Somatic Experiencing is a three year training program developed by Dr. Peter Levine based on his widely respected and innovative approach to the prevention and healing of trauma. Dr. Levine received a PhD in medical and biological physics as well as an independent doctoral degree in psychology. He is the founder of the Foundation for Human Enrichment a nonprofit organization dedicated to public education about and professional training in healing trauma. See www.healingtrauma.com for further information about trainings in Somatic Experiencing, educational books and materials and practitioners throughout the world.
Quite often today, the word “trauma” has replaced the word “stress.” E.g., “I’ve had a very traumatic day.” When the origin of stress is removed, the symptoms of stress are resolved and can be alleviated by techniques such as massage and meditation. However, trauma is a fundamental fracture. It is about loss of connection–to ourselves, especially to our bodies, to our families and the world around us. We do adapt but trauma requires a deeper process to heal and leads to a far more meaningful, long-term transformation.
In many ways, Dr. Levine developed his model by observing animals in the wild. When an animal senses the possibility of danger, its goes on alert, its sensory system becomes activated and it orientates and checks out where the danger is coming from and if truly there is danger. If there is no danger or if the danger passes, the animal shivers and shakes off the activation in its system and returns to the state in which it was before the incident occurred. We humans don’t always do that.
Sometimes, events occur and depending upon our life circumstances and the seriousness of the event, we may go back to the homeostasis and self-regulatory state in which we were before the event. Trauma can be defined as an incompleted event that was not fully resolved in an individual’s brain, nervous system and psyche. There is a biological need to complete that can compulsively and even unconsciously keep occurring in a person’s life when a similar event or circumstances arise. It can trigger very similar reactions in the individual as the original event or events.
People do bury these unresolved events and get on with their lives, oftentimes quite successfully. Then when similar or serious situations occur, e.g., accidents, illness or loss of a loved one, the original unresolved feelings can come to the surface.
There are two main categories of trauma:
(1)events that are almost always traumatic no matter who experiences them, e.g., war, severe childhood emotional, physical, or sexual abuse, experiencing or witnessing violence, rape or assault, catastrophic injuries and illnesses, loss of a loved one.
(2)common, jarring, unexpected events that can be traumatic under certain circumstances, e.g., minor car accidents, invasive medical and dental procedures, falls & other minor injuries, illness, natural disasters, accidental poisoning, birth.
There is also a distinction between developmental trauma and incidental trauma.
In the Somatic Experiencing approach to healing and resolving trauma, it is important to gradually bring a sense of reconnection to our bodies through a felt sense of one’s experience. To quote from the Epilogue in Peter Levine’s, “Waking the Tiger,” “to resolve trauma, we must learn to move fluidly between instinct, emotion, and rational thought…..
In learning to identify and contact bodily sensations, we begin to fathom our instinctual reptilian roots….the more primitive portions of our brains are not exclusively survival-oriented….They carry vital information about who we are (and) they tell us that we belong here..(that we are connected) beyond the material world….In the process of healing trauma…we become completely human animals, capable of the totality of our natural abilities.”