Somatic Experiencing (SE) Therapy
“I have come to the conclusion that human beings are born with an innate capacity to triumph over trauma. I believe not only that trauma is curable, but that the healing process can be a catalyst for profound awakening— a portal opening to emotional and genuine spiritual transformation.”
– Peter A. Levine, PhD, Founder of Somatic Experiencing
Somatic Experiencing (SE) therapy engages the body in the psychotherapy process so as to complete the stress response, a system which was not available to the victim at the time of the trauma. The goal of Somatic Experiencing is for the victim to become “unstuck” from their trauma.
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The body’s natural stress response– the “fight or flight” response– is activated when a woman feels threatened. However, when the “fight” response is inhibited, and “flight” is not an option, a “freeze” response will automatically take over, as the body has become overloaded, and shuts down.
The adult body may become programmed to go directly into a freeze state, skipping the fight or flight responses, in the face of fear. From this pattern, fear becomes coupled with immobility. When triggered, this automatic pattern can compromise the future safety of the woman, as the freeze state feels like being “semi-anesthetized,” keeping distress and pain at bay.
Trauma can result from a number of incidents: abuse (verbal, emotional, physical, or sexual), neglect, witnessing violence or sexual activity at a young age, etc. In the case of children, anything that makes the child feel obligated in the service of an adult is considered childhood trauma.
Trauma can also be the result of a sudden illness or death of a family member, or the sudden departure of someone significant. It can result from physical and/or sexual assault, accidents, invasive medical procedures, war, or ongoing fear and conflict. Somatic Experiencing assists the body to process trauma and restores the body’s ability to self-regulate.
From Freeze to Fight
A freeze response is when a threat is perceived as being so great that the body shuts down due to overload. It is the body’s response, not a conscious choice.
An example of Somatic Experiencing with a woman who was abused as a child: I encourage her to physically push away her abuser, to say “NO,” etc. I then ask her to tune into her body and notice any changes. Women who I have worked with using this powerful technique have reported a sense of relief and calmness afterwards.
For a woman who shut down at the time of the abuse due to a freeze state, “fighting back” allows for the stress response and the physical response to be completed. By initiating this motion and giving voice to what she would have wanted to say at the time of the abuse, she finds her power.
From Freeze to Flight
Another Somatic Experiencing technique that I use in sessions with women: when she is feeling trapped and anxious, I ask her to imagine a screen. On this screen I ask her to see feet running. These feet are not running to or away from anything. They are simply running.
I give her time and space for it to resonate in her body. Women who have used this powerful technique have expressed feeling a release of pent-up energy and feeling calmer from this simple but powerful tool.
It is not necessary for a woman to share the story of her trauma in order to heal. As a Somatic Experiencing Practitioner, I aid in facilitating the body to release trauma energy stored-up over time. Therefore, it is not necessary to consciously remember what happened in order to release trauma held in the body.
Integrative Psychotherapy and Somatic Experiencing
Resolution of trauma through Somatic Experiencing decreases fear and helplessness by resetting the stress response system and enhancing resilience. Somatic Experiencing restores inner balance, increases vitality, and improves capacity to engage actively in life.
When I work with a woman using Integrative Psychotherapy and Somatic Experiencing, it is of utmost importance that she first feels a sense of safety in my office. Because of my casual but professional manner, with most women, we establish a rapport early on.
I strive to make our sessions the perfect balance between finding the humor in things and digging deep to find the roots of things bothering her in the here and now.
Each woman that I work with knows that I am in her corner, supporting her and cheering her on to live freely, to her full capacity. I work with her to become unstuck; I help her to become empowered by reconnecting with the self that went into hiding long ago.
What My Clients Say
I started seeing Heidi when I was having trouble at work. I really liked her practice of meeting with you so we could both decide whether we were a good fit for one another. Her warm and welcoming demeanor put me at ease almost at once. Heidi is a great listener, and very thoughtful in her responses. As a result of her guidance and support, I was able to overcome my fears of career growth. Her techniques made it possible for me to succeed in my endeavors to find a new, more suitable position. After 20 years in the workforce, thanks to Heidi, I was finally able to find the right professional environment. Heidi has also helped me grow in my personal life. She has opened my eyes to focusing on what is important to me, and not just accepting things as they are if it is not right for me. I have gone through a few heartaches, and thanks to Heidi, I have been more selective and that has led to a much more fulfilling outcome in terms of relationships, whether it be friends or romance.
I would not be where I am today without the work I've done with Heidi. This includes navigating a career as an educator, aiming for growth and still maintaining my sanity. It also includes learning about myself, my impulses and strategies to deal with those, as well as learning to set boundaries with those around me. Heidi has helped me not just find my voice, but to clarify it and use it to support my strengths and goals.
Most of my life I lived with a feeling that something was off. I could never tell what it is, but the feeling was always there. I came to Heidi in hopes of "saving" my relationship, and through our work I found something better, I found myself. Before Heidi I was skeptical of therapy, I thought only "crazy" people went there. At first I was nervous and uncomfortable, but Heidi was so gentle, empathetic, and non judgmental that I soon was looking forward to our sessions. She gently guided me on the journey of discovering truth about my childhood and the suppressed feelings that I've been carrying around for decades. With Heidi I discovered psychosomatic therapy (somatic experiences), and consciously experienced parts of myself I didn't know existed. I now know where the feeling of something being off comes from and why it's there. I've become connected to my body and my emotions, I've learned how to be empathetic, non-judgmental, and loving towards myself. Heidi showed me how good it feels to be seen and heard for who I really am.
It has been difficult for me in the past to open up completely to therapists in the way that I needed to in order to benefit from the service. From day one, Heidi always made me feel comfortable through being genuine, present, warm and non-judgemental. This allowed for me to completely open up, be vulnerable and bring to sessions the topics that I deeply needed to speak about. Heidi is creative and open-minded and she helped me to have to develop a more hopeful and expansive worldview. I always looked forward to our sessions together.
Empathy is the truest mark of a psychotherapist, and Heidi's ability to truly listen and care is what makes her such a fantastic therapist. Throughout my time with Heidi I always felt supported. Her understanding and flexibility went a long way towards creating a safe space. I can honestly say much of the progress I have made, the confidence I feel now, is directly because of our time together.
I remember I was so nervous to have my first session with Heidi because I did not know what to expect but because she was so patient, kind and understanding she made me feel very comfortable to open up. One of the main things she’s helped me accomplish is to stand up for myself, communicating, and also has helped me to not overthink my decisions. I look forward to our sessions every week because it gives me a chance to talk about the strengths and weaknesses I’ve come across and her guidance has really helped me. Thank you Heidi!