Elli Schmeltekopf, MS, LPC, SEP

Licensed Professional Counselor and Somatic Experiencing Practitioner

Somatic Experiencing

Somatic Experiencing (SE) is a short-term naturalistic approach to the resolution and healing of trauma developed by Dr. Peter A. Levine. It is based upon the observation that wild prey animals, though threatened routinely, are rarely traumatized. Animals in the wild utilize innate mechanisms to regulate and discharge the high levels of energy arousal associated with defensive survival behaviors. These mechanisms provide animals with a built-in immunity to trauma that enables them to return to normal in the aftermath of a highly charged life-threatening experience.


Although humans are born with virtually the same regulatory mechanisms as animals, the function of these instinctive systems is often over-ridden or inhibited by, among other things, the “rational” portion of the brain. This restraint prevents the complete discharge of survival energies, and does not allow the nervous system to regain its equilibrium. The energy that is not discharged remains in the body, and the nervous system gets stuck in “survival mode.” The various symptoms of trauma result from the body’s attempt to manage and contain this unused energy.


SE employs the awareness of body sensation to help people renegotiate and heal their traumas rather than relive them. With appropriate guidance into the body’s instinctive “felt sense,” individuals are able to access their own built-in immunity to trauma, allowing the highly aroused survival energies to be safely and gradually discharged. When these energies are discharged, people frequently experience a dramatic reduction in or disappearance of their traumatic symptoms.


Because traumatic events are often encounters with death, they evoke extraordinary responses. The transformation process can allow people to deepen their sense of self and others. The healing journey can be an “awakening” of untapped resources and feelings of empowerment. With the help of these new capacities, people can open portals to rebirth and achieve an increased sense of flow. The experience can be a genuine spiritual awakening, one that allows people to reconnect to the world.


The very structure of trauma, including hyperarousal, dissociation, and freezing, is based on the evolution of predator versus prey survival behaviors. The symptoms of trauma are the result of a highly activated, incomplete biological response to threat, frozen in time. By enabling this frozen response to thaw, then complete itself, trauma can be healed.


Traumatic symptoms are not caused by the dangerous event itself. They arise when residual energy from the event is not discharged from the body. This energy remains trapped in the nervous system where it can wreak havoc on our bodies and minds. Wild animals have developed the ability to shake off this excess energy. The key for humans in dispelling traumatic symptoms lies in our ability to slowly activate and then discharge this excess energy as well. Somatic Experiencing provides very precise techniques to help a person do this.


--Peter A. Levine, from Crash Course: A Self-Healing Guide to Auto Accident Trauma and Recovery by Diane Poole Heller, Ph.D.



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