Somatic Experiencing

What Is Somatic Experiencing®?

Somatic Experiencing® is a method of trauma treatment designed by Dr. Peter Levine. The object of this type of therapy is to restore a healthy mind-body connection. The mind-body connection is disrupted during traumatic exposure, and traumatic energy lingers in the body, altering or impairing the responses of the autonomic nervous system (ANS). In order to bring the ANS back to a properly functional state, Somatic Experiencing offers an opportunity for individuals to experience safety while releasing pent-up traumatic energy.

The Use of Somatic Experiencing for the Treatment of Trauma

There are many types of trauma treatment. Some, like Prolonged Exposure (PE), are designed to normalize and neutralize the effect of traumatic experiences through the persistent review or retelling of the trauma in a safe, therapeutic setting. While effective in some cases, therapies like PE may also put individuals at risk of being retraumatized or increasing feelings of distress and psychological pain. Other therapies, like Somatic Experiencing, advocate the pursuit of safer pathways to the psyche other than retelling in order to release traumatic energy. 


Somatic Experiencing is based on research that humans have an innate ability to overcome trauma, and it uses that ability to restore the body to normal functioning. When we encounter a deeply harmful or life-threatening situation, we experience a “fight or flight” response generated by our autonomic nervous system. But being either unable or unsuccessful to defend ourselves (or someone else we care about), that survival energy gets caught within our system and remains “stuck” in the autonomic nervous system. 


According to the Somatic Experiencing website, “The [Somatic Experiencing] approach facilitates the completion of self-protective motoric responses and the release of thwarted survival energy bound in the body and nervous system, thus addressing the root cause of trauma symptoms. This is approached by gently guiding clients to develop increasing tolerance for difficult bodily sensations and suppressed emotions, building their capacity for containment and resilience.”


A study published in Frontiers of Psychology, co-authored by Dr. Peter Levine, explains that animals have innate ways of releasing traumatic energy through yawning, shaking, trembling, and involuntary movements. This represents the reset of the autonomic nervous system.

 Humans also have this ability, but our higher-order systems — and sometimes a continuation of the traumatic experience — can tend to get in the way. When our system fails to reset spontaneously, post-traumatic symptoms set in.

Benefits of Somatic Experiencing


What are the benefits of Somatic Experiencing? The best outcome, of course, is the ability to release traumatic energy and neutralize the effect of trauma. Because the mind-body connection is being restored, physical symptoms also improve. According to Healthine, individuals who undergo this type of therapy can see relief from the following issues:


  • Sleep problems
  • Respiratory issues
  • Chronic pain
  • Digestive issues
  • Muscle tension


As a trauma therapy, Somatic Experiencing has shown positive results, improving both physical and psychological symptoms.

How Is Somatic Experiencing Used During Addiction Treatment?


Trauma and addiction are closely intertwined. According to a study published in Current Psychiatry Reports, 50% of individuals with a substance use disorder also have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Not only that, but a study published in the Journal of Traumatic Stress found that among those with substance use disorders, 96.5% had experienced at least one traumatic event in their lifetime.


Because traumatic exposure generates severe distress, as well as symptoms that may worsen over time if the trauma is not resolved, individuals may seek out drugs or alcohol to self-medicate their pain. And because addiction involves compulsive behavior, it can cause individuals to put themselves in harmful situations in order to obtain more substances, leaving them at greater risk for more traumatic exposure. Resolving trauma is a key element in addiction treatment — and it is important not only for obtaining a recovery lifestyle, but for preventing relapse in the long-term.

Therapies like Somatic Experiencing offer a safe way for addicted individuals to recover from trauma without the disclosing of traumatic storylines. It focuses on minimal, manageable release of traumatic energy while anchoring individuals to a feeling of security and positivity. The Frontiers in Psychology study states, “Temporarily diverting awareness to a positive, safe experience, such as the support of the ground or positive imagery, can allow one to regain inner balance; then a consciously ‘titrated’ process of returning attention to the disturbing experience one little bit at a time may facilitate the assimilation of the experience.” At BeWell Network, we utilize Somatic Experiencing to help clients find a sustainable path to healing and pain relief.

Help for Addiction at BeWell Network

BeWell Network is a family of evidence-based treatment centers. We help individuals suffering from addiction find the path to recovery, offering customized treatment experiences for the restoration of the mind, body, and spirit. If you or a loved one is considering treatment for cocaine addiction, please get in touch with our team today. We can assess your situation and recommend treatment options, verifying your benefits for free. We have a no-hassle billing process and are committed to providing treatment designed specially for you.

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