What is Somatic Experiencing?

As many of you know, I teach meditation, and engage in non dual pointing (guiding a process of self-inquiry) to facilitate spiritual awakening and direct realization of true self. I am also a trained psychotherapist, and I seek to bridge the gap between spiritual realization and the process of becoming more aligned with that discovered authenticity, sometimes described as “emptying out”, “cleanup”, or “shedding” of layers of conditioning. This cleanup activity can happen before, during, and/or after awakening, and can take various forms. There’s often a misconception that awakening to true nature wipes out all of the old patterns of belief and response, but I’ve found that it’s just not true. The good news is that there are many tools to assist the clearing out process.

I’ll be sharing more about other cleanup tools in future posts, but for today, I want to tell you about Somatic Experiencing (SE). I am so impressed by this tool, with nearly 45 years of research behind it, that I feel compelled to share it with you. As a therapist, I am continually engaged in training and in personal development that makes me healthier and more resilient as a practitioner, and also gives me insight into my clients’ needs and experiences. SE is by far the most powerful tool I have found to date for working with trauma/conditioning. It is not only powerful, but an incredibly nonviolent and respectful way of relating to others.

I learned about Somatic Experiencing in June 2013 through an introductory seminar, then subsequently engaged in personal SE sessions, and am now training for certification as a Somatic Experiencing Practitioner (SEP). I have been profoundly affected by this work, both personally and professionally. It has changed the way I think about the mind-body connection and about trauma, and increased my understanding and compassion for myself and others in a way I never imagined possible.

In short, Somatic Experiencing frames “trauma” according to individual experience, rather than subjective definitions of severity of events. And trauma symptoms are more accurately described by Peter Levine, the discoverer/inventor of SE as a healing technique, as an incomplete defensive response. As human animals, we share much in common with other mammals in regard to our responses to environmental threats, and Levine asked the brilliant question, why, when faced with continual repeated environmental threats, do animals in the wild not seem to get PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder)?

The short answer is that mammals, including humans, have built-in mechanisms to prepare and respond to potential threats, and to discharge the unused energy afterward, but we human animals disrupt this natural process in various ways for many different reasons. SE facilitates this discharge process, so the residual energy exits the body and no longer disrupts the nervous system’s ability to self regulate.

I knew early on in my training as a therapist that talk-therapy had limitations for healing trauma, and I worked often to rally myself against the apparent hopelessness of being able to help such clients. I sensed in my work with clients there was some kind of link in mindfulness, CBT, and DBT therapies to trauma healing, but by themselves they seemed incomplete. Somatic Experiencing continues to prove to be the missing piece of the puzzle for myself and my clients.

Imagine that some very old and very powerful part of your brain that isn’t logical was responsible for your survival, and it learned at an early age that certain environmental cues signaled danger. Further imagine it was programmed to override any other information that the logical, thinking part of the brain might offer to counter it, by sending messages in the form of powerful physical sensations, such as pounding heart, tight chest, feeling of urgency to act, or feeling of shutdown and helplessness. Imagine that the thinking, judging brain must go along, and try to explain the world in a way that justifies the intense physical sensation of danger, despite any doubts or evidence to the contrary. This is what it’s like to live with incomplete defensive responses, aka: trauma. 

The good news is that there is a gentle, natural, guided process called Somatic Experiencing, for releasing the energy of these incomplete responses. Mindfulness, or the ability to witness experience without judging, is incredibly helpful in this process. It is a thing of beauty, both to experience, and to watch someone experience the releasing process. The effects are truly astounding as well, and I’ll be talking in future posts about my personal experiences with this therapy, and some of my clients’ experiences. I’ll also be sharing what you might notice in your experience that could indicate Somatic Experiencing could be helpful for you, as well as frequently asked questions, and simple SE techniques you can use right away to increase your resilience and well-being.

Finding Somatic Experiencing was such an eye-opener for me. I discovered this whole other aspect of being – physical sensation/experience, driven by a complex nervous system – existed, and that there was so much more to me as a human being than just my intellectual and emotional experience. I was vaguely aware that I had always had an avoidance of this aspect of self, the physical aspect, for various reasons that make total sense now. My responses to life, as well others’ responses to me and to life, make sense in a way they never did before. That understanding was out of reach without the information I now possess about the mammalian nervous system and this natural and predictable way we respond to life as animals conditioned for survival, above all.

This greater understanding of what it means to be human paves the way for greater self-compassion, increased compassion for others, and a more complete healing than you can possibly imagine. I look forward to sharing even more about SE with you!

As always, contact me for more info about SE, direct pointing, or meditation/mindfulness. Please share below any experience you have with SE that might help others.




About Cynthia M Clingan

Cynthia Clingan is a licensed professional clinical counselor in Columbus, Ohio who offers somatic psychotherapy, spiritual coaching, and meditation and mindfulness instruction.
This entry was posted in Coaching, Mindfulness. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to What is Somatic Experiencing?

  1. Pingback: What is Somatic Experiencing?, Cont’d | Mind|Body|Spirit Academy

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