SE bases its approach on the scientific observation that mammals automatically regulate survival responses from the primitive, non-verbal brain, mediated by the autonomic nervous system. In the wild, animals spontaneously ‘discharge’ this excess energy once safe. Involuntary movements such as shaking, trembling, and deep spontaneous breaths reset the ANS and restore equilibrium. Humans disrupt this discharge through our enculturation, rational thinking, shame, judgments, and fear of our bodily sensations. Somatic Experiencing (SE) approach works towards restoring this inherent capacity to self-regulate by facilitating the release of energy and natural survival reactions stored during a traumatic event.
Techniques include “titration” of the client’s experience. Titration allows the client to experience small amounts of the event’s distress at a time, in order to release the stored energy, and allow their nervous system to return to balance. In this way, the client does not become re-traumatized, and can move through their experience, creating new meaning and experience successful resolution.
Another element of SE therapy is “pendulation”, which refers to the movement between regulation and dysregulation. The client is helped to move to a state where he or she is dysregulated, and then helped to return to a state of regulation. This process is done iteratively. The goal is to allow the client to resolve the difficulties, both physical and mental, caused by the trauma.
“Resources” are defined as anything that helps the client’s autonomic nervous system return to a regulated state. This might be the memory of someone close to them who has helped them, a physical item that might ground them in the present moment, or other supportive elements that minimize distress. In the face of arousal, “discharge” is facilitated to allow the client’s body to return to a regulated state. Discharge may be in the form of tears, a warm sensation, the ability to breathe easily again, or other releases of energy that demonstrate the ANS returning to its baseline. Through this process, the client’s inherent capacity to self-regulate is restored.