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FAQs

If your question isn't answered here, please email us at info@seauk.org.uk

What is SEA UK?

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SEA UK is the national association for contacting and  SE practitioners, and the UK’s national forum for building the SE community – as practitioners and as those who choose to live according to Peter Levine’s fully embodied approach to trauma recovery and a more balanced life.

We were founded in 2009 and are a voluntary organisation run by a dedicated committee with the support of kind volunteers.

What is Somatic Experiencing (SE)®?

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Somatic Experiencing® (SE for short) is a pioneering whole person approach to physical and psychological symptoms of stress, shock and trauma.  It works with your body’s natural self-regulating systems, and sometimes may involve touch or bodywork.

Knowledge of trauma’s patterns can both help transform traumatic reactions as well as potentially prevent symptoms developing after an overwhelming event. Practising SE® can be a significant support not just in your own life but in those around you.

Nature’s wisdom

SE® is based on the work of American psychotherapist Dr Peter Levine who believes trauma is primarily biological - a physical phenomenon - not an incurable disease only marginally controllable as psychologists have chosen to view it.

His theory is based on observations of wildlife. Animals are regularly threatened with death yet are rarely traumatised; their survival instinct kicks in, flooding their body with highly charged energy ready for taking effective defensive action - fighting back or running away. When the threat is past, that intense energy is discharged and the animal returns to full normal health.

We are all equipped with the same capacity to overcome an overwhelming experience. Yet we also have an upper rational brain that frequently ‘rejects’ the powerful primal instinct of the body. The result is that huge fight/flight energy gets trapped in our nervous system where it can lead to all sorts of symptoms; sometimes immediately, sometimes not until years later.

 

The power of presence

Through moment-to-moment awareness of sensations in your body (soma), and using resources available to you, SE® aims to gently re-establish the natural flow of your life energy, supporting the safe release of symptoms from the nervous system, putting the past where it belongs, and restoring body, heart and mind to a relaxed wholeness.

The SE model

In the Somatic Experiencing approach, your experiences belong to five core components of a therapeutic framework called SIBAM:-

Sensation e.g. tension, heat, shaking

Image e.g. internal (memory, dreams, pictures, metaphors, word) or external (an object in the room)

Behaviour e.g. posture, facial expressions, movement, gestures, voice

Affect e.g. feelings and emotions, sadness, shame, fear, joy, hope

Meaning e.g. beliefs, judgments, thoughts, analysis, often expressed through words

Suffering stress, shock or trauma can feel like it cuts right through you - body, mind, and spirit. When that happens it points to a compromise in the components of SIBAM, meaning you have become:
         •       over-coupled - lumping together some elements e.g. so that you over-associate physical stimuli from the past with emotional reactions and responses in the present

   •     under-coupled -  elements separated from awareness, feeling disconnected from yourself and others, numb, dissociated, dreamy.

Using SE your SEP will guide you to gently separate the over-connected elements of SIBAM or bring the disconnected elements together, promoting new connections so that all the parts of your experience and you can come back together again. Dr Levine believes that far from being a life sentence, trauma can be a catalyst for real transformation.

SE’s long-term goal is for you to live a rich and full life with equal access to all parts of SIBAM. In other words, to help you become whole again.

The work of Dr Peter Levine and his associates can be found at the Somatic Experiencing Trauma Institute.  

What can Somatic Experiencing (SE)® help with?

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The key reason for working with SE® need not be an obvious traumatic event but the presence of a symptom or symptoms.  Trauma is not in the event but in the individual’s physiological reaction to it. A fairground ride, for example, might be fun for one person but terrifying for another.

If you'd like advice about a specific symptom, please contact your local SE Practitioner. Alternatively, email us at info@seauk.org.uk

How do I find an SE Practitioner?

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By searching the SEA UK Practitioner Directory, and/or the international directory at traumahealing.com.

How does Somatic Experiencing® work?

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SE® doesn't focus on talking about or reliving trauma, or have to involve touch, rather it listens to and uses the ‘voice’ of the body referred to as the felt sense and manifesting in SIBAM elements. 

