This article was written by Australia Counselling member and Sydney psychotherapist Roby Abeles.
What is Somatic Experiencing (SE)?
Although humans have virtually the same regulatory mechanisms as animals, the function of these instinctive systems is often overridden or inhibited by the ”rational” part of our more highly developed brain, the neo cortex, or by learned behaviours. These restraints prevent the complete discharge of survival energies and do not allow the nervous system to regain its balance. The body stays in a state of alertness even if the ‘danger’ is no longer present. Over time a variety of symptoms can develop.
Using the innate ability humans have to overcome trauma, SE encourages and utilises the awareness of sensations in the body (or somatic experiences) to help people re-negotiate and resolve the effects of their trauma. The approach allows the instinctual actions that were unable to complete at the time of the trauma to be safely and gradually discharged in present time.
While gently pacing the process so that each individual can safely assimilate the changes within their nervous system, SE® helps return a sense of aliveness, relaxation and wholeness to the individual.
The symptoms or trauma of post traumatic stress disorder are not caused by the ”triggering” event itself. They stem from the leftover survival energy that has not been resolved and discharged due to a disturbance in the self-regulatory capacity of our autonomic nervous system and physiology.
Each time we are not able to return to a relaxed ‘normal’ state our nervous system becomes more hypersensitive or unresponsive and we are more likely to be affected by events, actions or experiences that previously may not have had an impact.
As Somatic Experiencing works directly with the neurophysiology of the body to help regulate the nervous system and its effects on the endocrine and immune systems, these symptoms can gradually be reduced.
Over time, after months or years, symptoms of the following types may arise:
- Heart palpitations, breathing problems, dizziness
- Hyper vigilance, being on guard or over alert
- Extreme sensitivity to light, sound or touch
- Involuntary behaviour: tics, jerking limbs
- Anxiety, including chronic low level anxiety
- Panic attacks and phobias
- Fears and terrors
- Flash backs and intrusive memories or images
- Overwhelming emotional responses such as shame, anger, depression
- Insomnia, poor sleep, nightmares, night terrors
- Psychosomatic illnesses, particularly some headaches, migraines, neck and back problems
- Muscle weakness, muscle pain e.g. fibromyalgia, myofasical pain
- Menstrual problems
- Digestive problems, e.g. irritable bowel syndrome, spastic colon
- Immune system problems
- Skin disorders
- Environmental sensitivities
- Physical, mental or emotional exhaustion
- Mood swings, shame, depression, rage, aggression, lack of self worth, easily irritated
- Feelings of helplessness and powerlessness
- Mental ‘blankness’ or spaced-out feelings
- Amnesia, forgetfulness
- Indecisiveness and feelings of overwhelm
- Attraction to dangerous situations or people
- Addictive behaviour: smoking, alcohol dependency, drug abuse
- Avoidance behaviour: avoiding places, activities, memories, situations or people
- Attachment difficulties in nurturing, bonding or committing to others or receiving from others
Why would I choose to have a Somatic Experiencing session for trauma symptoms or post traumatic stress disorder?
SE also allows clients to expand their ability to have experiences and feelings without them becoming overwhelming. So, not only can clients have more sadness without it overwhelming them, they can also have more joy. Their whole life experience expands and becomes richer as a result.
Visit the Somatic Experiencing (SE) website for all the details about the Somatic Experiencing Professional Training in Australia.