Somatics is a field of practice that has been expanding and gaining in popularity in recent years. Maybe you’ve heard someone talk about somatics in terms of movement, or trauma work, but don’t really know what it means. Perhaps you’ve heard the saying “the body keeps the score” and found yourself exclaiming, Could it please not?!
Somatic Experiencing is a therapeutic model, originally developed by Peter Levine, for understanding and working with the nervous system. In Somatic Experiencing (SE for short), trauma is recognised as something that originates in the response the nervous system has to an event (or series of events), and not inherent to the event itself. We see this evidenced by studies of intense events, and see that multiple people can live through the same event and have vastly different experiences of trauma related to the event. Trauma can be the consequence of a disruption of connection: either between individuals, or between the Self and what some might term Spirit. Trauma results in a struggle to be present to the ‘here and now’, as our nervous systems can feel ‘stuck’ in a response from the past.
Somatic Experiencing aims to support your nervous system to have more access to the here and now, through nourishing nervous system capacity. There are a variety of ways we might do this, but at the foundation is an honoring that each individual has a natural draw towards ease. Through cultivating a space of warmth, openness, creativity, empathy, safety, curiosity, and playfullness, an SE practitioner can help an SE client move closer towards that ease, and feel more capacity to be present to the ‘here and now’.
SE isn’t about never being activated or feeling like our metaphorical feathers are being ruffled; rather, it’s about working towards understanding our own selves at a deeper level, and experiencing the ability to navigate through states of grounding, activation, and overwhelm, without getting stuck in any single one of them.
In SE sessions, we begin be allowing the nervous system to arrive in the space. Sessions are consent-based and client-directed, with guidance, suggestions, and curiosities from the practitioner. If you’re receiving an SE session you might be asked to share about how you’re doing, where you are, and what’s in your space. Using sensory stimuli, such as things you might see, hear, smell, touch, or taste in your space, the practitioner will support your nervous system to ‘orient’ to an experience of ease, which both grounds and prepares your nervous system for more exploration. Where a session goes after that can vary greatly! SE sessions may focus on exploring sensations of affirmation and support, and they may touch on memories of pain and hurt that have left an impact in your nervous system. In an SE session you may experience, as one practitioner has noted, that “all that is love brings up all that is not love.”
SE isn’t like traditional talk therapy: whilst a client might share about events and stories associated with them, this is a doorway to a wealth of information and experience that lies beyond the story. A practitioner guides the client to notice the sensations in their body as they recall events, offering support to help the client return to the present moment, and not become lost in loops of thought and experience from the past.
Somatic Experiencing can feel sometimes, rather deceptively, like we aren’t doing very much at all, because it is about being rather than doing. The benefits of even a single session can be tremendous, and many people (myself included) have found that Somatic Experiencing has helped them creative positive shifts in meaningful and profound ways.
You can read more about some of the terms used in Somatic Experiencing in this glossary, provided by Somatic Experiencing International.
*Vocabulary of Sensations
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