Somatic Experiencing

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 add to traumatic responses.

The nervous system and SE

Many mental health issues can be related to chronic hyperarousal or hypoarousal of the nervous system. When stressful or traumatic events happen, the autonomic nervous system starts its defense mechanisms (fight/flight/freeze) for survival. Sometimes the system becomes overwhelmed by the stressor, or the stressful events are ongoing. Either way, this can result in a chronic activation of the system. The nervous system struggles to return to function normal and becomes dysregulated. This dysregulation shows with symptoms such as anxiety, depression, irritability, anger, inability to focus and think, distressed relationship, struggling to sleep, and panic attacks. Additionally, symptoms can include physical illnesses (migraines, chronic pain, fibromyalgia, digestion/stomach issues) and emotional numbness.

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 using online therapy

SE techniques are available through online counseling as well as in-person. Props found in the home with high sensory value can frequently be pulled into the online 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. As a result, this ensures the client is well versed in describing what is happening with their body physically. Additionally, this also allows the therapist to monitor and guide the client experience 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.


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