Somatic Experiencing® (SE) is a body-based approach to healing trauma, developed by Peter Levine, PhD.. SE focuses on supporting optimal functioning of the nervous system given the primary importance this system plays in the maintenance and resolution of traumatic symptoms. Resourcing, Pendulation, and Titration are three methods used in SE to guide the the nervous system towards increased equilibrium. This is a brief introduction to these methods to give you an idea of somatic principles that I integrate into therapeutic work.
Our brains have a negativity bias, meaning they are more likely to pay attention to threat than safety. This is a survival mechanism. The problem is, that if trauma is part of our history, our mind/body may be responding to threats from the past that are no longer present. Approximately 80-90% of the way our brains detect safety or threat comes from the state of our internal organs (via afferent motor neurons sending messages to the brain by way of the vagus nerve). The threatened mind/body may remain on high alert to keep the system safe based on outdated holding patterns in the body. This perpetuates a feeling of threat.
Resourcing is the practice of inviting our mind/body to attune to sensations of safety or goodness, however small they may be. The process of attending to a felt sense of “okayness,” begins the process of teaching our nervous system that it can experience stress, and then come back to a state of calm. I am continuously supporting clients to resource during sessions. It is preferable to maintain as much presence or ground in the body as is possible during psychotherapy sessions. When stress is high, it is especially helpful to have someone guide us in consciously connecting to resilient states.
Pendulation is the natural pulsation between states of expansion and contraction in the nervous system. This is a basic principle of life, seen in the ebb and flow of the ocean tides, the wings of birds opening and closing in flight, etc. A resilient nervous system is one that can move back and forth between alertness and action, and calm and rest without getting stuck at either extreme. Pendulation introduces “resourced,” states into awareness to help us develop confidence in the ability of our nervous systems to move between inverse states. We can then practice moving back and forth between more and less resourced states.
“In renegotiating trauma via Somatic Experiencing we utilize “pendulation,” the shifting of body sensations or emotions between those of expansion and those of contraction. This ebb and flow allows the polarities to gradually be integrated. It is the holding together of these polarities that facilitates deep integration and often an “alchemical,” transformation.” – Peter Levine, PhD
Titration. Less is more, slower is better in trauma work. Our brains don’t like this, (or at least mine doesn’t.)
Titration means that we slow things down. Because trauma is “too much, too fast, too soon,” we want to counter this in trauma renegotiation. Slowing down looks like working with only small bits of difficult experiences at a time. It also looks like pausing, and taking time to notice sensations in the body that correspond to what is being spoken about. When we do this, the sensations of the body will often move towards completion of protective responses that were unable to be carried out in the past.