Expert Trauma therapist and author Nancy Napier joins us to talk about Somatic Experiencing, a potent trauma release therapy. Nancy is a Marriage and Family therapist in New York City. A psychotherapist and hypnotherapist, she specializes in treating trauma, as well as focusing on relational and attachment issues, mindfulness practices, and spirituality. She is author of three books: Recreating Your Self; Getting Through the Day; and Sacred Practices for Conscious Living, and co-author of Meditations & Rituals for Conscious Living. Nancy is on the faculty of the Somatic Experiencing Trauma Institute and teaches Somatic Experiencing in New York City.
Somatic Experience is the most naturalistic of all the rapid trauma release techniques. It involves teaching individuals to do what our bodies were designed to do naturally to release emotional pain, fear and repressed emotions. Somatic experiencing ties in at a very fundamental level with the neurological research on trauma by Dr. Robert Scaer.
Brain imaging research and animal research by Dr. Scaer and others shows that animals (and people) experience a freeze response to intense fear and helplessness. The freeze response is demonstrated when an animal “plays possum”, collapses in fear, does a “deer in the headlights” freeze, or goes into shock without serious physical injury. The purpose of the freeze response is animals and people is to provide the last possible option for escape in a dangerous or terrifying situation. Sometimes it works–hence the understanding among outdoorsmen that in the event of a bear attack, one is more likely to survive by playing dead that by running away.
When a freeze response occurs in an animal or a human, the intense response patterns of flight or fight are repressed and overridden. The animal becomes limp, numb and immobile. Blood pressure drops dramatically, sometimes to the point of fainting. Circulation is drawn out of the extremities and into the core of the body (to reduce bleeding in the event of injury). Endorphin levels are intensely elevated to reduce awareness of pain. Emotions of panic and terror are repressed. This intense repression reduces awareness in the conscious mind, but creates an unresolved state of alarm in the brain stem.
Animals in nature who find themselves safe, having survived the attack, will discharge the repressed fear responses. Often this discharge is visible as a shudder, trembling, involuntary leg movements or fluttering movements. Once the discharge has occurred, the animal quickly returns to a normal state. The state of alarm created in the brainstem has disappeared. Animals that are allowed to discharge the freeze response are not impaired by it in any way. In fact, an animal that freezes and then discharges normally demonstrates greater resilience to future stresses than animals that have never been traumatized at all.
Animals that are prevented from discharging the freeze, however, show reduced resilience to stress. The brainstem remains in a state of alarm, generating abnormal circulation patterns, the chronic release of stress hormones, and a tendency towards hypervigilance, all of which create wear on the body and the brain. Such animals will often experience more illness, and a shorter lifespan.
Humans were desligned, like animals, to naturally discharge freeze responses and other intense, painful emotions. When they fail to do so the repressed trauma in the brainstem drives the same patterns of dysregulation in the brain and the body. These result in high blood pressure, anxiety, many forms of depression, addictive behaviors, a host of stress-related illnesses, and the most classic of all freeze-related illnesses, Post Traumatic-Stress Disorder (PTSD).
In the development of Somatic Experiencing, creator Peter Levine has intensely studied normal freeze discharges, and those elements of conditioning and social pressure that prevent many individuals in our culture from disharging normally.
Somatic experiencing offers very carefully developed protocols for helping individuals to pace themselves in a way that is safe and gentle, and to learn a rhythm for moving back and forth between the release of painful emotions and healing, nurturing, safe emotions. These rhythms and safeguards enable an individual to build confidence and comfort with the process of emotional release.
Individuals trained through Somatic Experiencing become more and more “Trauma-Proof”. They learn to release pain as they encounter it, and becoming able to handle more and more formidable challenges without becoming stressed, overwhelmed or disabled.
Join us on June 8th as we explore the therapeutic potential of Somatic Experiencing.
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