Our bodies know they belong; it is our minds that make our lives so homeless.
~ John O’Donohue
What is Somatic Experiencing?
Somatic Experiencing (SE) is a method of working with difficult experiences that incorporates the body’s innate healing wisdom. It was developed by Dr. Peter Levine based on his observations that wild animals, though routinely threatened, rarely have symptoms of traumatic stress. These animals use innate mechanisms to regulate and deactivate high levels of arousal associated with their defense and survival. Human beings have these same innate healing mechanisms, but our rational, thinking brain can suppress our instincts in stressful situations. Healing can occur when we use our rational mind to observe our experience while simultaneously experiencing in small doses, the raw, primitive sensations that come from our instincts and emotions.
How does SE help?
- SE employs awareness of body sensations to help people “renegotiate” rather than re-live or re-enact trauma.
- SE’s focus on the bodily “felt sense” allows the high levels of arousal associated with a threat to our survival to be safely experienced and gradually de-activated. Using the “felt sense” is a process of tuning into the interior of our bodies and finding words or images that resonate with what is subtly sensed. It involves developing a pre-verbal, whole body sense of something (a current problem, something nagging from the past, an unfolding situation.)
- SE invites clients to shift their attention back and forth (“pendulate”) between a state of calm stability and states of instability associated with overwhelming experience.
- SE “titrates” or breaks down the client’s exposure to the trauma narrative into small, incremental steps, rather than evoking a flood of emotional memories that can overwhelm our innate regulatory mechanisms.
- The SE approach allows the body-mind to more easily integrate the trauma without being overwhelmed.
Trauma is a fact of life. It does not, however, have to be a life sentence.
~ Peter Levine
What is mindfulness meditation?
Accepting your own friend request
Mindfulness meditation helps us slow down and really feel our feelings, sense our sensations and notice our thinking mind. It encourages us to befriend ourselves by suspending judgments – to relate to ourselves with kindness. This is not always easy but it can be done. Mindfulness practices offer benefits to your mind and body that can be felt in as little as 10 minutes a day of practice for eight weeks. See this article from the Harvard Business Review for more on the physical changes that can take place: Mindfulness Can Literally Change Your Brain
How does mindfulness-based psychotherapy help?
- It teaches a new way to relate to our experience. We can be less reactive and more responsive when difficult thoughts, emotions or situations arise.
- It teaches us to see the impermanence of our experience — that feelings, sensations and especially thoughts come and go like clouds passing through the sky.
- It teaches us to watch our minds so we don’t have to act on our impulses (although acting quickly and decisively is sometimes necessary and appropriate).
- We learn that we have choices about how to respond to life.
- We become empowered as daily life choices become more clear.