Somatic Experiencing, De-Armoring, and Discharge

Published: Mar 4, 2024 | Revised: Apr 14, 2024
Edited by: Marce Ferreira

Somatic experience breath work

Somatic Experiencing® (SE™) was developed by Peter A. Levine, and is a body-oriented approach to healing shock and developmental trauma, such as PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) and Attachment Disorders, and other mental and physical stress or trauma related disorders.

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According to Levine, the SE approach releases traumatic shock and restores connection, aimed at transforming the wounds of emotional and/or early developmental attachment trauma. Like other somatic psychology modalities, SE is a body-first, bottom-up healing approach that starts by using the client’s internal sensory and physical symptoms of trauma, before returning to cognitive or emotional experiences.

Although SE results from Levine’s multidisciplinary study of stress physiology, ethology, biology, neuroscience, psychology, and (shamanic) indigenous healing practices, it clearly draws from Wilhelm Reich’s work and theories. Reich focused on repressed emotions, how these emotions form one’s character and attitudes, and how emotions are held in and released from the body, an approach that is known as Armoring and Body De-Armoring.

Hence, in SE it’s thought that physical tension can remain in the body in the aftermath of trauma. This occurs when fight, flight, or freeze responses of the ANS (Autonomic Nervous System) are aroused, but are not fully energetically discharged after the traumatic situation has passed.

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An important technique used in SE therapy is so-called titration, which is the slow, cyclic release of the client’s trapped “survival energy,” at a level that clients can handle without becoming overwhelmed (i.e. re-traumatized), which makes SE a kind of “soft approach” of Body De-Armoring.

Another core approach within SE is that the client’s experience should be pendulated, meaning that a client is helped to move between states of emotional, nervous, and physical regulation and dysregulation. It’s an iterative process, with gradually more dysregulation being experienced by the client in successive pendulations, “swinging” the client’s body from an aroused, anxious state to one that is calmer and more relaxed, and so on.

In the client’s response to dysregulation, discharge can occur which enables a client to move back to a regulated state. The concept of discharge is a form of Catharsis that may express itself in crying, emotional relief, joy, movements, the ability to breathe easily again, just to give some examples. In SE, this process is seen as the client’s self-regulating capacity, and an important aspect of healing.

In brief, we could say that Somatic Experiencing is about exploring the bodily sensations that lie underneath our feelings and beliefs, understanding habitual behavior patterns, relieving muscular and nervous tension, and creating new, positive experiences in our body and mind.

Resources & References

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