Somatic Experiencing(R) is very different from traditional talk therapy. There can be a lot of mystery as to what exactly happens during sessions. Here are a few of the common questions clients new and experienced have asked.
How long will it take for me to feel different?
The speed of change and the way change shows up really depends on your nervous system. A nervous system that has been in ‘freeze’ for a long time is going to take more time to ‘thaw’. The overarching approach of SE is titration, meaning we don’t do too much too fast. This can be frustrating in the beginning (I speak from personal experience!), however after just a couple of sessions it becomes very clear why we don’t go in too fast and stay too long. As I like to say to clients, you’ll peek at the pool of lava but I won’t let you jump right in and burn to a crisp. In my experience, huge changes can happen in as little as a few sessions. However, deeper trauma such as developmental trauma is just going to take more time (and patience).
So, what exactly happens during a session?
During our first session, I gather some background information about your health history, other treatments you’ve tried and your trauma history. My intent is to not re-traumatize with a lot of details but to get the Coles Notes version of what your nervous system has experienced so when something shows up, I know some of the story behind it. I also provide a little psychoeducation about SE, and you get to practice what it’s like to feel your body. If it’s appropriate and with your consent, I may introduce some touch work so you can get a sense of the when’s and why’s this would be introduced. We also discuss your goals for our work together.
After we meet for the first time I develop a treatment plan that I feel will best address your goals. From this, sessions could entail seated work while you practice interoception (feeling inside your body) or pendulation (moving between points of focus in the body), assessment/treatment of your defence orienting systems, movement-based activities, vocalizations, and/or touch work on the table.
You’re going to put your hands/feet/legs on me? Where? When? Why?!
If it is appropriate, I could propose we introduce some element of touch into a session. If this doesn’t feel right for you, you get to say no. (Boundaries!) Touch can be done seated, standing or we may move to the table for other kinds of touch work where you need to be reclined such as when working with the kidneys/adrenals. In addition to the kidneys/adrenals, touch can happen on the joints, arms, legs, pelvis, feet, head, hands, stomach, and/or chest; it really depends on your symptoms. You are on your back when on the table and for the most part there is no movement with the hands.
I introduce touch for various reasons: to repair ruptured relationships with touch, to prime the system to encourage the emergence of deeper self-protective responses, to encourage regulation in the system, and to work with deeper body systems that are ‘stuck’ (i.e., digestion, adhesions and breath).
When will I know I’m getting better?
The shifts I have heard from clients after working in the SE modality include:
- Increased capacity for stress;
- Feeling safer in the world and in intimate relationships;
- Not being as ‘jumpy’;
- Feeling more present;
- Being able to express healthy aggression more easily and more often;
- Increased ability to set boundaries;
- Feeling more comfortable with touch;
- Feeling more empowered and strong;
- More easily able to express needs and;
- Having more empathy for those around them and themselves.
In my experience, these changes are permanent. Once your nervous system feels the beauty of space/expansion/relaxation/empowerment, it prefers this way of being and doesn’t go back to a state of dysregulation.