Originally posted February 23, 2020.
I wanted to announce that I’ve added Somatic Experiencing® to my skillset as a psychotherapist. Somatic Experiencing® (SE®) is a mindbody method that helps the individual to notice, move and renegotiate emotions contracted in the muscles and nervous system. I use Somatic Experiencing® imbedded in a treatment plan of psychotherapy, along with art therapy and also energy bodywork.
With SE®, we slowly work together to become aware of the holding patterns in your body and emotions. And, together, we slowly work to renegotiate these patterns, using an SE® method called titration. In SE®, titration refers to the rhythmic ebbing and flowing between contraction and expansion, between anxiety and relaxation. Slow titration nudges your nervous system to recall what it’s like to be relaxed. SE® is not a cathartic therapy. We don’t recall things to feel them intensely. That’s not the goal.
Rather, we move slowly, only at a pace that is tolerable to you. If anything comes up that feels like it is too much, we back away. And then, maybe try to just go up to the edge of the anxiety/feeling/memory. But, always flowing back to the relaxation that your body still knows how to do.
Another feature of SE® is the untangling of the neuronal network ball of feelings, thoughts and events that seem to be a feature of highly charged memories. In SE®, this is called coupling/uncoupling.
Sometimes highly charged events feel like a mixed up ball of shame, fear and negative self -talk, stuff that comes along for the ride. In reality, it’s probably not really that way. It might just feel/seem that way. These things might be individual components, and when looked at on their own, are easier to examine and understand.
So, another thing we do as we go along is work on uncoupling multiple memories and multiple thoughts and feelings from each other. Separating things helps our bodies and minds sort things out better.
Somatic Experiencing® practitioners consider the SE® treatment to be Trauma Healing.
With SE®, trauma is noticed and renegotiated within the body.
Somatic Experiencing® (SE®) was developed by Dr. Peter Levine, a stress researcher at NASA. He noticed that the nervous system, when highly stressed, first utilizes the fight, flight responses.
If these don’t work, then ultimately, the third response …the ancient, involuntary, deep freeze response is utilized by the nervous system. The freeze response is also called tonic immobility.
Remember, with humans (and with wild mammals), the ancient freeze response is involuntary.
But, in wild animals, the ancient freeze response is time limited. As a wild animal comes out of freeze, the whole body shakes as the nervous system processes off the freeze.
Here is a video of how an antelope that was captured by a leopard, first goes into a freeze response, which is an involuntary nervous system reaction to an inescapable attack. The freeze response evolved in mammals to help mitigate the panic and pain of death. But then, luckily for the antelope, a hyena pack scares away the leopard.
Watch as the antelope’s breathing becomes deeper. As voluntary muscle control slowly comes back, the antelope begins to get up. And and involuntary shaking starts as the nervous system comes out of deep freeze of deep tonic immobility.
What follows is a graphic example of capture, tonic immobility and coming out of freeze in the wild.
This video has content that some people might find disturbing, so don’t watch it if you are a sensitive person.
In humans, this freeze response is usually not metabolized. Rather, it becomes part of the individual’s regular emotional and body patterning.
To this patterning, people also will add secondary emotions, usually tons of shame…about how they handled the situation:
“Oh, I froze! WHY did I do that??? I’m a terrible person! I should’ve been able to fight him off!!”
Depending on the circumstances of the day, to a lesser or greater degree, the body and the emotions carry the freeze/fear/anxiety response all the time. A stressful incident can set off the entire pattern. And then the secondary emotions also become imbedded as part of the pattern:
“Oh, I froze! WHY DO I ALWAYS DO that? It figures, I DID it before! I never do anything right!! I could’ve fixed it then and I could’ve fixed it NOW! BUT I DIDN’T!! I’m the worst!”
This nervous system/emotional/body patterning, PLUS the biological patten of how traumatic (or highly charged) memories are stored in the brain, is the basis for post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Now that we know more about neurobiology and neuropsychology, we know that PTSD has a biological basis, rooted in the brain and nervous system. So we’ve learned that talking alone is not the most effective way to treat PSTD.
Mindbody treatments are usually more effective.
To learn more about how PTSD shows up in the body and the newer treatment methods for PTSD, I highly recommend Dr. Bessel van der Kolk’s book, The Body Keeps the Score.