In Part I of this two-article series we discussed Somatic Experiencing (SE), Dr. Peter A. Levine’s anxiety and trauma healing philosophy, within the context of a contributor to panic attacks and anxiety. Well, now we’re going to have a look at SE from a treatment perspective. As with the first article, I believe you’ll find the information fascinating and relevant. Let’s get to work.

In review, SE came to life as Dr. Levine made the observation that though wild animals of prey are under constant threat and siege, they’re rarely traumatized. Levine’s explanation is that these animals possess an innate mechanism that very efficiently manages and discharges the energy that accumulates in their bodies as a result of self-preservation behaviors. Levine went on to observe that when an animal of prey survives a potentially deadly chase, it actually takes time to physically shake-off unused survival energy before moving on with the herd.

Now, according to Dr. Levine, humans are equipped with essentially the same mechanism; however, ours is greatly inhibited by our more advanced cognitive capabilities. As a result, we brain our way out of a complete purging of survival energies, which, in turn, prohibits the nervous system from regaining equilibrium, or homeostasis. And that, in yet another turn, leads to trauma because the body now has to try to manage huge quantities of high-voltage unused survival energy, residual from an incomplete biological response to a threat. This is a highly toxic force, locked within, that tears our minds and bodies apart.

As he approaches treatment for anxiety and trauma, Dr. Levine believes the foundation must be set in what we feel in our bodies, as all of the distress we’re tolerating is as a result of thwarted physical attempts to escape disaster. To Levine, relief is about the removal of learned and dysfunctional freezing and immobility responses as we face anxiety-generating situations. And this is accomplished by reconnecting with the very natural defense and orientation responses that were interrupted as our previous escapes from threatening situations were foiled.

Okay, so how might one do that? Well, I believe you have to consider the issue within two distinctly different contexts. I mean, are we dealing with the fallout from past trauma or is the focus to be strictly upon coping skills in the present? If the matter is trauma from the past, it seems to me a good portion of insight-oriented therapy may be the first order of business. Now, if reestablishment of pre-traumatic defense and orienting responses is required to uncouple scene-of-the-crime, fear-induced freezing responses in an effort to process all of this unused survival energy, that would mean we have to take a trip back in time to the scene of the trauma. Yes, the very event from which escape from deep peril was interrupted. And while there, we must relive the event and implement the previously thwarted physical, psychological, and emotional responses that would have facilitated escape.

Certainly, this is no small task, as the actual traumatic event causing all the problems may be buried very deeply in the unconscious, making its identification close to impossible. However, assuming it’s uncovered over time, the goal of therapy would be to find oneself at the very moment in time when escape from the ensuing horror was aborted, and establish some means of physical, mental, and emotional escape. This would allow unused survival energies to flow forth.

I believe after insight-oriented therapy and, perhaps, bioenergetic analysis (BA) is incorporated to identify and process the trauma; the informational, cognitive, and exposure foundations of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) could come in quite handy. Indeed, CBT strategies and techniques could be used to address coping skills in the present. One final comment here. Dealing with buried trauma from the past is a very delicate and dicey bit of therapy and should only be facilitated by someone who really knows what they’re doing. Keep that in mind, okay?

Well, between the two articles in the series you ought to have at least a solid Somatic Experiencing knowledge base. It’s incredibly fascinating stuff and I encourage you to take the time to research Dr. Levine’s work. It will be well worth your time.

Author's Bio: 

After a winning bout with panic disorder, a career in the business world, and a part-time job working with socially challenged adolescents, Bill found his life's passion and work. So he earned his master's degree and counseling credentials, and is doing all he can to lend a hand to those having a tough time.

Bill has some powerful mentoring and service packages available on his website, which include his panic attack education and recovery eWorkbook, "Panic! ...and Poetic Justice." The eWorkbook is ready for immediate download. You'll also find a link on the website to Bill's "Panic Attack Freedom!" blog. Lots of good stuff going on and much more to come.

In addition to doing psychiatric emergency work, Bill continues to do a lot of writing and speaking. He's conducted numerous mental health workshops for non-profit organizations and remains available to present more. Bill is a national and local member of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (N.A.M.I.).