SOMATIC EXPERIENCING® – A NEW THERAPY FOR SYMPTOMS OF TRAUMA AND PTSD
by Carol Boulware, Ph.D.
Are You Experiencing Any of These Symptoms?
If you have been through traditional therapy but still have any of these symptoms, or are having a hard time sleeping, or have disturbing memories that won’t go away, you may feel discouraged, or even hopeless, about finding relief. The good news is that the cutting-edge technique, Somatic Experiencing® (SE) could change all that.
Advances in brain research have led to the development of Somatic Experiencing®, a short-term, natural, drug-free treatment for the persistent, often devastating, symptoms of trauma and PTSD (Post-traumatic stress disorder).
When we feel threatened, our brains release neurochemicals and our bodies set up muscular patterns to help us defend ourselves. Muscles contract in readiness and we may automatically duck, stiffen, brace ourselves, freeze or collapse. This is part of the fight-or-flight instinctive response to danger. When contracted muscles do not release their energy, the pattern of readiness becomes “stuck” or fixed in the nervous system. The brain chemicals that flood the body create extreme stress and anxiety, and the patterns that have gotten stuck in the nervous system can greatly impede normal functioning long after the event has happened.
What is Trauma?
Trauma happens when a person experiences a shocking, disturbing or threatening event, such as violence, war, abuse, rape, death of a loved one, a serious accident, or other shocking event. If the person’s emotional reaction is too overwhelming for them to handle, the body’s natural, instinctive response is to “bury” the emotion deep in their brain and nervous system.
The body’s physiological reaction to the threatening event is self-protective, but it has a negative impact on the person’s life by producing anxiety symptoms that surface later on. The buried emotion from the traumatic event can sometimes stay dormant in the body for years before symptoms appear.
When the suppressed emotion resurfaces, it can take the form of obvious symptoms, like flashbacks and nightmares about the event, or as seemingly unrelated symptoms, such as chronic exhaustion, depression, phobias, severe headaches, heart palpitations, emotional outbursts, PTSD (Post-traumatic stress disorder), obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), or other serious problems. Any of these symptoms can be devastating to the person’s life.
If you have had trouble sleeping for a while, feel bad most of the time or have symptoms you do not understand, and are unable to relieve, you may be suffering from the effects of a traumatic experience from your childhood or adult past. Following is a list of the more common symptoms of trauma. If you have any of these symptoms, you may benefit from a consultation with a therapist or other therapeutic professional:
What is the Difference Between Stress and Trauma Symptoms?
The difference between stress and trauma is that with stress, once the stressor is removed, the symptoms are gone. However, trauma symptoms do not go away, even when the threatening event is gone. Trauma symptoms persist due to the physiological response to the threat of the prior event. The body’s fight-flight-freeze response relegates the disturbing emotion to the unconscious mind where it remains “stored” in the nervous system.
How Does Somatic Experiencing® Work?
Using the SE technique, the therapist and client work together, using the mind-body connection to access the nervous system and safely disperse the energy that has been “trapped” there since the traumatic event occurred. Significant improvement can happen within just a few counseling sessions, gently relieving symptoms and restoring balance to the nervous system.
SE works with the fight-flight-freeze response of the nervous system that is activated by the potential threat of a traumatic event. It does not involve a cathartic, re-living of the event – but rather uses body sensation to connect with the nervous system and locate the area of the trapped energy. These sensations are safely explored, then gently and gradually released during each of the sessions.
The SE process takes the client through stages of healing, beginning with “grounding,” to establish connection to the body in the present moment, “orienting,” which re-focuses attention away from their state of high stress back to present awareness. “Resourcing” connects them to pleasant, empowering images and experiences that help regulate the nervous system. “Tracking” uses body sensation to locate the highly compressed survival energy and exchanges it, gradually, a little at a time, for the more pleasant, regulated energy. The “stuck” energy of the trauma is discharged slowly so that the nervous system is not overwhelmed.
Somatic Experiencing can also be an effective treatment for psychosomatic issues such as body pain and other symptoms that elude medical diagnosis.
Somatic Experiencing® Goes Beyond “Talk Therapy” to Treat Trauma
Scientific research has opened the door to highly effective technique for treating trauma by focusing on the release of the trapped emotion from the source, rather than just managing its symptoms.
When it comes to symptoms of trauma and PTSD, talk therapy can only take the client so far. Psychological counseling can help change behavior with techniques using the cognitive or “thinking” part of the brain to process the client’s emotions. Trauma symptoms are challenging to treat this way because their root causes are buried deep in the limbic or unconscious part of the brain. By connecting with the unconscious part of the brain as well, SE utilizes the whole brain in the process of healing – releasing the trapped emotion from the disturbing event and re-balancing the nervous system.
Causes of Trauma
Trauma can be caused by any event that an individual experiences as shocking or threatening, including these examples:
|· a serious automobile accident
· childhood sexual, physical or verbal abuse
· unexpected separation from family
· earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, tornadoes
· witnessing a crime
· family violence
· getting lost when young
· sudden loud noises (especially when alone)
Significant Results Are Possible with SE
When the “stuck” energy is finally released, it relieves the symptoms, anxiety, negative behavior patterns and other serious problems that had been sabotaging the trauma sufferer’s life. The results can range from feelings of freedom, renewal, relaxation and joy, to increased creativity, mental clarity, healthier self-esteem and the ability to sustain good relationships.
I work together with my clients to address both the psychological and the physiological effects of trauma on the body, brain and spirit. I take a holistic approach, using a variety of modalities and tools to help clients achieve the fastest possible recovery and return to a more balanced, healthier and happier life.
Dr. Carol Boulware is a Somatic Experiencing Practitioner and a Certified EMDR Therapist practicing in Santa Monica and Redondo Beach and is a member of the Independent Psychotherapy Network. Dr. Boulware can be contacted at (310) 374-4173 or via e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright 2017 by Carol Boulware, Ph.D.