What is Somatic Experiencing?

When you suffer trauma, the aftereffects of your negative experiences sometimes feel unbearable. They make getting through normal daily activities difficult. This leads many people into substance abuse and addiction, as they struggle to cope in daily life. But more and more people in addiction treatment today wonder, “What is somatic experiencing and how can it heal my trauma?”

What is somatic experiencing?

What is somatic experiencing (SE), anyway? This therapy developed by Peter A. Levine, PhD addresses trauma’s effects. Techniques used in this approach help you heal from past trauma using natural techniques that work for wild animals. Because animals living in the wild do not overthink trauma experienced in their daily lives, they more easily recover from these stressful events.

Dr. Levine noted that animals suffer many threats from day-to-day, such as from predators. But they recover quickly by releasing the physical energy of their “fight or flight syndrome.” As humans, he noted, we hold onto our trauma through lingering feelings of shame, self-judgment and fear. His theory in developing and testing somatic experiencing involved helping people process their trauma to stop feeling stuck in it.

The Role of Your Autonomic Nervous System

Your autonomic nervous system (ANS) has three subsystems, including:

These systems of the ANS trigger into fight or flight mode when we experience intense stress or threat. Our instincts of these systems actually tell us to fight, flee or freeze in the moment to protect ourselves. But the ANS sometimes becomes imbalanced, such as when we try to pretend the traumatic event did not happen or suppress our feelings about it.

When you do not express the trauma’s effects on you, your body keeps responding as if threatened. This causes symptoms like anxiety, hypervigilance, anger, sleep problems, mood swings, immune system disorders, shame, and also signs of PTSD. Your repression of the trauma denies your body its chance to process what happened to you. Somatic experiencing attempts to rid your body of its traumatic effects.

What is somatic experiencing, in terms of its methods?

In terms of methods used, what is somatic experiencing? SE is a therapy that lightly triggers a trauma response, so your therapist can interpret your physical effects. These effects include signs like shallow breathing and posture changes. You also tell them when you experience dizziness, heaviness or tightness in your body.

While SE involves triggering, it does not retraumatize you. Meanwhile, you learn coping skills and self-regulation methods to help yourself deal with the triggering.

Somatic Experiencing for Your Trauma Recovery

When you experience trauma and self-medicate through substance abuse and resulting addiction, you must receive treatment for that trauma as a root cause of your substance use disorder. Without this treatment, the cycle of effects and self-medication continue. Somatic experiencing is an effective means of treating your conditions for the recovery you want.

Other important programs and services for addiction and trauma treatment include:

Casa Palmera in West Los Angeles provides SE treatment for addiction. Contact us now to learn more answers to your questions of, “What is somatic experiencing?” Through this help, guidance and support, you can enjoy lasting recovery.


This blog is for informational purposes only and should not be a substitute for medical advice. We understand that everyone’s situation is unique, and this content is to provide an overall understanding of substance use disorders. These disorders are very complex, and this post does not take into account the unique circumstances for every individual. For specific questions about your health needs or that of a loved one, seek the help of a healthcare professional.