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Is Somatic Experiencing Evidence Based?

Somatic Experiencing (SE) is a body–mind therapy focused on healing trauma by helping clients draw their attention to their bodies and befriend them again.

The sensations and experiences explored are:

  • Interoceptive (i.e., internal awareness of the body)
  • Proprioceptive (i.e., spatial orientation of the body)
  • Kinesthetic (i.e., movements of the body; Payne, Levine, & Crane-Godreau, 2015).

Unlike other trauma therapies, SE intentionally avoids directly evoking traumatic memories and, instead approaches these memories by using the body as a gateway, exploring them gradually and indirectly by promoting more adequate, safer, and comfortable bodily experiences (Payne et al., 2015).

Within SE, stress is defined as “the inability of the complex and dynamical autonomous nervous system to recover to normal functionality” (Payne et al., 2015, p. 3), and trauma, as the constant dysregulation of the nervous system and bodily experiences (Levine & Frederick, 1997).

This means that trauma resides within the body and not in the nature of the event, and that people vary greatly in their ways of perceiving and responding to the event, depending on various biological and psychosocial variables, as well as the foundations of their own nervous systems, e.g. developmental traumas, etc.

The autonomic nervous system is dynamic and can respond paradoxically when facing stress, simultaneously activating the sympathetic and parasympathetic systems (Payne et al., 2015).

Levine states throughout his numerous books and papers, that the body can get stuck in an overwhelmed and dysfunctional response, which is reversible, though not modifiable by an external event. Instead, SE helps to renegotiate the trauma through the body so that it can discharge the trauma~related bound survival energy, and return the nervous system to regulation, assisting the body and mind’s healing.

Empirical research has shown that SE is an effective therapy for treating trauma. Randomized controlled trials (RCTs) are largely considered the gold standard of research and are used to test the effectiveness of therapies before applying them to wider populations.

An RCT conducted by Brom and colleagues in 2017 indicated that after participating in 15 weekly sessions of SE, participants reported a significant decrease in the severity of their PTSD symptoms and depression.

Another RCT developed by Andersen and collaborators, also in 2017, compared treatment as usual with SE in addition to traditional treatment for PTSD and chronic pain. They found that participants in the SE group reported a significant reduction in the amount of PTSD symptoms and fear of movement. Additionally, both treatment groups reported a significant decrease in pain and disability.

There are additional studies with treatment groups of natural disaster survivors that also showed significant increases in resiliency measures and a reduction in PTSD symptoms. Several follow-up measurements showed that participants reported decreased arousal, intrusion, and avoidance symptoms, with 90% reporting a significant improvement or being symptom free after eight months.


This blog was summarized from the above website article. I shared it here as I thought that it would be helpful for people to understand more about the direct impacts of SE work on people with PTSD symptoms and how incredibly helpful it is in the reversing and integration of those symptoms!

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