Dr. Peter A. Levine, Ph.D. pioneered Somatic therapy after seeing how wild animals heal from recurrent traumatic encounters, such as predator attacks (for instance gazelles avoiding an attack of a cheetah). What he observed was that when a threat was removed, the animals physically released their fight-or-flight energy by trembling, shaking, and occasionally sprinting. He also observed that once the physical evacuation was complete, they swiftly recovered to their regular state.
Dr. Levine thought that people, like animals, had the power to release bodily energy in response to stress, but frequently sabotage this ability by holding it for a long time and ruminating the thought processes of the traumatic experience following trauma. We have all undoubtedly had firsthand experience with holding it all together during a trying time. For many of us, our capacity to override an inherent instinct for self-care is what creates the scene for PTSD. By interrupting this natural cycle of discharge, the energy becomes trapped, thereby keeping us in a condition of continual fight-or-flight and preventing us from returning to our relaxed, balanced state.
However, it was not until sometime later that he could be able to confirm his observations. It occurred during a session with a patient who was struggling with PTSD. His patient began strongly recalling a horrific childhood memory, and he got a flash of inspiration as he saw her distressed state. He urged her to defend herself by fleeing from the danger as if she were being pursued by a tiger. She started kicking her feet, imitating escape, and thus completed the natural discharge of traumatic energy that had been stored in her body for an extended period of time.
After this session, she received instant and sustained alleviation from her PTSD symptoms, and Dr. Levine witnessed for the first time a human’s capability to physically discharge trauma energy in the same way that animals do intuitively and routinely. Thus, Somatic Experiencing was introduced as a therapeutic modality.
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