What is trauma?

Various incidents and events – such as a traffic accident, a serious illness, personal loss, childhood neglect, war, natural disasters or (sexual) violence can cause psychological trauma. The body’s intuitive response to threatening situations is flight, fight or freeze. For each of these three natural survival strategies, the body mobilises an enormous amount of energy. This energy is discharged automatically during a flight or fight response – but this is often not the case with a freeze reaction. This has consequences for the affected person: If the large amount of energy tied up in the freeze response is not discharged, e. g. by shaking it off or with the regulating support of a fellow human being, the energy remains trapped in the autonomic nervous system. The body remains in a state of alarm, it has a trauma.

Somatic dysregulation

This process is called somatic dysregulation. It leaves the affected person feeling defenseless,helpless and overwhelmed. The ability to act and feel in the present situation is limited  and cognitive management processes are severely impaired. In the absence of somatic regulation, the traumatic event can result in attachment and contact disorders.

Somatic Experiencing approach

To overcome trauma, the overstimulated autonomic nervous system must first be brought back into balance. Many common therapies have a strong cognitive focus. However, since the autonomic nervous system is not subject to a conscious will, these forms of treatment ultimately neglect the actual root cause of somatic dysregulation. The Somatic Experiencing method developed by the internationally recognised trauma researcher and therapist Dr. Peter A. Levine takes a different approach, observing the body's reaction to traumatic events. The focus is on tracking and tracing perceived physical sensations and impulses, emotions and images stored in a the person’s implicit memory as well as his or her thoughts and beliefs. It also uses “pendulation”, a method involving switching between stabilising resources and trauma elements that can be experienced physically. The traumatised person is given the opportunity to discharge the frozen energy in small doses.

Preventing re-traumatisation

This method prevents re-traumatisation and gradually builds up a sense of security and capacity to act. Body awareness develops towards a feeling of greater presence – the patient feels increasingly secure in his or her present life. A trauma can be considered as being overcome when the person in question is able to talk about it without the nervous system reverting to stress mode. Life is no longer overshadowed by the experience that triggered the trauma, the experience is integrated.

For more information, please visit the website of Somatic Experiencing Deutschland e.V.: www.somatic-experiencing.de