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Somatic Experiencing is a form of alternative therapy aimed at relieving the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other mental and physical trauma-related health problems by focusing on the client's perceived body sensations (or somatic experiences).
Sessions are normally done in person, and involve a client tracking his or her own experience.:255–256 Practitioners are often mental health practitioners such as social workers, psychologists, or psychotherapists, but may also be nurses, physicians, bodyworkers, physical therapists, clergy, or members of other professions. Certified practitioners complete a three year training course (216 hours of instruction) and must complete 18 hours of case consultations and 12 hours of personal sessions. Somatic Experiencing is used for shock trauma in the short term and for developmental trauma as an adjunct to psychotherapy that may span years.
Somatic Experiencing attempts to promote awareness and release physical tension that remains in the aftermath of trauma. This occurs when survival responses (which can take the form of orienting, fight, flight or "freeze") of the autonomic nervous system are aroused, but are not fully discharged after the traumatic situation has passed.:43–50:38–40
Another element of Somatic Experiencing therapy is "pendulation",:255 the movement between regulation and dysregulation. The client is helped to move to a state where he or she is dysregulated (i.e. is aroused or frozen, demonstrated by physical symptoms such as pain or numbness) and then iteratively helped to return to a state of regulation. The goal is to allow the client to resolve the physical and mental difficulties caused by the trauma, and thereby to be able to respond appropriately to everyday situations.
"Resources" are defined as anything that helps the client's autonomic nervous system return to a regulated state. This might be the memory of someone close to them, a physical item that might ground them in the present moment, or other supportive elements that minimize distress. In the face of arousal, "discharge" is facilitated to allow the client's body to return to a regulated state. Discharge may be in the form of tears, a warm sensation, the ability to breathe easily again, or other responses which demonstrate the autonomic nervous system returning to its baseline. The intention of this process is to reinforce the client's inherent capacity to self-regulate.
Somatic experiencing is used for both shock trauma and developmental trauma. Shock trauma is loosely defined as a single-episode traumatic event such as a car accident, natural disaster such as an earthquake, battlefield incident, physical attack, etc. Developmental trauma refers to various kinds of psychological damage that occur during child development when a child has insufficient or detrimental attention from the primary caregivers.:99–125[need quotation to verify]
- Scaer, Robert C.: The Trauma Spectrum. Hidden Wounds and Human Resiliency. W.W. Norton & Company, N.Y. & London, 2005
- Scaer, Robert C. (2001). The Body Bears the Burden: Trauma, Dissociation, and Disease. The Haworth Press. p. 275. ISBN 0789033348. Retrieved 6 February 2015.