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Frequently Asked Questions

Your Questions, Answered

What is Somatic Experiencing (SE)®?

Somatic Experiencing® (SE for short) is a pioneering whole person approach to physical and psychological symptoms of stress, shock and trauma.  It works with your body’s natural self-regulating systems, and sometimes may involve touch or bodywork.

Knowledge of trauma’s patterns can both help transform traumatic reactions as well as potentially prevent symptoms developing after an overwhelming event. Practising SE® can be a significant support not just in your own life but in those around you.

Nature’s wisdom

SE® is based on the work of American psychotherapist Dr Peter Levine who believes trauma is primarily biological - a physical phenomenon - not an incurable disease only marginally controllable as psychologists have chosen to view it.

His theory is based on observations of wildlife. Animals are regularly threatened with death yet are rarely traumatised; their survival instinct kicks in, flooding their body with highly charged energy ready for taking effective defensive action - fighting back or running away. When the threat is past, that intense energy is discharged and the animal returns to full normal health.

We are all equipped with the same capacity to overcome an overwhelming experience. Yet we also have an upper rational brain that frequently ‘rejects’ the powerful primal instinct of the body. The result is that huge fight/flight energy gets trapped in our nervous system where it can lead to all sorts of symptoms; sometimes immediately, sometimes not until years later.

The power of presence

Through moment-to-moment awareness of sensations in your body (soma), and using resources available to you, SE® aims to gently re-establish the natural flow of your life energy, supporting the safe release of symptoms from the nervous system, putting the past where it belongs, and restoring body, heart and mind to a relaxed wholeness.

The SE model

In the Somatic Experiencing approach, your experiences belong to five core components of a therapeutic framework called SIBAM:-

Sensation e.g. tension, heat, shaking

Image e.g. internal (memory, dreams, pictures, metaphors, word) or external (an object in the room)

Behaviour e.g. posture, facial expressions, movement, gestures, voice

Affect e.g. feelings and emotions, sadness, shame, fear, joy, hope

Meaning e.g. beliefs, judgments, thoughts, analysis, often expressed through words

Suffering stress, shock or trauma can feel like it cuts right through you - body, mind, and spirit. When that happens it points to a compromise in the components of SIBAM, meaning you have become:
•       over-coupled - lumping together some elements e.g. so that you over-associate physical stimuli from the past with emotional reactions and responses in the present

•     under-coupled -  elements separated from awareness, feeling disconnected from yourself and others, numb, dissociated, dreamy.

Using SE your SEP will guide you to gently separate the over-connected elements of SIBAM or bring the disconnected elements together, promoting new connections so that all the parts of your experience and you can come back together again. Dr Levine believes that far from being a life sentence, trauma can be a catalyst for real transformation.

SE’s long-term goal is for you to live a rich and full life with equal access to all parts of SIBAM. In other words, to help you become whole again.

The work of Dr Peter Levine and his associates can be found at the Somatic Experiencing Trauma Institute.  

What happens in a typical Somatic Experiencing® session?

This is intended as a general guide. Each SEP works in their own way to meet a client’s individual needs.
The aim of the SE Practitioner is to act as an impartial, non-judgmental and compassionate support to help you feel safe, and facilitate the release of trauma through your body.
You will not be asked to tell your 'story' or examine the past. Instead, you will be guided to gently release physical tensions, emotions and energy related to the trauma as they arise in the session, at a pace, and in a way that best supports you to return to a natural state of wellbeing and readiness for life.
An SE session in more detail
Typically, you will sit comfortably opposite your therapist, given time to settle, and then asked what issue you’d like to work with.
You’ll then be guided to consciously explore - without judgment - related physical sensations, feelings, thoughts and images as they arise.
Through this simple moment-to-moment process - called tracking - it's possible for highly charged stress energy in your body to be properly engaged and released naturally. Examples of this discharge include tingling, warmth, and involuntary muscle movements such as twitching, gut gurgling, or yawning.
The result of this often subtle mobilisation can be immediate: the trapped survival energy at the root of your symptoms is freed, allowing a new relaxation to establish deep in your body and mind.

What is Shiatsu?

Shiatsu is a physical therapy which uses a combination of pressure points, gentle manipulation and stretching to re-energise weak areas and reduce tension in the body. By applying sensitive, mindful, static touch with thumbs, fingers and palms, the Shiatsu giver affects the functioning of physical systems such as nervous, circulatory and respiratory, thus supporting the body’s innate self-healing abilities and promoting a sense of relaxation and well-being.  

Based in East Asian Medicine

Originating in Japan, Shiatsu has grown internationally since the 1970's. It is an evolving form of bodywork, incorporating influences from both East Asian Medicine and Western medicine and therapies.

Practical and accessible

Shiatsu is given through clothes, so is practical for everyday workplace and family settings without the need for privacy and extra room heating. Traditionally practised on a futon at floor level, Shiatsu can also be received on a treatment table or chair.  Although a professional Shiatsu session will generally take place in a clinic room or client’s home, community or family-based Shiatsu can be shared anywhere – at the kitchen table, in the garden, on the beach.

Shiatsu can be learned by everyone. Some train to professional practitioner level; some learn sufficient to support friends and family at an informal level.

Shiatsu is safe and effective

Academic research indicates that Shiatsu is safe and can reduce a wide range of symptoms, improving quality of life and reducing dependency on medication.

Shiatsu touch, in its stillness, depth and gentle compassion, is able to support the whole person.

History of Shiatsu

Massage, along with acupuncture and herbalism, was for centuries an integral part of traditional Chinese medicine, which was introduced to Japan by a Buddhist monk in the 6th century. The Japanese developed and refined many of its methods to suit their own physiology, temperament and cli­mate. In particular, they developed the manual healing and diagnostic arts, evolving special techniques of abdominal diagnosis, treatment and massage, which are used in Shiatsu today.
However, the practice of massage known by the old name of anma (anmo or tuina in China) became gradually divorced from medicine and more associated with relaxation and pleasure. Certain practitioners were concerned to preserve massage and related techniques as an accepted healing art.
In the early part of the 20th century, one such practitioner, Tamai Tempaku, incorporated the newer Western sciences of anatomy and physiology and disciplines such as physiotherapy and chiropractic into several older meth­ods of treatment. Originally he used the term shiatsu ryoho or finger pressure way of healing, then shiatsu ho or finger pressure method. Now known simply as Shiatsu, it was officially recognized as a therapy by the Japanese Government in 1964, so distinguishing it from anma and Western massage.

Styles of Shiatsu

Many early Shiatsu practitioners developed their own style and some, including Tokojiro Namikoshi and Shizuto Masunaga, founded schools that helped establish Shiatsu as a therapy. Today, Shiatsu has a number of different styles, philosophical approaches and theoretical bases. Practitioners around the world are still evolving new approaches to treatment. Some concentrate on acupressure (acupuncture) points, while others emphasise more general work on the body or along the pathways of energy to influence the Ki that flows in them. Other styles high­light diagnostic systems, such as the Five Element system or the macrobiotic approach, however all are based on traditional Chinese medicine.
The approaches most commonly found in Britain are Zen Shiatsu, Five Element Shiatsu, Movement Shiatsu, Shintai Shiatsu, Barefoot Shiatsu, Healing Shiatsu and Namikoshi Shiatsu.

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