A SOMATIC APPROACH TO TRAUMA

A traumatic experience can be so stressful/devastating, in the event of the inability to run away or to protect yourself, that it is stored (frozen) in the body and nervous system, and virtually immobilise an individual. Various psycho-somatic ailments as well as psychological distresses can start to feature unknowingly - sometimes more eminent. The body and the mind (brain) is shut down from each other. Therefore it becomes difficult (sometimes impossible) to access higher cognitive structures (brain functions) through normal therapeutical processes. Executive functioning of the brain can be restrained and thus affecting daily living. To restore wellbeing, Somatic Experiencing® (SE®) is used as a therapeutic approach to restore the body-mind connection. The trauma center in the brain is accessed through bodily sensations in this approach to restore healthy daily living. This method uses the "feltsense" to assist a trauma victim to gain control over overwhelming experiences. In this way the trauma can be shaken off in a naturalistic way. To a certain extent we as humans have lost the ability to shake trauma off comparing to animals in the wild, though, some people are more resilient to trauma than others.

Trauma (PTSD) is lately also referred to as Complex Trauma (C-PTSD) in cases of prolonged interpersonal trauma such as physical abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse, domestic violence, torture, and chronic early maltreatment in a caregiving relationship. Earlier approaches to trauma healing have ignored the role of the body. These earlier models have attended to disturbances in affect and impulse regulation, changes in consciousness, changes in self-perception, relationship changes and changes in worldview. Today the role of the body in storing trauma is highly recognised. In younger children it may lead to attachment difficulties which has its basis in fear and may be visible in acting out, anger, aggression, withdrawal, depression, lack of empathy, and other anti-social behaviours.

SE® uses the body to get access to the trauma center in the brain and restores affect, sensing, memory integration, impressions, attachment, behaviour, self-regulation, consciousness, self-perception, relationships, meaning and worldview and unshackles the trauma from the body.

In
SE® it is important to understand the neuropsychophysiological components involved in our responses to threat and how it manifests itself in our bodies. The triune brain model is eminent to understand the flight-fight-freeze cycle in trauma. (1) The Neo-cortex (thinking brain) governs our language, cognition, reasoning and voluntary movements. (2) The Limbic brain (emotional brain) and limbic circuits governs emotions linked to attachment, the expression and mediation of emotion, and motivational drive. (3) The Reptilian brain (primitive brain) governs digestion, instincts and reflexes, reproduction, sleep, balance, arousal, circulation, breathing and the execution of “fight or flight or freeze”. In the event of non being able to fight or flight the threat may develop to a freeze response (many animals uses the freeze response to escape the predator or to feel less pain in the event of death). In humans the freeze response has the same function, but if we survive some individuals may retain the freeze response. It manifests itself in reliving the trauma, hyperarousal, avoidance, psychosomatic complaints, dissociation, personality disintegration, depression and anxiety, eating disorders, selfmutilation, etc. Thus, the freeze response get stuck in the body which is governed by the lower parts of the brain. The Limbic Circuit involves the amygdala, hypo-campus, and hypothalamus. Threat information is perceived via our 5 senses (facilitated by the body) and is sent through the thalamus to the amygdala (lower brain structure) or/and to higher brain structures such as the hypo-campus. These structures activates the Autonomic Nervous System, which involves the Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS - activates/excites us) and the Parasympathetic Nervous System (PNS - calming us down). Trauma happens when our nervous system cannot process the event

In the case of trauma (PTSD/C-PTSD)
SE® is utilised to restore the Fight-Fight-Freeze response through the body - unfreezing trauma. Through the body the lower brain functions can be accessed to restore the body-mind equilibrium. This is also why it is difficult to treat trauma through traditional therapeutical models which involves higher cognitive functions such as language and executive functioning.

What we know about trauma is that when a person went through a traumatic experience is that their boundaries have been raptured. The Window of Tolerance has been dramatically decreased and therefore traumatised people are highly sensitive and easily triggered into activation (or being overwhelmed by small events), which manifest itself as described earlier. Therefore in the SE-community we believe that traumatised persons may show bipolar reactions - both their SNS and PNS are activated simultaneously (a bipolar response - the PNS has lost its calming function). SE also restores these boundaries.

When a traumatised person relives the trauma the person moves right into the vortex of the trauma and sucked into terror. In
SE® the counter-vortex is used to bring them back to calmer waters. On the other hand the trauma-vortex is also used in a tritrated manner to release the traumatic experience through the body and then taking the person back to the counter-vortex (safer waters). Both are used in a safe pendulated manner.

The easiest way to describe this approach is to look at the animal world. When a leopard teaches it’s young to hunt, the adult will catch the pray without killing it. Sometimes it takes time for the the adult to draw the attention of the young, which gives the antelope a chance to escape. The antelope has frozen to reduce the pain of the killing. As the antelope slowly unfreezes it will start to shake it’s body until it has recovered from the trauma and suddenly runs away (escapes).
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Somatic Experiencing® was developed by Peter A Levine.