehealth as well as in-person. Props found in the home with high sensory value can frequently be pulled into the telehealth session to provide help in monitoring the body. Therapists check in verbally with the felt experience, and train clients in the “language of sensation” and in polyvagal theory, so that the client is well versed in describing what is happening physiologically. This allows the therapist to monitor and guide what is happening for the client between the body and the therapeutic material being targeted.
How do I know if this kind of therapy would be helpful to me?
When you remember an event or issue and you can feel your body respond with symptoms such as your throat closing, pressure or heaviness in your chest, increased heart rate, nausea or tightening of muscles, this are somatic responses. If these are uncomfortable, intense or chronically present, SE can help.
Somatic Experiencing versus Sensorimotor Psychotherapy
These are actually very similar techniques, with both looking at the role that the body plays in regulating physiological, behavioral, and emotional states to treat trauma, attachment and stress.
Which therapists at Spencer Psychology are trained in SE?
SE is a cutting edge treatment. Research on the method includes a new study in the Journal of Traumatic Stress (J Trauma Stress. 2017 Jun; 30(3): 304–312.) Somatic Experiencing for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder: A Randomized Controlled Outcome Study