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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). It was developed by trauma therapist Peter A. Levine.
Sessions are normally held in person, and involve a client tracking their physical experiences.:255–256 Practitioners are often mental health practitioners such as social workers, psychologists, psychotherapists and marriage and family therapists, but may also be nurses, physicians, physical therapists, members of the clergy, massage therapists, Rolfers, craniosacral and polarity therapists, practitioners of the Feldenkrais Method, yoga therapists, first responders, crisis center staff, educators, mediators, members of the clergy, chaplains, coaches, etc.
Unlike some of its sister somatic modalities (biodynamic craniosacral therapy, polarity therapy, etc.), somatic experiencing is not listed as an exempt modality from various massage practice acts in the United States, and is not eligible to belong to The Federation of Therapeutic Massage, Bodywork and Somatic Practice Organizations, which was formed to protect the members' right to practice as an independent profession. Members of the Federation each have a professional regulating body with an enforceable code of ethics and standards of practice, continuing education requirements, a process of certifying and ensuring competency and a minimum of 500 hours of training. Somatic experiencing practitioners do not meet any of these criteria unless they are already certified or licensed in another discipline. Given that the model has a growing evidence base "for treating people with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)" that "integrates body awareness into the psychotherapeutic process", it is questionable whether or not it can be practiced by any profession that does not include psychotherapy or the treatment of mental disorders within its scope of practice. One of the Somatic Experiencing Institutes board of directors expressed that he "really needed a license" in a mental health discipline to practice Somatic Experiencing.  SEI instructs participants that they "are responsible for operating within their professional scope of practice and for abiding by state and federal laws". The originator, who does not hold a clinical mental health license, has acknowledged that psychologists and psychiatrists believed he “needs to be stopped" because his "teaching is dangerous."
Somatic experiencing therapy is used for shock trauma in the short term and 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.:43–50:38–40
Somatic Experiencing is heavily predicated on Wilhelm Reich's theories of blocked emotion and how this emotion is held an released from the body. One element of Somatic Experiencing therapy is "pendulation",:255 the natural intrinsic rhythm of the organism between contraction and expansion. The concept, however, and its comparison to single celled organisms, can be traced to Wilhelm Reich, the father of somatic psychotherapy. Alexander Lowen and John Pierrakos, both psychiatrists, built upon Reich's foundational theories, developing Bioenergetics, and also compared the rhythm of this life force energy to a pendulum.
A related concept to pendulation is the "trauma vortex" and "healing vortex" symbolized in Levine's model by two opposing spirals which adheres to Akhter Ahsen's "law of bipolarity". After reportedly having a "profound" dream Peter Levine believed he had been "assigned" the task "to protect this ancient knowledge from the Celtic Stone Age temples, and the Tibetan tradition, and to bring it to the scientific Western way of looking at things....". Levine also credits a vision in a dream to how he came up with the healing vortex concept originally, despite it being part of his mentors model and originated with Ahsen's bipolarity concept. He also boasts of year long mystical conversations with an "apparition" of Albert Einstein to his "synchronistic awakening" in developing his model. According to Levine, this synchronistic leading began in his mothers womb, where at a "moment of life threat" he "bonded with Einstein through her placental fetal "blood web."
Peter Levine indicates that during the 1970's he "developed a model" called SIBAM, which broke down experience into five channels of Sensation, Image, Behavior, Affect and Meaning (or Cognition). SIBAM is considered both a model of experience and a model of dissociation.Levine notes that the "SIBAM model stands in sharp contrast to the established hierarchical framework . . . of the standard, cognitive behavioral models." This claim is not supported, however. Arnold Lazarus, who wrote the first textbook on Cognitive Behavior Therapy, developed Multimodal Therapy in the early 1970's, and unlike Levine, is widely cited for his contributions during that decade. Multimodal Therapy was similar to the SIBAM model in that it broke down experience into Behavior, Affect, Sensation, Image, and Cognition (or Meaning). Lazarus even incorporated Eugene Gendlin's Focusing method into his model as a technique to circumvent cognitive blocks. Incorporation of this "bottom up" "felt sense" method is shared by both SE and Multimodal Therapy. Lazarus, like Levine, was heavily influenced by Akhter Ahsen's "ISM unity" or "eidetic" concept.  In 1968 Ahsen explains the ISM this way: "It is a tri-dimensional unity. . . . With this image is attached a characteristic body feeling peculiar to the image, which we call the somatic pattern. With this somatic pattern is attached a third state composed of a constellation of vague and clear meanings, which we call the meaning. Thus an eidetic is finally an image, a somatic pattern and a meaning, all in one. Taking the first letters of these three states, namely, image, somatic pattern and meaning, we briefly call an eidetic an ISM." It is important to note that sensation, for Ahsen, included affective and physiological states.
