Have you been diagnosed with PTSD (Post-traumatic Stress Disorder)?
Have you had one or more extreme experience during which you felt your life or safety was under threat or witnessed a traumatic event?
Do friends and family describe you as frequently on edge or jumpy? Or do you notice yourself pouncing verbally or physically at the slightest provocation?
Or, conversely, do you find yourself going numb or checking out when you’re under pressure or becoming anxious?
Have conventional therapeutic or medication approaches failed to reduce these symptoms?
If the answer to one or more of these questions is yes, you are probably struggling with the fallout of trauma and should consider working with a therapist trained in Somatic Experiencing.
Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) whether acute or chronic, can be debilitating. Estimates are that about 6.8% of American adults suffer from PTSD, with the incidence being nearly twice as high in women compared to men. Symptoms include insomnia, difficulty concentrating, intrusive memories and/or flashbacks, avoidance of trigger situations, a frequent startle reaction, numbness, emotional withdrawal and depression, irritability and angry outburst, etc… While symptoms often appear within three months of the traumatic event, it is not uncommon for symptoms to emerge at a much later date.
Somatic Experiencing (SE) therapy is a therapeutic modality that treats the symptoms of PTSD and PTSD-related problems. SE focuses as much on body sensations and the nervous system as it does on emotions, thoughts, actions and imagery. While its originator, Peter Levine, PhD, developed the therapy to respond effectively to the symptoms of trauma, the benefits of SE are now being seen in the treatment of other emotional or behavioral difficulties. This past year, as the culmination of a three year training program, I received my certificate and am a Somatic Experiencing Practitioner or SEP.
SE is founded on Dr. Levine’s observation that, for the most part, animals recover from live and death situations without experiencing hyper-vigilance, sleeplessness, or the myriad of other symptoms from which many people suffer in response to highly threatening events. Animals move through a series of movements once a danger has passed, thereby releasing the built-up energy that accompanies the fight/flight/or freeze response to threat and experiencing a sense of completion. For people, the experience of being traumatized occurs when an event or chronic situation overwhelms our nervous system’s capacity. There is a sense that not having acted or not having been permitted to act during the crisis. As an example, one study of post-earthquake survivors indicates that those who could run from the scene had few or no symptoms of PTSD compared to those who were immobilized. SE seeks to bring about completion of these natural impulses.
Unlike exposure therapy that focuses on the content of the traumatic events, SE looks at the physiological processes and sensations that accompany these overwhelming moments and works at making these manageable, safe and contained. Using the tools of SE therapy, clients learn to move through cycles of feeling mildly to moderately activated while remaining safe from a state of overwhelm. This creates a greater capacity to tolerate sensations and emotions and builds resiliency in order to process the blocked elements or unfinished business of the initial trauma.
What happens in a typical session?
While each individual and each session is unique, SE sessions do have a certain structure to them. I assist clients in getting more in touch with their nervous system through the experience of attending to body sensations. This offers a way to release stores of energy that may have gotten trapped or frozen at the time of the threatening event. In the face of perceived threat or danger, a chain reaction of biological events prepare the body to protect itself or flee. We gently and slowly move through your memories of the difficult event while tracking these sensations in your body so that you can reprocess the events without going numb or getting overwhelmed as your sensations serve as a guide and I work to help you feel grounded and oriented to the safety of the present moment.
During sessions I gently bring your awareness to your internal and external environment and help you attend more to sensations of calm and settling. If this is challenging we might use movement, imagery, or calming phrases to increase your felt experience of relaxation and ease. Once you have learned how to access this experience, we then begin to move through the sensations associated with the trauma or difficult situation you survived and look to see what movements, energetic discharge, vocalizations or emotions failed to be completed at the time of the event. This way, you start to integrate this experience in more embodied and regulated manner while simultaneously connecting with a growing sense of safety and empowerment.
How do I know if Somatic Experiencing Therapy is right for me?
While there are no guarantees for any therapeutic approach, SE has had great success with people who have experienced acute physical trauma from accidents, high impact falls, near-drownings, surgical procedures, to physical assaults including rape, as well as more chronic or complex trauma such as emotional, physical or sexual abuse, neglect, or deprivation. It can help to reduce symptoms of insomnia, hyper-vigilance, explosive outbursts, exaggerated startle reactions to numbness and dissociation. Clients who benefit from SE report feeling more open, engaged in life, and competent at navigating new challenges.
What is your level of expertise in SE?
I have completed the three year training program and am certified as a SEP or Somatic Experiencing Practitioner. The training includes more than twenty days of workshops, readings, consultations with senior SE clinicians, and work on increasing my awareness of my own somatic states.
If you still have questions or are ready to give therapy a go, call me at (914) 764-5582 or email me. If I’m not available, I’ll get back to you promptly and we can discuss your particular concerns and questions about therapy and my practice. Following the first appointment, you are welcome to go online and schedule your appointment yourself.