Winding Roads

Somatic Experiencing

The definition of somatic is “relating to or affecting the body.” Somatic experiencing (SE), one form of somatic therapy, is a therapeutic technique that can help people suffering from symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), as well as anxiety symptoms and depression.

Unlike most forms of psychotherapy, SE focuses on physical responses that occur when someone experiences trauma.

What qualifies as trauma exactly? Trauma is considered anything that overwhelms someone’s nervous system.

Traumatic experiences are believed to lead to dysfunction in the nervous system when they aren’t fully processed. This dysfunction can prevent someone from living in the present and can contribute to a number of symptoms and unhealthy defense mechanisms.

SE can help people release pent-up energy, learn to better cope with difficult bodily sensations and suppressed emotions, and essentially can release someone from” living in the past.”

What Is Somatic Experiencing?

Somatic experiencing is a form of somatic therapy and a “body-centered” therapeutic approach. It’s most often used to help people overcome symptoms tied to trauma, since it may allow someone to become “unstuck” in the fight, flight or freeze response.

Another way to describe trauma is “incidents that make you believe you are in danger of being seriously injured or losing your life.” According to Harvard Health Publishing, examples of trauma can include:

  • physical abuse

  • sexual abuse

  • emotional abuse

  • physical neglect

  • emotional neglect

  • witnessing domestic violence

  • substance misuse within the household

  • mental illness within the household

  • parental separation or divorce

  • incarceration of a household member

  • a sudden death in the family

  • a stressful divorce

  • caring for someone with a chronic or debilitating illness

Here are some of the core principles behind somatic therapy/somatic experiencing:

  • The mind and body are connected, so whatever is felt in the mind is thought to also show up in the body.

  • SE involves a patient working on feeling physical sensations in the body that are tied to past traumatic events, rather than only thinking through the events and emotions that were felt. The purpose is to access the body memory of the event, not the story itself.

  • Repressed memories are thought to be capable of continuing to impact the body physically, even when memories are forgotten. Until a memory is fully felt and processed, it will continue to do damage.

  • The main goal therefore is to begin experiencing present moments again.

What does a somatic therapist do?

A somatic therapist (or coach) educates patients about how their autonomic nervous systems work and helps them increase their awareness of their own bodily sensations.

As a practitioner of “body psychotherapy,” the therapist talks to his/her patient about what exactly is being experienced and perceived in the body.

The therapist also acts as a trusted partner and calm presence during sessions, which can feel stressful and overwhelming for the patient at times. Overall the therapist’s goal is to help decrease the distress and symptoms that the patient is feeling so she/he can experience improved coping skills and quality of life.

For more information about SE please visit

www.traumahealing.org