Somatic Experiencing, trauma recovery
April 22, 2011 9:15 AM   Subscribe

Somatic Experiencing is a method of recovering from emotional trauma-- I'd like to hear about experiences with the system because In an Unspoken Voice describes it as dealing well with the paralysis aspect of trauma, not just the intrusive memories and explosive emotions, and I tend to be pretty stuck.

There are local practitioners for Philadelphia, but I'm not very sure how to evaluate them.

Aside from whether I feel comfortable with them (probably even more important for this than most therapy), what would be worth checking?

I'm going to ask about experience with the system (I wasted some money once with a Core Transformations practitioner who was so inexperienced with that system that she was reading from a script), but what else? I'd rather not do something useless, but I'm more concerned about ending up in worse shape.

Also, are there other systems which are good for high levels of inertia? It's hard for me to get myself to do much or take even moderate risks or to want very much out of life.
posted by Nancy Lebovitz to Health & Fitness (6 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I am in the same boat. I'm found that in general, so far not a single practitioner has been as helpful as developing my own practice of body awareness. I did a lot of yoga and meditation and I can usually go into my body and work with what's there. Then again with big trauma it can be easy to get stuck with what exactly you're hoping to DO once you connect with what is inside. Let it go? Embrace it? Nurture the parts of you that feel broken? The reality is that the answer is situational not only from person to person, but for the specific issue you're looking at within yourself.

Drowning is not a good idea. Bringing things up without any support and falling into the abyss of torment is not therapetutic and it happens very often even with well meaning practioners working with people who have experinced trauma.

(I don't dig the words survivor or victim. We're all just humans with various experiences that have affected us in different ways.)

Exercise is extremely helpful, and vegetables and proper protein and water. But how do you get yourself to exercise when so overwhelmed? This is difficult and I am hoping that quite honestly I can find ways to address this problem with mental health services. The people who most need exercise and wholesome nutritious foods often have the highest emotional/psychological/physical obstacle to gaining access. How can we make that better? I don't know but I'm working on it.

I don't know if you're down with a higher power--- I'm agnostic myself which cleverly allows me to do meditative and body awareness activities with a sense of a higher power-- or lot's of them, while i don't require myself to actually believe it. I find it helpful because I find that answers and wisdom since to come more sincerely when I believe they are coming from outside of me. My skeptic keeps from going to far believing in nonsense land by reminding me "you do realize that ultimately it's quite likely you're making this all up?"

I value both so it seems to work. The reason I mention it, is that I believe we need support, and by that I mean external support. When the system is damaged from horrible experience we need nurturing and to be seen with compassion and awareness for whatever damage to the psyche/spirit/emotional self/physical body however you want to look at it.

When we are in the throws of hurting, we need to at least feel that the support is coming to us rather than from us. If our system is exhausted it's rather hurtful to self to suggest "Ok now that you're all skrewed up, why don't you just manifest MORE love and strength for yourself out of nowhere!". I personally think this is a harmful element of the self help movement.

The point is that an exhausted system needs to rest in support in order to replenish not that it needs to be forced to doing more work than it feels capable of.

I'm pretty sure this was more helpful for me to write than it will be for you to read, but I hope it was helpful for you too! I'm sorry you're walking this path as well. I'm always available as peer support, and I certainly haven't figured it all out!!
posted by xarnop at 9:46 AM on April 22, 2011

I found SE to be helpful in becoming aware of my body and emotional responses to trauma, how to let that happen, and be ok with it. A friend of mine did SE therapy and is now in training to become SE certified, because it helped her so much with her trauma; she really believes it's the best thing ever -- I'm not so sure.

One of the examples I was given of how SE works is that a woman had a bad skiing accident and was injured and couldn't move her head from side to side. She did SE therapy to work through the trauma of her fall -- going back to the moment of her injury, talking about it, envisioning it happen again and stopping to feel how her body was reacting. Eventually she was able to move her head from side to side again. Who knows if this is really true.

There is a lot of body awareness during the sessions I went through, talking and then stopping to see what your body is doing and then talking about how your body feels (tingling, heavy, etc) and sort of moving that energy through (that's a bad description). I'm fairly skeptical when it comes to stuff like this and I'm not sure it really helped me other than becoming aware of my body/mind -- like xarnop said above, yoga and exercising, just taking care of yourself probably work just as well. SE gave me the tools to know how to be more aware of that though.

Like any therapy, you're going to have to do a trial and error thing with finding a therapist that will work for you. The trauma healing site is a good place to start. SE in conjunction with other therapy is probably more productive than just straight SE (if that exists).
posted by backwords at 10:28 AM on April 22, 2011

After being in yoga for 23 years and the healing scene here in Los Angeles I am wary of anyone who touts techniques for healing, even if well-intended.

My short answer -

Get full.

