Somatic Experiencing, which was developed by Peter Levine, can vanquish PTSD symptoms such as depression, nightmares, panic attacks, aggressive outbursts, and hyperarousal. The primary way of doing this is by increasing the ability of sufferers to track their body sensations, which helps reduce the symptoms of trauma and stops the body from reacting as if the trauma were still occurring. Instead, the victims of trauma live more in the present moment and gain the ability to work with other elements of trauma, such as the meanings attached to the event (shame, disgust, etc.) and the dissociation that overrides their ability to self-regulate–calm themselves–more effectively.
Mindfulness is key in Somatic Experiencing in Helping PTSD.
It helps clients to become more acutely aware of their internal sensations and reactions and thereby increase their capacity to self-regulate. Mindfulness is when one’s awareness is directed toward a here-and-now internal experience, with the intention of simply observing rather than trying to change it.
This mindfulness brings the mental faculties to the client’s experience of trauma, rather than the opposite when the effects of the trauma escalate and take control of their cognitive functions. To teach mindfulness, the SE Practitioner asks questions that direct the client’s attention, such as, “What do you feel in your body now? Where exactly do you feel tension? What happens in the rest of your body when your make a fist?” Questions such as these force the client to come out of a dissociated state (common in those living with trauma) and experience the present moment through the body. Such questions also encourage the client to step back from being trapped in the traumatic experience and to report from a distance as an observer that “has” an experience in the body rather than “is” that bodily experience.
Thus, this mindfulness provides clients with the tools they need to deal with disturbing bodily reactions, and they frequently report feeling safer as they learn how to lighten the overload of information they process at any given moment by focusing attention on one sensation at a time. Their feelings of safety are enhanced when they once again begin to feel they can physically protect and defend themselves. Clients who experience uncontrollable rage may also increase their feeling of safety by learning to sense the physical sensations that occur right before a full-blown aggressive outburst. At that moment, they engage their mindfulness that then increases their self-regulation and prevents the escalation of the arousal to the point of aggression or other undesirable behavior.
However, some clients are either not capable of body processing or not interested in it. These clients must slowly and painstakingly learn to experience their body sensations and be open to the value of doing so. They must gradually learn that by paying full attention to body sensation and movements, what had been painful can become safe and even pleasurable. It must be realized, however, that accessing too much sensation too quickly may increase dissociation and exacerbate PTSD symptoms. That is why a good SE practitioner is vital in helping the client’s pace and ability to integrate.
Nevertheless, an occasional client may remain unable or unwilling to work with body processing, finding body sensations too overwhelming and distressing. Or they may find the somatic approach uninteresting or unappealing. In such cases, SE is contraindicated and other techniques must be tried.
Although I have focused mostly on an aspect of Somatic Experiencing dealing with the mindfulness of body sensations, SE does far more by integrating body sensations with emotional and mental processes. During SE sessions, the practitioner evaluates which level of processing to address that will produce the most positive overall effect–body sensations, emotions, or thought processes, each of which can have a positive effect on the release of trauma.
It is important to stress that the ultimate goal of Somatic Experiencing is to foster a holistic integration of the three levels of our being: mental, emotional, and body. Traditional therapies focus on the mental aspect and move down to the body–top to bottom. SE, however, works in the opposite direction, starting with the body and eventually including the mental part. And this, in the treatment of PTSD, makes all the difference.
If you or a loved one suffers with PTSD, either severe or mild, find out what you can do by clicking here.
Please leave a comment below.