What is Somatic ExperiencinG?
Somatic Experiencing is an alternative treatment modality aimed at targeting symptoms that stem from mental and physical trauma. This form of therapy focuses on the client's perceived body sensations in order to address the physiology of trauma and stress. The awareness developed in somatic experiencing sessions helps to release physical tension that may remain after trauma or a traumatic event.
Somatic Experiencing (SE) is a recently developed therapy for emotional and physical trauma. Dr. Peter A. Levine, PhD developed this therapy, facilitating a natural recovery of the balance between mind and body. He discovered that when we experience emotional or physical pain, we can stimulate our natural healing mechanisms as a means of helping not only our nervous and muscular systems, but the organs of our bodies to continue to recover. It’s not just about “facing” the pain, or “curing” it by developing high tolerance and/or using medication.
SE builds on several disciplines addressing the physiology and emotional consequences of stress and trauma. SE offers strategies to find out where a person is “stuck” in the fight, flight, or freeze response and to help them to get “unstuck”.
Below is a great video introducing Somatic Experiencing Dr. Peter Levine:
How Does SE Work?
The SE approach facilitates the completion of natural healing motor responses and the release of suppressed survival energy in the body. It consequently accesses the origin of trauma symptoms through sensing, awareness, and mindfulness-based strategies. It uses gentle guiding strategies to help people develop better tolerance of unwanted bodily sensations and suppressed emotions.
SE is sometimes referred to as a holistic therapy, a psycho-physiological approach, or a body/mind therapy. Learning from and combining the latest cutting edge-scientific research in fields such as traumatology, biology, neurology, psychology, attachment theory, and physiology, made SE possible. Somatic Experiencing also incorporates the research of Steven Porges’ (The PolyVagal theory) and Alan Schore's research on trauma and attachment issues.
Below is another video by Dr. Peter Levine discussing two strategies that can help trauma patients feel safe:
Who is a good candidate for SE?
Anyone who has experienced a threat, trauma, event, or circumstances where there was little or no support, the duration was intolerable or which made them feel stuck, or the event made them feel frightened, very angry, or overwhelmed may benefit from SE therapy. The remaining symptoms of such experiences may be that you are overreacting to the slightest sound or movement, that you are hyperactive, or in a state of shutdown or depression.
In all the the above circumstances, the nervous system becomes overwhelmed and finds it difficult to naturally recover to its healthy place of resilience and equilibrium, potentially causing the person to be in a state of high arousal.
Anyone who wishes to regain a sense of empowerment by learning about and experiencing their body’s natural ability to calm itself after strong feelings or activation caused by a situation they perceive as being stressful or threatening can benefit from SE. It is important to remember that our bodies respond to any perceived or experienced threat - even if most other people did not experience the same or a similar situation or injury as a trauma or a threat.
SE can be helpful for many individuals, both adults and children, who have experienced an event that caused a threat to their safety or to the stability of their world. Such events can include, but are not limited to:
Physical trauma such as car accidents, whiplash, sporting accidents, high impact falls
Surgeries, medical interventions, prolonged illnesses, high fever, poisoning
Inescapable attack, mugging, threat of violence, abuse of any kind, rape, incest
Drowning, suffocation or choking experiences
Unrelenting stress, work, bereavement, divorce, loss of a loved one or a pet
Emotional or domestic abuse, bullying
Development trauma such as childhood neglect, abandonment or betrayal
Birth trauma, pre- and postnatal experiences
Natural disasters, fires, floods, earthquakes, tsunamis
Horror, witnessing any of the above
Frequently Asked Questions (F.A.Q)
1) How effective is SE therapy?
A recent study by Danny Brom, Yaffa Stokar, Cathy Lawi, Vered Nuriel‐Porat, Yuval Ziv, Karen Lerner, and Gina Ross, titled “Somatic Experiencing for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: A Randomized Controlled Outcome Study”, published in The Journal of Trauma and Stress (June 2017) found that the level of post-traumatic symptoms (based on the CAPS, PDS, and CES‐D symptom checklists) in the intervention group decreased significantly, whereas those of the waitlist group remained stable. On the clinical level, as measured by the CAPS, the diagnosis of PTSD was reversed for 44.1% of the sample through treatment, and this was maintained at follow‐up. SE does not only work for PTSD, but also for any condition experienced as traumatic, either physically or emotionally. More research can be found on the website of the founding institution of SE - https://traumahealing.org/resources/.
2) How do I know if SE therapy will work for me?