You do that by do things that make you feel good. I had severe head injuries, brain trauma and was taking a lot of meds. What came clear to me was in the morning I would wake up and feel like shit. I would take a yoga class and feel better. The next morning I would wake and feel the same way. I'd do yoga and feel better. After awhile I realized "Why don't I do this every day?"

The more you feel good the more you'll want to be there.

Everything else then seems to take care of themselves

I would do a yoga taught by someone who loves to move and is bright and caring. Not charismatic. Not all who have charisma have your best interests at heart. Bright is another story. The head injury that got me into yoga and woke me to deal with what happened in my past put me in the hospital for a week. The nurses were doing there job competently until I saw one nurse who was "lit up" My reaction was immediate, "If she is around I am going to get well." I've pretty much aspired to that ever since.

Whether yoga or not, look for practitioners who have children, bright and are not limiting or intent on locking you into a way of doing, being or following. The technique to me is irrelevant. The spirit they bring to it is what matters.

It is touch that matters, not technique.

I consider myself a healer. I have always questioned what that means. This is what I've recently come to after my partner left her body last year.


April 5, 2011 at 7:22 pm

Wherever we are is where we are the most effective.
Cells live and die.
Whether they are living or dying they are doing so effectively.
We are a conglomeration of cells.
Therefore we are a conglomeration of effectiveness.

With Renee, I realized that “healing” happens whether one is living or dying.
This took care of my concerns of how does a healer deal with death. Is this a failure?
We are always expanding whether we are living or dying.
This may be what Jesus was talking about.
He didn’t do technique. He just touched.

Whatever happens to us makes us know what we want.
If body is sick it will do what it can to get well.
Then we expand out to that frequency.
Either we do it consciously or not.
“Not” seems more painful.

We we feel good we are close to God/Source/Universe/Whatever.
Sometimes we are all that.
It’s best if we find ourselves there.
We don’t do technique to get there.
And when we are there, acknowledge it.
When we are there we hang out as long as we can.
The more we hang out the more it will come.
We do not stop learning or contributing in this process.

When we are there we think of the things we do want without shame.
You, like me, like being in that place of happiness, joy and good feeling.
Like I said on the phone, one who keeps dreaming stays close to God/Source/Universe.
It’s never far away.
Because of that we are ahead of the curve because we’ve stayed close.
It’s easier to come back to.

If life is limited to one material body then nothing would ever be discovered, created or solved.
It also seems that everything would be wasted.
You and I would not be here.

Continue to cultivate feeling good.


I hope that helps. Good luck on your journey ; )
posted by goalyeehah at 4:07 PM on April 22, 2011 [2 favorites]

I went to a training on SE and found it to be 1) unsupported by data other than case studies done by Peter Levine, and 2) such that a therapist MUST spend several thousand dollars in order to fund out how to practice it. Many research-supported, popular, highly effective therapies for trauma like Trauma-Focused CBT do not require therapists to spend thousands of bucks to learn to practice them with clients.

Upon being exposed to SE's principles a little bit, I found that it didn't match my own goals or ethical principles as a therapist, and would not be able to recommend it in good conscience to someone who needs help with trauma. One data point from one perspective.
posted by so_gracefully at 6:58 PM on April 22, 2011 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks everyone-- the thing is, there are things that make me feel better (music, moderate exercise, low glycemic eating, spending time with friends, etc.), but I find it hard to motivate myself to do them. I feel as though there's something that just isn't working right-- this may or may not be reasonable, but I do get occasional times when I don't have that barrier to taking reasonable action, and lacking the barrier feels healthier to me.

Admittedly, it doesn't help if I beat myself up for feeling knocked out, but I think there's a knockedoutness which isn't just a self-esteem problem, and it seemed to line up pretty well with Levitt's writing about paralysis.

I've put some 30 years into improving my body awareness, simply because I've felt compelled to do so. My success at that has been fairly good, but it doesn't solve the difficulties with doing things.

I realize that there's a risk of retraumatization in therapy for that sort of thing, but somatic experiencing at least recognizes that there's a problem and tries to not make that mistake.

So_gracefully, what are your ethical issues with somatic experiencing? Are they with the technique, or with the way the training is sold?
posted by Nancy Lebovitz at 9:25 AM on April 23, 2011

Have you tried asking your body what the feelings are about? I mean lay down, get into a meditative or spiritual place and ask your body, "Alright love, what are you feeling? Why the fatigue? What is happening inside and what do you need? How can I serve you?"

And then listen to your own inner wisdom without a preconcieved notion or package that someone is trying to sell you.

I would suggest at least doing this before you employ someone elses vision of what is happening in your body (which they are assisting you with for money and ultimately people doing work for pay will never have the same investment in seeing your inner truth as you do.)
posted by xarnop at 7:37 PM on April 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

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