PTSD and Somatic Education

I have been compiling a resource list for PTSD [Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder] and related trauma practitioners specifically around the Somatic Experiencing methods pioneered by Peter Levine. Since you have been working with Lawrence Gold’s “Somatic Education”, I’d like to know if, in your opinion, his methodology is effective for treating emotional trauma or is it targeting only physical pain relief?

The therapeutic categories can be confusing: Somatic Bodywork, Somatic Experiencing, Somatic Education, etc. The dictionary definition of “somatic” isn’t specific enough as applied to therapy:

1: of, relating to, or affecting the body especially as distinguished from the germplasm or the psyche
2: of or relating to the wall of the body : parietal

OK.  To start, the dictionary definition represents a reduced definition of the term, somatic, which has been “co-opted” by the medical profession, which deals (at least in its mainstream form) exclusively with a mechanistic, non-feeling view of the body, and so has a highly limited understanding of stress and only rudimentary capacity to deal with it (primarily through drugs with daunting side-effects).

In that view, “mind” is different from, separate from, and somehow “within” the body.  Orthodox Western medicine does not consider mind significant with regard to healing. The field of psycho-neuro-immunology is an exception — but then, again, psycho-neuro-immunology isn’t “mainstream”.

The word, “soma” — derived from the Greek — means “living, self-aware person”.  The word, “soma”, has a more expanded meaning — any “sentient being” that directs attention (through sensing), exercises intention (as movement), and has memory (genetic persistence — via DNA — and self-originated behavior — higher life-forms also have imagination and some degree awareness of their/our internal state).

Clinical somatic education, as I practice it, deals with the memory imprints of stress and trauma, as expressed through the flesh-body’s physiological conditioning and behavior.  It’s psychophysical.

However, in my experience and observation, emotional memory imprints are usually best addressed on their own terms.  “Bodywork” and sensory-motor somatic education can’t adequately substitute, although they can support and provide a “reserve” or “cushion” of resiliency.

I have experienced Peter Levine’s earlier work (with Peter) and found the effect temporary (it seems, because it was physiologically-based).

That said, I have developed techniques that can directly address emotional memory imprints during sessions of clinical somatic education, integrated seamlessly into the techniques.

In my view, the domain of somatics includes the full range of attention and experience availble to living beings, in all domains.  However, in my experience, techniques based upon somatic principles must be must be adapted for and applied to different “levels” of the being.  The principles of somatic education lend themselves to the development and implementation of such techniques and they are effective.

That said, since PTSD, by definition involves trauma (physical or emotional), it also involves the reflexes of stress associated with trauma:  the Trauma Reflex (cringe response in response to pain, only not momentary but chronic) and the Startle Reflex (the shrinking-into-oneself response of fear and anxiety — again not momentary, but chronic).

The three basic clinical sessions of Hanna somatic education directly address those reflexes of stress.  In some cases, the Startle Reflex session is sufficient to pop a person out of the grip of PTSD.  I’ve had that happen with a client of mine.  The memories remain, but without the gripping intensity (called, “charge” by those practicing Reichian and neo-Reichian somatic education, such as Somatic Experiencing).

In more deeply ingrained PTSD (e.g., soldiers returning from combat), a psychological approch that uses somatic principles, combined with clinical somatic education, is highly desirable, explained in the articles, below.

Thank you for you encompassing answer. I myself feel that it can support people suffering from PSD and other traumas.

Psychotherapy and Integral Somatic Education
Beyond the Three Reflexes of Stress

practical action:
The Cat Stretch Exercises
Calmly Energizing:  Somatic Breathing Training to Reduce Stress

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