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Pacific Marriage & Family Therapy Network
SOMATIC EXPERIENCING THERAPY SANTA MONICA
What is Somatic Experiencing Therapy?
Today I'd like to talk to you a little bit about somatic experiencing or SE therapy. This is a type of therapy that focuses on the client's body sensations or “somatic experiences.” So we focus on those experiences to try to relieve symptoms of trauma or anything that's not being held in your body properly. The whole process is to promote awareness and release of physical tension that came from whatever that traumatic experience. Now trauma could be something really big like PTSD and it can also be something smaller, like experiences through a challenging childhood. This doesn’t necessarily have to be child abuse but it could be some kind of repetitive negative interaction. It doesn't have to be a single event or a trigger like some other modalities. For example, EMDR works best when you a single event. Somatic experiencing is a very holistic approach to regulate and connect your mind and your body. It is teaching your body that it is safe and comfortable now even though it's reacting to a situation as if you were in danger from a previous personal experience.
In SE therapy we want to discuss the traumatic event or talk about when you feel uncomfortable and then try to get your physiological reaction to reflect what's actually happening. There's a lot of focus on the nervous system. There's a lot of psycho education about how our nervous system operates and about the prefrontal cortex and about our limbic system. You'll get a really good understanding of what happens to your body when you get agitated meaning angry, sad, or fearful.
How Does SE Therapy Work
When we become symptomatic, when we start to have anxiety or depression or just overall feeling bad, that is because in a somatic experiencing definition we have experienced a situation where we felt like we were in danger and we didn't allow that whole process to cycle through to the end. There's leftover energy from that other experience that gets trapped in our body. As we experience something that our body deems to be similar to that previous experience, that energy is reactivated. This energy could manifest as panic attacks or just overall anxiety. It could be social anxiety or anything like that. You then become able to understand how your body is reacting, or overreacting to a situation to something that may not actually be as big of a threat as it thinks it is due to the carryover of unreleased previous traumatic energy.
The big focus of Somatic Experience therapy sessions is to try and restore the body's natural cycle and rhythm between being alert and being at rest. In this cycle we may go from an excited state and then we settle down. And in this settle down state, we recharge and then we're ready to handle another exciting event. Many of us get stuck in the excitement state, and the excitement means just having an agitated nervous system. So when we're stuck in that state and we're not allowing our self to settle down and recharge, that's when that energy gets stuck in our body. Stuck energy is very easily triggered. That’s why when you think about things like PTSD, people have flashbacks, people have very sensitive triggers to certain sights sounds smells tastes. Anything at all can be a trigger because there's so much of that negative energy or that excited energy stuck in their body.
To unstick the energy a somatic, experiencing therapist will help you slow down the process and really pay attention to your body's natural physiological responses. You’ll start to see how it's trying to protect you and also help you to allow that process to happen without trying to shut it down. That's how we get stuck because we try to shut down this traumatic energy that actually needs to process through. When you get enough practice in recognizing what's going on in your body and what that means then you can allow your body to relax into these situations; or these thoughts feelings and emotions. This tells your body that it's safe and comfortable. When your body finally feels safe and comfortable then it can prepare itself for next time. But the majority of the time your body should be at rest, safe and comfortable. When it's out of balance and you're more in an excited state than safe and comfortable, you can only imagine how much anxiety and depression that might bring to a person.
Is Somatic Experiencing Therapy Right for Me?
So who would benefit from somatic experiencing? Anyone that has experienced trauma either significant trauma or kind of we call lowercase “t” trauma. Anything at all that brings about anxiety, depression, any kind of negative symptom that you're experiencing you can use and go through somatic experiencing to try to regulate your nervous system and teach your body that everything is okay. SE Therapy really works for a lot of different things such as anxiety depression, addiction, and chronic pain. The main difference is that in somatic experiencing you are very involved and your therapist is very involved in the treatment. It does take a lot of patience and courage to really get to a point where you can allow your body to experience the cycle of excitement and rest and recharge. I hope you've learned a little bit about somatic experiencing and if you have any questions or comments please feel free to leave them here. If you're interested in working with a somatic experiencing therapist we have several on staff so if you'd like to reach out to us our contact information is at the top of the page.