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Dealing With Trauma Through Somatic Experiencing

Somatic Experiencing defines trauma as an experience that overwhelms the nervous system. A catastrophic event is not necessary for trauma to occur, as each individual responds differently in different situations. What is traumatic for one person may be innocuous for another.

The nervous system has an inherent capacity for healing and restoring balance that is disrupted by a traumatic event. This inherent capacity to self-regulate can be restored by the practice of Somatic Experiencing.

When we are in danger there is a natural capacity to respond either defensively, or aggressively. These responses are commonly known as fight, flight or freeze. When our nervous system is mobilized and we are not able to complete our defensive actions because we are overwhelmed by the traumatic event, trauma occurs.

Because trauma is held in the nervous system, traumatic symptoms may not change until the internal physical experience of the body changes. The Somatic Experiencing practitioner gently guides his patients to pay attention to body sensations in such a way as to permit the body to complete the defensive actions that were curtailed by the traumatic event. This prompts the nervous system to gently release stress and trauma through body awareness. This is done gently and slowly so that the trauma is not retriggered unintentionally.

Once balance is restored to the nervous system, it becomes possible to heal, to accept what has happened and to leave it in the past where it belongs.

Somatic Experiencing was developed by Dr. Peter Levine to heal trauma by focusing on body sensations (or somatic experiences).


Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a form of treatment that focuses on examining the relationships between thoughts, feelings and behaviors. Thoughts, feelings and behaviors affect each other in a continuous feedback loop. For example if you have the thought "I am so stupid", you may feel ashamed and then your behavior may be to hide. Similarly if you feel sad, you may have the thought "I don't want to do anything", and then you may lie down or watch TV. If you say hurtful things in anger, you may feel regret and may have the thought "I don't know what's wrong with me". In this way we can see that thoughts, feelings and behavior affect each other.

I will help you gain insight into how your negative beliefs about yourself, others and or the world affects how you feel and how you behave. Then I will work with you to identify and to develop more appropriate positive beliefs so that you can be more fully and happily engaged with your life, family, and work.

Because CBT is problem-focused and goal-directed, homework or practice outside of sessions are often assigned.

CBT has been shown to be as useful as antidepressant medications for some individuals with depression and may be superior in preventing relapse of symptoms. Depressed patients learn how to change negative thought patterns in order to interpret their environment in a less negatively biased way.

CBT is also a useful treatment for anxiety disorders. Patients who experience persistent panic attacks are encouraged to test out beliefs that are related to such attacks and to develop more realistic responses to their experiences. This is beneficial in decreasing both the frequency and intensity of panic attacks. Patients who experience obsessions and compulsions are guided to expose themselves to what they fear in a safe and controlled therapeutic environment. With safe and gradual exposure to feared situations, the related anxiety is reduced or eliminated.