In May 2022, a new round of Somatic Experiencing Training started here in Saskatoon. Some of us at BHC took the 1s tmodule. Pam Fichtner and Dawn Deguire had been interested in taking it and were so happy that it was offered within this community. Patsy Ippolito, who is a counsellor specializing in Somatic Experiencing at BHC, was also in attendance at the training as a Teaching Assistant. It was great to have her energy there as a support.
What is Somatic Experiencing (SE)?
It is a body-oriented (soma=body) therapeutic model that helps heal trauma and other stress disorders. It was developed by Peter Levine, PhD who has been using it for more than 45 years. It can be used in conjunction with multiple professions when the practitioner supports their client to optimal health. At the recent training, there were social workers, counsellors, psychologists, teachers, writers, bodyworkers and myself as a massage therapist. Other professions and focuses of support include people dealing with mental health, medicine, physical and occupational therapies, addiction treatment, first response, and others.
It is based on a multidisciplinary intersection of physiology, psychology, ethology, biology, neuroscience, Indigenous healing practices, and medical biophysics.
The SE approach releases traumatic shock, which is key to transforming PTSD (Post-traumatic Stress Disorder). It also helps to facilitate recovery from the wounds of emotional and early developmental attachment trauma. It offers a framework to assess where a person is “stuck” in the fight, flight or freeze responses and provides clinical tools to resolve these fixated physiological states.
What is Trauma?
According to Peter Levine, trauma is not an event, but rather the often-debilitating symptoms that people may develop in the aftermath of perceived life-threatening or overwhelming experiences. Trauma symptoms may develop as a result of acute stress from a perceived life-threat, or as the end product of cumulative stress. A wide variety of stressors may contribute to the development of such symptoms. Some of these stressors may seem obvious, while others may seem less obvious. Such symptoms may include: hyperarousal, nightmares, digestive issues, anxiety and panic attacks. Addictions, depression, chronic pain, sexual assault, child abuse, catastrophic injuries and illnesses, minor motor vehicle accidents, falls and birth stress, to name a few.
How does it work?
It addresses the root cause of trauma symptoms by gently guiding clients to develop increasing tolerance for difficult bodily sensations and suppressed emotions. According to the Dr. Levine's website, he was inspired to study stress on the animal nervous system when he realized that animals are constantly under threat of death, yet show no symptoms of trauma. What he discovered was that trauma has to do with the third survival response to perceived life threat, which is freeze. When fight and flight are not options, we freeze and immobilize, like “playing dead.” This makes us less of a target. However, this reaction is time-sensitive, in other words, it needs to run its course, and the massive energy that was prepared for fight or flight gets discharged, through shakes and trembling. If the immobility phase doesn’t complete, then that charge stays trapped, and, from the body’s perspective, it is still under threat.
The Somatic Experiencing method works to release this stored energy and turn off this threat alarm that causes severe dysregulation and dissociation. SE helps people understand this body response to trauma and work through a “body first” approach to healing. As we move out of these survival states, we begin to experience a greater sense of inner peace, increased resiliency, deeper connections with others, and an increased vitality and capacity to actively engage in life.
Pam really enjoyed taking the training as it helped her to understand more fully the need to pay attention to all the sensations that one feels, and to slowly encourage one to explore those sensations in a safe way. To take the time to stay with what is coming up for the person is key as it allows them to be in the present moment. And, if it doesn't feel safe, to move to other places in the body or environment where the person can perhaps feel grounded and safe. It was also so very safe and supportive in the training environment for us students to explore trauma. The container being held with the teachers, the assistants, the healthy snack and two hour lunch breaks all helped to ensure we felt cared for and grounded.
Somatic Experiencing Practitioners are graduates of a 3-year training program from the Somatic Experiencing Trauma Institute. For more information visit their website at https://traumahealing.org.
Pam and Dawn will be earning more of these skills and implementing them in our practises. Please let us know if you have any questions.