Trauma & PTSD

Somatic Experiencing

Somatic Experiencing is a form of therapy aimed at relieving and resolving the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other mental and physical trauma-related health problems by focusing on the client’s perceived body sensations (or somatic experiences). It was introduced in Dr. Peter Levine’s 1997 book Waking the Tiger.

In it, he discusses at length his observations of animals in the wild, and how they deal with and recover from life-threatening situations. He concludes that their behavior gives us “an insight into the biological healing process” (p.98), and that “the key to healing traumatic symptoms in humans lies in our being able to mirror the fluid adaption of wild animals” (p.17-18) as they avoid traumatization in reacting to life-threatening situations.

The theory postulates that the symptoms of trauma are the effect of a dysregulation of the autonomic nervous system (ANS). It further postulates that the ANS has an inherent capacity to self-regulate that is undermined by trauma, and that the inherent capacity to self-regulate can be restored by the procedures of Somatic Experiencing.

The procedure, which is normally done in a face-to-face session similar to psychotherapy, involves a client tracking his or her own felt-sense experience, The procedure is considered by its practitioners to be effective for Shock Trauma in the short term (typically one to six sessions). It is also considered effective for Developmental Trauma as an adjunct to more conventional psychotherapy that may span years.

Somatic Experiencing attempts to promote awareness and release of physical tension that proponents believe remains in the body in the aftermath of trauma. They believe this occurs when the survival responses (which can take the form of orienting, fight, flight or “freeze”) of the ANS are aroused, but are not fully discharged after the traumatic situation has passed. The process involves a guided exploration of the nature and extent of the physical dysregulation that is harbored in the body as a result of trauma.

Another idea is that the client’s experience should be “pendulated”. ‘Pendulation’ refers to the movement between regulation and dysregulation. The client is helped to move to a state where he or she is believed to be somewhat dysregulated (i.e is aroused or frozen) and then helped to return to a state of regulation (loosely defined as not aroused or frozen).

“Resources” are defined as anything that helps the client’s autonomic nervous system return to a regulated state. In the face of arousal, “discharge” is facilitated to allow the client’s body to return to a regulated state. Through this process the client’s inherent capacity to self-regulate is believed to be restored.

Somatic Experiencing is considered by its practitioners to be useful for two broad categories of trauma: shock trauma and developmental trauma. Shock trauma is loosely defined as a single-episode traumatic event such as a car accident, earthquake, battlefield incident, etc. Developmental trauma refers to various kinds of psychological damage that occur during child development when a child has insufficient attention from the primary caregivers, or an insufficiently nurturing relationship with the parent.

Polyvagal Therapy

Developed by Dr. Stephen Porges, Polyvagal Therapy focuses on the intricate connection between our autonomic nervous system and our social engagement.

Polyvagal Therapy can be a valuable tool for individuals seeking healing and regulation of their nervous system. By understanding the role of the vagus nerve in responding to stress and trauma, this approach empowers individuals to regain control over their physiological responses.

I will guide you through the process of recognizing your body’s reactions to stress and trauma. Through various exercises and interventions, you will learn techniques to self-regulate, fostering a sense of safety, connection, and resilience.

This approach can be particularly beneficial for those experiencing anxiety, trauma, or difficulties in relationships. By working together, you will gain the tools needed to create a more grounded and secure state of being.

Polyvagal Therapy is an evidence-based approach, supported by scientific research and is an excellent modality for regulating your nervous system.

Please contact Sherry Gaba, LCSW, with any questions you might have regarding the process of Polyvagal Therapy.

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