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  • Writer's pictureJen Meller

What is Somatic Experiencing?


woman practicing somatic experiencing

We often think of trauma as a mental or emotional experience. While it certainly has lasting effects on our inner world, it’s important to recognize trauma’s impact on the body as well.

That’s where somatic experiencing comes in. This revolutionary treatment helps people process and release trauma that is stored in the physical body.

In this post, I’ll break down:

  • The idea and theories behind somatic experiencing,

  • What somatic experiencing consists of,

  • Who can benefit from somatic experiencing, and

  • The ways in which somatic experiencing can help.

Let’s dive in.

How does somatic experiencing work?

Somatic experiencing (also called SE for short) is a form of trauma treatment first developed by Dr. Peter Levine. Unlike traditional talk therapy methods that primarily involve speaking about trauma, somatic experiencing is focused on the body.

When we experience trauma, our body may respond by kicking into fight, flight, or freeze mode. However, if we do not fully process our trauma, our bodies can get stuck in these modes. This leads us to feel like we are still under threat even after the traumatic event has ended.

The idea behind somatic experiencing came from observing animals. Dr. Levine observed that animals often experience life-threatening events but do not display symptoms of trauma as humans do.

For example, when an animal is being hunted by another animal, it might play dead (i.e. freeze) to protect itself. Once the threat has passed, it will tremble and shake, which may serve to discharge the energy that initiated the protective response.

In a similar way, somatic experiencing aims to help humans physically discharge the energy that their body holds after a traumatic event.

What happens in a somatic experiencing session?

As a practitioner of SE, I recognize the importance of customizing each person’s care to their specific needs and goals.

At the same time, it can be helpful to get an idea of what to expect from a somatic experiencing session. Here are some of the techniques and strategies that may be part of your healing journey.

  • Notice bodily sensations. Somatic experiencing is all about tuning into the body. This can be uncomfortable at first, but learning to embrace all sensations without judgment is a crucial first step before ultimately releasing pent-up trauma.

  • Grounding. Learning grounding techniques can help you get connected to your body and stay grounded in the present moment. Taking time to orient to the space you are in by allowing your head and eyes to scan and take in your surroundings, noticing your feet on the ground or the chair underneath you supporting you, practicing progressive muscle relaxation, and using the 5-4-3-2-1 technique are just a few examples of grounding methods.

  • Titration. This is, essentially, the process of starting small and building up. Your SE practitioner will guide you in approaching your trauma and bodily sensations at a slow, manageable pace to avoid overwhelming your system.

  • Pendulation. Similarly, your practitioner will help you alternate between confronting your trauma and reconnecting with feelings of safety and groundedness to help you build resilience.

  • Resourcing. While somatic experiencing encourages you to embrace the physical sensations of trauma, it’s also important to create a refuge to support your healing. Drawing on your resources, like pleasant memories or soothing breathing techniques, can help you regain groundedness during this process.

These techniques (and more) will help you process your trauma and find a greater sense of safety in your body.

person looking at a computer

Who is somatic experiencing for?

Since somatic experiencing was developed as a trauma treatment, it’s often used with trauma survivors. At the same time, research shows that SE can be a helpful tool for a wide range of other issues.

At its core, somatic experiencing is a strategy that helps people become more embodied. There are many different experiences that can disrupt our ability to be present in our bodies. Trauma is one of them, but there are many more, including anxiety, grief, stress, and chronic pain.

Some common signs that you might benefit from working with an SE practitioner include:

  • Feeling on guard or on edge

  • Difficulty relaxing

  • Sleep problems

  • Physical symptoms like stomach issues, headaches, muscle tension, and chronic pain

  • Nightmares or flashbacks

  • Avoiding people, places, or situations that remind you of a stressful past event

  • Difficulty concentrating

  • Feeling disconnected from your body

  • Trouble identifying and/or regulating your emotions

  • Feelings of emotional numbness

Keep in mind that this isn’t an exhaustive list. You may still be able to benefit from somatic experiencing even if some of these signs and symptoms don’t resonate with you. SE can be a transformative tool for anyone seeking personal growth, healing, and discovery, so I invite you to reach out for more information if you’re interested.

If you’re interested in exploring the mind-body connection, looking for a holistic approach to healing, or simply want to discover if somatic experiencing can help you, I invite you to reach out directly to get more information.

How can somatic experiencing help?

SE can be a life-changing treatment for trauma survivors (and others). As a somatic experiencing practitioner myself, I’ve seen the benefits unfold firsthand.

Each person’s experience with SE is different, but these are some of the common ways in which it can help.

  • Heal from trauma. As we’ve discussed, somatic experience is a cutting-edge trauma treatment that can help people heal from painful past experiences. It can’t change what happened to you, but it can help you change your relationship with the past and move forward feeling lighter.

  • Increase awareness. A major part of somatic experiencing is training yourself to notice the many ways in which trauma is stored in your body. By continuously checking in with yourself, you’ll grow a deeper awareness of your feelings–both emotional and physical.

  • Build resilience. Trauma deeply impacts us on an emotional, physical, and spiritual level. By intentionally turning toward this experience and learning tools to help you heal, you may feel more equipped to navigate future challenges.

  • Improve mobility. When traumatic energy is trapped in our bodies, we can experience physical discomfort, chronic pain, muscle tension, and more. Releasing this energy can help our bodies feel better and even improve mobility.

  • Increase quality of life. Unprocessed trauma can have ripple effects that touch every part of our life. By healing our trauma, you may notice improvements in your mental health, relationships, self-confidence, physical well-being, and more.

Depending on your unique situation, you may find other benefits as well.

what is somatic experiencing

Discover lasting healing with somatic experiencing.

Ready to discover how somatic experiencing can help you? I’d be honored to support you on your journey. I’m a trauma recovery practitioner with training from Somatic Experiencing International as well as several other accredited institutions.

As a trauma survivor myself, I know the pain of carrying these experiences–and I also know that healing is possible. Together, we can build a customized treatment plan and help you find healing in a way that works for you.





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