Ahsen went on to apply his ISM concept to traumatic experiences which is strikingly similar to Peter Levine's later developed model.
"We consider that a symptom, like an event, is also an ISM. The individual may become traumatized by some event- an ISM- and may try to suppress his relationship with it. A repressed ISM is, however, not repressed in the accepted dynamic sense but is pushed behind a seriality of states. However, it continues to invade consciousness or break through the behavior of the individual, not as a unity, but in the form of three separate dimensions. The individual then tends to respond to spatial forms and patterns in a certain way, comparable to allergy reactions. His body tends to spontaneously assume certain postures and develop activations as he is himself haunted by vague elusive meanings which occupy his consciousness". In the SIBAM model, like in the ISM model, the separate dimensions of experience in trauma can be "dissociated from one another".
In the Somatic Experiencing method there is the concept of "coupling dynamics" in which the "under-coupled" state, where the traumatic experience exists, not as a unity, but as dissociated elements of the SIBAM. Ashen's description clearly matches this concept. In Ahsen's model there is the "principle of bipolar configurations" in which "every significant eidetic state involves configuration . . . around two opposed nuclei which contend against each other. Every ISM of the negative type has a counter-ISM of the positive type." This, like in Somatic Experiencing, has been diagramed as two opposing spirals or vortices. Levine credits his inspiration for the counter vortex to a dream and not Ahsen. Additionally, treatment of "post traumatic stress through imagery", like SE, "emphasizes exploitation of the somatic aspect over the visual component of Ashen's ISM model because of the strong emotional and physiological components that present themselves frontally in these cases." 
SE insists it "is not a form of exposure therapy" in that it "avoids direct and intense evocation of traumatic memories, instead approaching the charged memories indirectly and very gradually". However, systematic desensitization, one of the very first exposure therapies, which was developed by Joseph Wolpe in the 1940's to treat anxiety disorders and phobias meets this description exactly. Wolpe states that it "consists of exposing the patient, while in a state of emotional calmness, to a small "dose" of something he fears" using imaginal methods that allow the therapist "control precisely the beginning and ending of each presentation". This graduated exposure is similar to the SE concept of "titration". In SE people "gently and incrementally reimagine and experience" and are "slowly working in graduated "doses"". SE uses "Resources", which 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. Wolpe also relied on relaxation responses alternating with incremental or graduated exposure to anxiety provoking stimuli and this practice was standard within cognitive behavioral protocols long before Somatic Experiencing arrived on the scene as a trademarked approach in 1989.
Somatic Experiencing also relies on restoring or completing incomplete defensive and orienting responses that were interrupted or distorted during the traumatic event. This is similar to how Gestalt Therapy looked at the trauma in the 1950's "as unfinished business" that included gestures, feelings and images. Standard cognitive behavioral understanding of PTSD and anxiety disorders was grounded in an understanding of fight, flight freeze mechanisms in addition to conscious and unconscious, preprogramed, automatic primal defensive action systems. 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, unconscious movement, 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. The charge/discharge concept in Somatic Experiencing has its origins in Reichian therapy and Bioenergetics. Levine's predecessors in the somatic psychotherapy field clearly understood the dynamics of shock trauma and the failure of mobilization of fight or flight impulses in creating symptoms of anxiety neuroses and to maintain a chronic "state of emergency". They also understood that healing involved completion of this "charge" associated with truncated fight or flight impulses. 
Somatic Experiencing is also predicated on the Polyvagal Theory of human emotion developed by Stephen Porges. Many of the tenets of the Polyvagal theory incorporated in the Somatic Experiencing training are controversial and unproven. The SE therapy concepts such as "dorsal vagal shutdown" with bradycardia that are used to describe "freeze" and collapse states of trauma patients is controversial since it appears the ventral vagal branch, not the dorsal vagal branch, mediates this lowered heart rate and blood pressure state. Neurophysiological studies have shown that the dorsal motor nucleus has little to do with traumatic or psychological related heart rate responses.'>Grossman, Paul (2/1/2007). ""Toward understanding respiratory sinus arrhythmia: Relations to cardiac vagal tone, evolution and biobehavioral functions"". Biological Psychology. Special Issue of Biological Psychology on Cardiac Vagal Control, Emotion, Psychopathology, and Health. 74 (2): 263–285. doi:10.1016/j.biopsycho.2005.11.014. PMID 17081672. S2CID 16818862. Check date values in:
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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.
Two randomized controlled studies of Somatic Experiencing as a treatment for PTSD were published in 2017 . They showed positive results indicating Somatic Experiencing may be an effective therapy method for PTSD and concluded that further research is needed to understand who shall benefit most from this treatment modality.
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