Somatic Experiencing differs from other forms of therapy; it is not talk therapy but instead is a psychobiological and physiological approach that works with the nervous system. To understand how a mind-body therapy like SE™ works, first you must understand how the human nervous system works and what happens to the nervous system when we experience trauma.
So, what happens when humans are exposed to trauma? We have all heard of fight or flight, but there is another response that occurs, called freeze. These reactions are a result of our Autonomic Nervous System (ANS), which is split up into two parts, the Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS) and the Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS).
What happens when the body determines it can neither fight or flee? The body freezes. Freezing, numbing, dissociating is a result of this self protection mechanism – the body slams on the emergency brake and immobilizes you, both mentally and physically. There are many biological reasons behind this – the person or animal attacking you may lose interest when you freeze or you may be less noticeable were you in the wild. Equally as importantly, the freezing allows you not to feel or to feel less intensely what is happening to you. This response is just as common as fight or flight, especially in children, who are not developmentally capable of protecting themselves in many ways.
Our nervous system is made to swing back and forth like a pendulum between a sympathetic state and a parasympathetic state. With those who have experienced trauma, your nervous system may get “stuck” on or off. Your body and mind learn that the world is a perpetually unsafe place, and so it holds on to the best way it knows to feel safe. Your nervous system may alternate between being stuck ON, which feels like anxiety and hypervigilance, constantly sensing danger, or stuck OFF, dissociated and hyperaroused, constantly unaware of your surroundings.
SE™ works with the symptomology that is held in the nervous system to resolve the trauma. Talk therapy and simply processing the event cannot fully access the adaptations the nervous system has made as a result of trauma. SE™ does not require re-telling or re-living the event but rather works to renegotiate physiological responses through tools like titration, tracking, pendulation, and resourcing.
About the Author: Trisha Wolfe, SEP, NARM, CRM Teacher
I am grateful to be able to offer this work to the Central Ohio area, which is home to many somatic practitioners.