Examples of this ‘voice’ would be physical sensations such as warmth, tingling, and contraction. Paying attention to these sensations moment-to-moment supports the powerful self-healing mechanisms we are born with to do their miraculous work. Trapped stress energy can be safely discharged, helping to restore equilibrium to the nervous system.

The SE® process is supported by 'resources', unique to the client.  Resources bring about a sense of safety and goodness to the body and mind, and can be internal e.g. sense of humour, your back’s contact with the chair, or external e.g. an object in the room, a much-loved family member, a place. 

By working slowly, step by step, in this way, the distressing cycle of symptom escalation can potentially be reversed, and a you can gain a steady confidence in your ability to work with the trauma in a safe, conscious and life-affirming way.

SE® is as much a life education as a therapy. You can expect to learn why your mind and body are behaving the way they are, and how you can support them in working together to create new, healthy patterns.

What happens in a typical Somatic Experiencing® session?

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This is intended as a general guide. Each SEP works in their own way to meet a client’s individual needs.

The aim of the SE Practitioner is to act as an impartial, non-judgmental and compassionate support to help you feel safe, and facilitate the release of trauma through your body.

You will not be asked to tell your 'story' or examine the past. Instead, you will be guided to gently release physical tensions, emotions and energy related to the trauma as they arise in the session, at a pace, and in a way that best supports you to return to a natural state of wellbeing and readiness for life.

An SE session in more detail

Typically, you will sit comfortably opposite your therapist, given time to settle, and then asked what issue you’d like to work with.

You’ll then be guided to consciously explore - without judgment - related physical sensations, feelings, thoughts and images as they arise.

Through this simple moment-to-moment process - called tracking - it's possible for highly charged stress energy in your body to be properly engaged and released naturally. Examples of this discharge include tingling, warmth, and involuntary muscle movements such as twitching, gut gurgling, or yawning.

The result of this often subtle mobilisation can be immediate: the trapped survival energy at the root of your symptoms is freed, allowing a new relaxation to establish deep in your body and mind.

How long is an Somatic Experiencing® session and how many will I need?

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An SE® session lasts approximately an hour, beginning with an introductory conversation to agree the material or symptoms to be worked on.  

Where a recent one-off traumatic event, e.g. a minor road traffic accident, has been experienced, health benefits have been known to be achieved within relatively few sessions.  

Longer term, more complex symptoms will typically need more intervention. Your therapist - and your intuition - will guide you.

How often do I need to have Somatic Experiencing® sessions?

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There is no prescribed answer to this. It differs from individual to individual; your therapist will discuss with you what’s best for you.

How does Somatic Experiencing® differ from psychotherapy?

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SE® is a ‘bottom up’ approach.  We start with resources, and thence with the fundamental areas of the brain-stem and body - the survival centres - not the cerebral or rational areas, and work with these. This is where trauma has started and continues to have its effect, and where the body reacts to traumatic events. 

As your body becomes more stabilised, and your survival centres develop a more healthy ‘normal’ setting, the higher brain centres begin to make meaning of the events. This helps the past be left in the past and a peaceful new presence arise.

Psychotherapy is a ‘top down’ approach in which the therapist asks you to think about, to ’make the unconscious conscious’ in order to make sense of it, and to organise or control it.  It works primarily with the rational mind.

In psychotherapy, you are asked to talk about your history and the events that happened, and often your childhood and your family. SE® is less interested in your story and more in how it manifests itself in your body and behaviours today. SIBAM elements link all aspects of human experiencing.

How much does it cost?

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Each practitioner decides their own fee, dependent partly on where they're located. Kindly check their website or ask them directly. 

What is a traumatic event?

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​A traumatic event is defined as an event or circumstances in which the traumatic stressor involves a perceived threat to life (either one’s own or that of another person) or physical integrity, and generally comes with intense fear, helplessness or horror.  

These may be one-time occurrences or ongoing; all can produce shock and overwhelm in the body. Anyone can experience trauma.  Sufferers are normal people, experiencing normal reactions to situations that feel threatening to them.

