What is Somatic Experiencing®?

Somatic Experiencing (SE™) is a body-based (bottom up) modality for healing trauma and other stress disorders. It is based on a multidisciplinary intersection of physiology, psychology, ethology, biology, neuroscience and medical biophysics. SE has been clinically applied for more than four decades. It is the life’s work of Dr. Peter Levine.

Dr Levine’s studies were based on the fascination about why prey animals in the wild who are under constant threat, are rarely traumatised, while humans are readily overwhelmed and traumatised. He realised that the animal’s instinctive survival physiology allows their bodies to discharge the fight/flight/freeze energy, by involuntary trembling and shaking and some deep breaths after a life -threatening event. This process resets their nervous system, restoring equilibrium to their bodies.

In humans the rational mind (neo-cortex) has learned to override this primitive adaptive response and we become traumatised as a result. Peter Levine realised that these same instincts and related survival-based brain systems and nervous system activation, that are involved in forming trauma symptoms, can be enlisted in the transformation and healing of trauma. SE allows the client to connect with this innate wisdom of the body’s healing ability. This happens through conscious awareness of the “felt sense”, the language of the nervous system.

Instead of just talking about the trauma, SE therapists are skilled in guiding clients to track the physical sensations, feelings, images and thoughts related to the traumatic memories. This allows the body to discharge the “trapped” traumatic energy in a safe way. The result is the ability to self-regulate and freedom from symptoms.

SE provides effective skills appropriate to a variety of healing professions including mental health, medicine, physical and occupational therapies, addiction treatment, first response, education, and others.

What is Trauma?

Trauma (PTSD) may be the result of acute stress from a perceived life-threat or it may develop as the end product of cumulative stress. Most people associate trauma with events like war, violence, extremes of physical, emotional or sexual abuse, crippling accidents, or natural disasters. However, many ”ordinary” or seemingly benign events can also be traumatic. For example, so-called minor automobile “whiplash” accidents frequently lead to bewildering and debilitating physical, emotional, and psychological symptoms. Common invasive medical procedures and surgeries (particularly those performed on frightened children who are restrained while being anaesthetised), can be profoundly traumatising. Somatic Experiencing® practitioners can help clients with various sources of trauma. These diverse sources include:

  • Medical: hospitalisations, surgeries, invasive medical procedures, anaesthesia, burns, poisoning, fetal distress and traumatic birth.
  • Accidents: falls, high impact accidents (including auto accidents), head injury, electrocution.
  • Suffocation: drowning, strangulation.
  • Attack: rape, war, bombings, physical abuse, mugging, molestation, physical injury, stabbing, gunshot wounds, animal attacks.
  • Emotional trauma, such as neglect, abandonment, rejection, bullying, loss of security, (secure belonging, loved ones, job)

About Peter Levine
Founder of SE®

Peter Levine (PhD) has worked in the field of stress and trauma for over 40 years and he is the founder and developer of Somatic Experiencing®. He wrote several books about trauma and trauma healing.

Dr Levine received his doctorate in medical biophysics from the University of California at Berkeley. He also has a doctorate in psychology from International University. Peter’s unique contribution to the field of Body Psychotherapy was honoured in 2010 when he received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the American Association for Body Psychotherapy (USABP). That same year he was also awarded the Reis Davis Chair in Child Psychiatry for his groundbreaking contribution to therapy for children and adolescents.

Books & Resources

Dr. P Levine
  • Waking the Tiger: Healing Trauma (1997)
  • The Unspoken Voice: How the Body Releases Trauma and Restores Goodness (2010)
  • In an Unspoken Voice: How the Body Releases Trauma and Restores Goodness (2010)
  • Trauma and Memory: Brain and Body in a Search for the Living Past (2015)
  • Freedom from Pain: Discover Your Body’s Power to Overcome Physical Pain (2019)
  • Trauma and Memory: Brain and Body in a Search for the Living Past: A Practical Guide for Working with Traumatic Memory (2021)
Prof S Porges
  • The Polyvagal Theory: Neurophysiological Foundations of Emotions, Attachment, Communication, and Self-regulation (2011)
  • The Pocket Guide to the Polyvagal Theory: The Transformative Power of Feeling Safe (2017)
  • Clinical Applications of the Polyvagal Theory: The Emergence of Polyvagal-Informed Therapies (2018)
Kathy Kain
  • Nurturing Resilience: Helping Clients Move Forward from Developmental Trauma-An Integrative Somatic Approach (2018)

Deb Dana
  • The Polyvagal Theory in Therapy: Engaging the Rhythm of Regulation (2018)
  • Polyvagal Exercises for Safety and Connection: 50 Client-Centered Practices (2020)
Somatic Experiencing International
  • Nature’s Lessons in Healing Trauma: An Introduction to Somatic Experiencing® (SE™)