0404 093 865

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Melbourne, Byron Bay or Skype sessions

Ph: 0404 093 865

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Somatic Psychotherapy & Trauma Counselling

 

Somatic Experiencing (SE)

 

The definition of “trauma” includes a wide range of experience: whether accidents or personal attacks; physical, emotional or sexual abuse; and also developmental or attachment (early childhood) trauma.  

 

Primary or secondary trauma can also affect people who have witnessed trauma or even the aftermath of trauma. It may also affect those who work with clients who have experienced trauma, and who do not themselves have access to regular, effective trauma release therapy.

 

By utilising the tools and understanding of Somatic Experiencing I can help you resolve trauma, even complex trauma such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

 

'Accumulated stress', which many people experience, and which may not involve an actual 'trauma' as such, can also be successfully managed using an SE approach.

 

What is Somatic Experiencing (SE)? How does it help heal trauma and PTSD?

 

Peter Levine, the founder of Somatic Experiencing and author of Waking the Tiger: Healing Trauma, says: “trauma here … trauma where?”, meaning that with effective therapy, the awful experience of living with trauma can be corrected.

 

There is increasing scientific evidence to show that the effects of trauma can be resolved so that individuals who have suffered trauma can be taught to easily and permanently develop a sense of safety and resilience, in which the debilitating associations of trauma are actually reversed.

 

The patterning of the original trauma acts like a domino effect. And so once the primary trauma is attended to, you may also actually resolve a whole host of other smaller traumas, meaning you are likely to end up feeling much better, overall, than you’ve ever felt before, not just after a session but permanently.

 

Many people who have experienced attack or accidents are aware that they suffer from the impacts of trauma. They may have had some trauma therapy, such as (cognitive behavioural therapy) CBT-based treatment, or even talk-based counselling, and found that they experienced some temporary, short or even medium–term relief.

 

However it can be very distressing, and depressing, if the underlying feelings and ramifications are nor addressed and resolved. You may feel hopeless, and that you are ‘stuck’ with these feelings for life, but that is not necessarily the case.

 

SE addresses the underlying causes of suffering from trauma by addressing the neurophysiology the created the symptoms of trauma in the first place.

 

The “gift” of trauma.

 

Importantly, Somatic Experiencing (SE) is not like other modalities of trauma therapy - which can merely lessen symptoms in the short-to-medium term. SE tends to have fundamental, long-term healing outcomes.

 

An example which may help to illustrate how trauma – and SE – works is of someone who is high-functioning in many respects in their life and one day has an impact injury, like a car accident, and may suddenly feel like they’re having a ‘nervous breakdown’.

 

This ‘breakdown’ may be because the recent trauma triggers a deeply held body memory of a past trauma. Suddenly, the nervous system (which over time has developed ways of managing and coping with a history of smaller traumas) is pushed into overload.

 

Because Somatic Experiencing tends to the current, presenting trauma (which may be recent or something in your past), the whole nervous system can effectively be repaired, and past experiences of trauma and the associated distress can be resolved.

 

The nervous system is much more resilient than you ever imagined possible. By working with an SE practitioner you are ironing out ‘kinks’ you didn’t even (consciously) know were there.

 

This is why somatic practitioners often speak of “the gift of trauma”, because trauma may be the catalyst for a level of healing that may otherwise never been sought out, or even dreamed of.

 

This is true for very major traumatic experiences, for serious conditions like PTSD or for a lifetime of smaller traumas (that may not seem significant) but that nevertheless take a huge toll on our daily experience, until they are effectively addressed and healed.

 

How does Somatic Experiencing (SE) work?

 

Levine, an animal behaviourist recognized that animals in the wild recover from trauma and attack without the symptoms of stress and trauma experienced by people (or domestic animals).  In brief, because animals don’t experience the vulnerability accompanying the release of trauma (symptoms such as shame) their physical system is able to release the charge of the incomplete action effectively and permanently. In contrast, humans are conditioned not to discharge internalized feelings of shame, pain or hurt, which then get stored in our nervous system.

 

In trauma, rather than completing the incomplete action (executing a defensive responses such as orienting to danger, and then fighting or fleeing) our bodies oftern ‘learn’ to freeze, which then becomes our unconscious habitual default response to any sense of danger or discomfort. And so the cycle gets entrenched in our nervous system, beneath the level of our consciousness.

 

Somatic Experiencing therapy provides a safe and structured method in which to safely and slowly release the stored, unconscious patterns of response to trauma. It also helps to re-educate the body to again feel capable of resisting - or escaping - from the sense of threat associated with the original traumas, and the layers of the post-traumatic stress syndrome that develop without effective trauma resolution process.

 

The good news is that just as the body learns to contract and freeze in response to original traumas (and the layers of stress that build up without us knowing consciously that this is what has happened), the instinctual intelligence of the body overall can repair those programmed responses.

 

Once the trauma response patterns in the nervous system are identified and resolved, the body can quite quickly relearn new ways of being in the world, in which the old unconscious patterns are replaced with new patterns of response to threat and fear (and to the “threat of threat”), so the body, quite literally, relaxes into new ways of being.

 

We now also understand so much more about how old neural pathways in the brain can reform, and old pathways associated with fear responses are literally (and gently) ‘rewired’ through corrective experiences in therapy, and our brain experiences life in new, now un-traumatised ways.

 

As the nervous system continues to relax, your experience of life on a day-to-day level continues to improve. This what Peter Levine means when he says: “Trauma there, trauma where?”. The feelings of being traumatised disappear, both at the deepest unconscious, and the conscious levels.

 

What does a Somatic Experiencing (SE) therapist do?

 

Somatic Experiencing works at the level of the nervous system – including the ‘reptilian brain’ - redefining your entire experiences of living in the world through gentle, patient and focused attention by a trained therapist.

 

There is an important physiological stratum in which we can’t think or rationalize our way out of traumatic experience. We need to be able to experience a corrective sense of repair to damage that has been done on a subconscious level.

 

What an SE therapist does is to help, literally, repair the body’s experience of not being able to fight or flee an attack, or of being caught in ‘freeze’, (as a way of avoiding feeling the impact of traumatic experience/s).

 

Somatic Experiencing re-patterns the body’s experience, so you start to feel, literally – including on a deep physical level - as if the trauma hadn’t even happened.

 

At the same time, from a psychological point of view, we can work together to make meaning, and to achieve a measure of psychological peace, from integrating trauma and its aftermath, so that it becomes manageable, even if it is difficult to imagine that a miracle like that can happen. 

 

The result is that with SE, you can come to feel a level of wellbeing that may have been unimaginable previously. And it helps you build the skills and capability to continue to heal and grow, as your nervous system becomes more and more resilient, flexible and stronger.

 

We can work successfully with all types of trauma, from situational (accidents, violence and abuse), to PTSD, to developmental or attachment trauma. In this way even long-term wounding can be repaired using the tools of SE, supported by the psychotherapeutic relationship.

 

You can find out more about Somatic Experience here.

 

Read more about how Somatic Experiencing helps to heal.

 

To make an appointment at Kind Counselling in inner Melbourne, please contact me directly on 0404 093 865 or send an email enquiry.