SE has been shown to benefit individuals suffering from recognised trauma, such as:

  • physical wounds such as medical interventions and auto accidents
  • inescapable attack: rape, sexual abuse, incest, torture, war
  • loss of a loved one, divorce
  • natural disasters such as floods, earth quakes, tsunamis
  • high fever, asphyxiation, birth trauma
  • developmental trauma or emotional trauma such as neglect, abandonment or betrayal during childhood.

Is there any research on Somatic Experiencing (SE)®?

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In 2017 the first randomised controlled study of the effectiveness of SE for PTSD was published in The Journal of Traumatic Stress.  

The aim of the study was to examine the efficacy of Somatic Experiencing in reducing post traumatic symptoms in people who had been diagnosed with full PTSD according to the DSM IV criteria. Statistical analysis showed that both the symptoms of PTSD and depression went down in a significant way in the intervention group (received SE), while the control group showed no significant change.

Mental Health Practitioners’ Views on Why Somatic Experiencing Works for Treating Trauma

Michelle C. Olssen, 2013.  

This is a qualitative study that set out to explore mental health practitioners' views as to why Somatic Experiencing (SE) works in the treatment of trauma.  It recruited 10 mental health professionals (9&nnbsp;Licensed Independent Clinical Social Workers (LICSW) and one Licensed Psychologists (LP)) who were either fully certified Somatic Experiencing Practitioners (SEPs) or Intermediate level SE Trainee or above. 

This study indicates the following important findings when working with trauma:

  1. the importance of the client increasing body awareness,
  2. the importance of treatment proceeding at the client’s pace, and
  3. the importance of client empowerment. 

In conclusion Somatic Experiencing builds on the ideas of resilience, and awareness of the present experience as key factors in allowing clients to work through issues in their own time, while becoming more aware of themselves and their interaction with others in their environment.

N.B. This paper also provides an in-depth literature review of trauma and possible techniques to treat trauma, (including SE).  

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A study of Somatic Experiencing Treatment with Social Service Workers Following Hurricane Katrina and Rita

M Laurie Leith, Jan Vanslyke and Marisa Allen, 2009.  

This study indicates three findings: 

  1. SE improved resiliency in the Social Service Workers;
  2. SE decreased psychological symptoms; and
  3. there might be a "window of opportunity" for optimal SE treatment after a traumatic event.

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Somatic Therapy Treatment Effects with Tsunami Survivors
Catherine Parker, Ronald M Doctor, & Raja Selvam, 2008, Traumatology, 14(3), 103-109


This is an uncontrolled field study of the outcome effects of a somatically based therapy with tsunami victims in southern India.

One hundred and fifty (150) participants, prescreened for trauma symptoms, received 75 minutes of somatic therapy and training in affect modulation and self-regulation.  

The results indicate a reliable and significant treatment effect at immediate, 4-week, and 8-month follow-up assessments.  At the 8-month follow-up, 90% of participants reported significant improvement or being completely free of symptoms of intrusion, arousal, and avoidance.  

The results support the effectiveness and reliability of this modified version of Somatic Experiencing Therapy in working with trauma reactions and invite future controlled trials of this therapy.

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Somatic Experiencing Treatment with Tsunami Survivors in Thailand: Broadening the Scope of Early Intervention
M Laurie Leitch, 2007, Traumatology, 13(3), 11-20

This exploratory study examines the treatment effects of brief (1 to 2 sessions) Somatic Experiencing with 53 adult and child survivors of the 2004 tsunami in Thailand.

Somatic Experiencing's early-intervention model, now called Trauma First Aide, was provided 1 month after the tsunami. Survivor assessments were done pretreatment, immediately posttreatment, 3 to 5 days posttreatment, and at the 1-year follow-up.

Results indicate that immediately following treatment, 67% of participants had partial to complete improvement in reported symptoms and 95% had complete or partial improvement in observed symptoms.

At the 1-year follow-up, 90% of participants had complete or partial improvement in reported symptoms, and 96% had complete or partial improvement in initially observed symptoms. Given the small sample size and lack of an equivalent comparison group, results must be interpreted with caution. Nonetheless, the results suggest that integrative mind—body interventions have promise in disaster treatment.

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