Psychology, Philosophy and Literature

Lessons from Somatic Experiencing

Warning: This article is about trauma, so although it doesn’t describe actual traumatic events, it may be triggering for some people.

I’m emotionally exhausted, and yet I feel myself brimming with far more energy than I have for many years.  

Yesterday I finished the first module of the second year of the training in Somatic Experiencing, which is the system of trauma therapy developed by Peter Levine.

The transition from the first to the second year was brutal.

I think this is because the first year of the training was focused on the essential skills of taking it slow and establishing good rapport with the client while making sure that he or she does not slip into a reliving of a traumatic experience that would be too much to handle at that specific time. The second year, on the other hand, starts out with education about the different categories of trauma.

I was surprised by how intensely and how quickly the training impacted me and my colleagues.

You would have thought that learning about the categories of something would mostly be a dry, academic exercise. However it turned out to be anything but.

To summarise the theory very broadly, we learned about three main categories:

  1. Global High-Intensity Activation. This is trauma brought on by events that activated the entire system. Such events can be pre or perinatal trauma, surgical procedures, anaesthesia, high fever, asphyxiation, choking or drowning.  
  2. High-Impact Trauma. This is trauma brought on by falling, accidents or lesions to the head and/or spine.
  3. Inescapable Attack. This is trauma brought on among other things by being attacked by animals, being blocked from escaping from a certain place or situation, or sexual assault or molestation.

Then we went on to talking about the signs and symptoms of the various types of trauma. Some signs are intuitive, such as: not being able to stay awake can be a sign of trauma brought on by anaesthesia.

Others are less obvious, such as: A client who has bad spatial orientation and gets lost easily, even if she has been to the same place several times, or who has a problem with balance, for instance doesn’t wear high heels because she knows she will fall if she does. Such a person suffers from high-impact trauma. This person will move very slowly, or on the contrary move very fast and seek out adrenaline rushes and/or try to get into new accidents.  

I was shocked as I recognised signs of many more types of trauma than I had expected, both in myself and in friends, family members and acquaintances.

Furthermore, when we started the practical exercises, working with a new category of trauma each day, the emotional reactions I saw both in myself and in many of my colleagues were a testimony to how exceedingly affected our society as a whole is by trauma.

Although there were times during the workshop when I was very emotionally activated, and although I am still feeling the effects, it never got to be too much, never passed the point where it became more than I could handle. And I observed the same thing in my colleagues as well. Somatic Experiencing is a school that places a great deal of emphasis on taking it slow. And I found that that emphasis was justified in this very challenging workshop.

However as I mentioned at the beginning of this article, I’m finding myself not only emotionally exhausted but also, paradoxically, energised.

I’ve thought about this, and my conclusion is that it’s not that I have more energy inside me per se, but rather that my energy is flowing better and is more available to me. I watched a video with the great trauma expert Bessel van der Kolk. He said, “Trauma is about your body getting stuck in a state of sensations that are basically intolerable.” I think it is this stuckness that started to loosen up thanks to the exercises and the knowledge, allowing the energy to flow more freely.

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1 Comment

  1. Love reading this! I’ve just completed this same module in the second year of training in London. I can resonate with so much of what you have shared. A great summary!

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