If you have experienced any stress which accumulated over a short or a long period of time or if you have experienced anything that you might have perceived as a life-threat, SE may work for you.
3) Do I need a referral before starting SE therapy?
No, you can just call for a free administrative consultation during which on of our clinicians will take some of your relevant details and help you determine whether SE might work for you. SE at Neuropotential Clinics is practiced by a clinical psychologist, so if you have extended health insurance covering psychological services you will be reimbursed for therapy fees according to the rules of your benefit plan. Some extended health insurance plans may require a referral from you family doctor before reimbursing you, but most plans only require that the practitioner should be licensed to practice in Ontario.
4) Do I need an assessment before starting SE Therapy?
You do not need any external assessment. However, our clinicians will ask you a few questions to help you determine whether starting with SE or perhaps another type of treatment of therapy is the most appropriate strategy for your presenting issue.
5) Can I complete SE therapy while on medication?
Yes, you can. You do not have to stop any medication before starting with SE.
6) Who will I be working with during my SE sessions?
Dr. Arnold Muller is the Somatic Experiencing Practitioner at Neuropotential Clinics.
7) What certification does my practitioner need to conduct SE sessions with me?
In order to do the strategy of SE you need to do the 216-hour Somatic Experiencing Training and the additional personal sessions and case consultations required by the Somatic Experiencing Trauma Institute. Dr. Muller completed this training in December 2017. In order to practice independently you also need to be licenced by the relevant state or province regulatory college in a relevant health profession. Dr. Muller is registered as a psychologist with both the College of Psychologists of Ontario and the Health Professions Council of South Africa.
8) How long is a session of SE therapy?
Most typical sessions will last approximately the proverbial 50 minute - hour (50 minutes of one-to-one counselling and 10 minutes of administration time).
9) How many sessions of SE therapy will I need?
The number of sessions required to experience significant symptom relief may vary considerably from person to person and from situation to situation. The practitioner will discuss this with you on and ongoing basis. Part of the therapeutic contract is that you can opt out or stop at any time.
10) How often do I need to come in for SE therapy?
Usually we recommend starting with weekly sessions and spacing them out further after approximately 4 sessions. However, this may also vary considerably from client to client.
11) How long will it take before I can see some results with SE therapy?
Some clients already experience some symptom relief after only one session. More complex cases may need up to 20 sessions before they experience significant symptom relief. This may vary considerably from client to client, but your therapist will openly discuss progress and/or the need to terminate or change to a different strategy or therapist with you, if necessary.
12) What can I do to prepare for my first SE session?
There is nothing specifically which is required to do before the first session. However, you can feel free to read more about it on here or in any other relevant book or website. You are also encouraged to speak to other people who experienced SE and /or who are knowledgeable about it.
13) I wanted to learn more about SE, what books should I read?
There are many books, videos and online resources you can explore. It may be good to start with a book written by Peter Levine, who designed SE therapy, but other authors on the topic such as Bessel Van Der Kolk, Sonia, Gomes, and Raja Selvim may also be very informative.
14) Can I have an “extended” SE session?
Sometimes extended appointments are requested because clients are only available once a week or they have an extended commute. If you would like an extended SE session for any of the above reasons, please communicate this to administration and we will do our best to accommodate you into the schedule. Please note that there is no guarantee that we will be able to accommodate an extended psychotherapy session into the schedule every week.
15) Can children benefit from SE therapy?
Yes, children can also benefit from SE because it is a therapy focusing on helping the body release symptoms of trauma and children may also experience their difficulties as body sensations rather than as easy-to-express emotions or clearly identifiable thoughts.
16) Can couples do somatic experiencing therapy together?
Joel Decker, SE practioner in Oakland and Berkley, California answers this question very well on his website: “Difficulty in relationship is often due to emotional triggers from a past difficult relationship. If unresolved, triggers of emotional pain can quickly escalate stress activation from a simple disagreement. This can be very confusing for both partners. It is very common for both partners to be carrying this kind of unresolved emotional pain–a recipe for volatility, divorce, emotional or physical abuse, and affairs; even in couples with a long-term friendship, great sexual chemistry, and deep love. Couples therapy is an option to both heal from previous wounds, and at the same time, deepen the current relationship by asking for the love, care, respect, or quality of attention we didn’t get as children. Not in an angry, resentful, whose ‘right or wrong’ way, but in a compassionate, gentle, courageous and loving way.”
Please note that services are not covered under OHIP, but may be covered by insurance or extended health care benefits.