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 to stressful or traumatic 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).