Somatic Experiencing is a form of trauma release created by Master Somatic Therapist Peter Levine. This golden route serves to help people have experiences in the body that contradict those of overwhelming helplessness associated with trauma. Somatic Experiencing focuses on including and putting emphasis on the physiological aspects of trauma. Working with the trauma in this form emphasizes the fact that through the body is necessary to any trauma resolution, and a required step before addressing emotional and cognitive issues that can reinforce and even re-traumatize an individual.
Alaya has personally found this modality to be the most effective form to transmute trauma that had accumulated in her own life. She brings that life experience in a safe session space to her clients with her sensitivity and refinement, as well as her awareness of the timing that is required when working to this depth. The Somatic format of Somatic Experiencing, body-centered awareness, is the best form to not reinforce and re-traumatize an individual who is seeking relief and healing from trauma.
As described by Peter Levine:
The systems that are associated with trauma are orchestrated by the primitive structures in our brainstem—the upper part of the brainstem. They’re instinctive and they’re almost reflexive. The tonic immobility is the most primitive system, and it spans probably over 500 million years. It is a combination of freezing and collapsing—the muscles go limp, the person is left without any energy. The next in evolutionary development is the sympathetic nervous system, the fight-or-flight response. And this system evolved from the reptilian period, which was about 300 million years ago. Its function is enhanced action, fight-or-flight. The third and most recent system is the social engagement system, and this occurs only in mammals. Its purpose is to drive social engagement—making friends—in order to defuse the aggression or tension.
Bessel van der Kolk showed when he first started to do trauma research with functional MRIs is that when people are in the trauma state; they actually shut down the frontal parts of their brain and particularly the area on the left cortex called Broca’s area, which is responsible for speech. When the person is in the traumatic state, those brain regions are literally shut down; they’re taken offline. When the therapist encourages the client to talk about their trauma, asking questions such as, “Okay, so this is what happened to you. Now, let’s talk about it,” or, “What are you feeling about that?” The client tries to talk about it. And if they try to talk about it, they become more activated. Their brainstem and limbic system go into a hyper-aroused state, which in turns shuts down Broca’s area so they really can’t express in words what’s going on. They feel more frustrated. Sometimes the therapist is pushing them more and more into the frustration. Eventually the person may have some kind of catharsis, but that kind of catharsis is due frequently to being overloaded and not being able to talk about it, being extremely frustrated. So in a sense, trauma precludes rationality.
All of this activation, this “energy” becomes locked in the body when one feels they must get out of a situation and get back to where one could be protected. So what happens is all of this activation, this “energy” that becomes locked into the body when one is overwhelmed, is still there in a latent form. When we’re overwhelmed like that, the energy just doesn’t go away—it gets locked very deeply in the body. That’s the key. It gets locked in the muscles.
It is essential to release that energy in a safe space, and also to re-channel that energy into an active response so then the body has a response of power, of its own capacity to regulate, and the person comes out of this shutdown state into a process in which they re-own their own vital energy—as in the term “life energy.” It’s not generally used in psychology but it’s a term that is profound in people’s health, that people feel that they have the energy to live their life fully, and that they have the capacity to direct this energy in powerful and productive ways.