Somatic Experiencing® (SE®) Model
About This Program
Target Population: Children and adolescents who experience trauma, are exposed to natural disasters, or experience chronic pain; also used with adults
For children/adolescents ages: 6 – 17
SE® is a body-oriented approach to the treatment of trauma and other stress disorders. The SE® approach releases traumatic shock, which is key to transforming posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and the wounds of emotional and early developmental attachment trauma.
SE® supports regulation of the autonomic nervous system, which underlies every aspect of a person’s physical, emotional, and psychological functioning. The applications of SE® are diverse. For example, by working directly with a client’s physiology, SE® is designed to enhance the depth, effectiveness, and outcome of psychotherapeutic interventions focused on relational, developmental, and psychodynamic issues.
The SE® approach offers a framework to assess and support nervous system resilience and shift from fight, flight, or freeze states to a more flexible response. SE® provides skills and tools appropriate to a variety of health professionals such as mental health clinicians, medical providers, physical and occupational therapists, nurses, bodyworkers, addiction treatment professionals, first responders, teachers/educators, and others.
The goals of the Somatic Experiencing (SE®) Model are:
- Increased affect and autonomic regulation
- Reduced symptoms of trauma (e.g., re-experiencing/nightmares, avoidance symptoms, trauma-related negative cognitions, and affect, autonomic reactivity as well as re-enactment play and learning/cognitive development)
- Improved symptom profile in autonomic dysregulation syndromes and those exposed to Adverse Childhood Experiences
- Improved overall health and quality of life through increased self-regulation
- Increased resilience and coping skills
- Improved functioning with family through reduction of impact of affect dysregulation
- Improved functioning in health impacts of psychological injury particularly health impacts that are impacted by heightened/chronic sympathetic or prolonged freeze states/tonic immobility
The essential components of Somatic Experiencing® (SE®) Model include:
- Delivery methods of the SE® model vary however it is common to deliver SE® skills in individual or group work as well trauma-informed systems work.
- The therapist works with an individual within the client’s individual window of tolerance to reestablish innate capacity to regulate affective and autonomic states associated with trauma.
- Psychoeducational Tools (Clients Learn Self-Regulation Skills):
- Affect Dysregulation: Understand, recognize, and regulate fight, flight and freeze states in oneself and others
- Self-Regulation: Understand self-regulation skills and how to support and increase innate self-regulation capacity
- Resourcing/Social Engagement System: Develop skills for resourcing and stabilizing social engagement system (increasing relaxation response and capacity for social connection)
- Titration of Affect: Learning self-regulation through developing capacity for recognizing one’s current place in window of tolerance model and appropriate application of self-care strategy
- Somatic Awareness/Tracking Skills: Individuals learn to track inner states and self-awareness capacity
- Clinical Interventions:
- Emotion Regulation Interventions: Clinicians support emotion regulation skills in sessions such as proprioceptive/interoceptive awareness (i.e., awareness of what the body is doing and how the body is feeling), and acceptance and tolerance of both good and bad emotional changes
- Somatic Awareness and Tracking: Supporting somatic awareness (i.e., awareness of how the body is feeling) and tracking changes in physical states
- Orientation/Grounding – Developing here and now orientation of attention that supports the shift from heightened fight/flight or freeze states to increased regulation of emotion, resting autonomic states, and increased time in felt-experience of safety
- Resourcing (Evoking capacity and relaxation): Tracking and supporting natural shifts from fight/flight or freeze states to parasympathetic (i.e., slowing of heart rate)/rest and digest (i.e., increasing digestive functioning) states
- Reducing Trauma Triggers: Through depotentiating (i.e., piecing apart through better understanding) fight/flight/freeze states and increasing capacity for self-regulation.
- Pendulation: Innate rhythm of movement from stress to rest and back that is disrupted in trauma is reestablished through skills and support from clinician.
- Trauma Event Specific Interventions and Skills: Clinicians develop a trauma-specific intervention that addresses the symptoms that arise from different types of traumatic events (e.g. natural disasters, war, assault, medical trauma, car accidents, abuse, etc.)
Somatic Experiencing® (SE®) Model directly provides services to children/adolescents and addresses the following:
- PTSD and other mental health disorders with symptoms such as nightmares/night terrors, insomnia, explosive emotions, disruptive behaviors, attachment issues, tics, and panic and other anxiety-related issues
Services Involve Family/Support Structures:
This program involves the family or other support systems in the individual's treatment: SE® provides supportive services to family and other support/caregivers when they are not the direct focus of treatment. The services help the family understand trauma symptoms in the individual who is a direct focus of treatment. They also give an overview of treatment and describe how it may impact that individual and how to support them throughout the treatment.
Session length can vary but individual sessions are typically 60 or 90 minutes long.
The general treatment length is between 10 and 16 sessions. The duration of exposure, type of event, intensity of exposure, and age at the time of the traumatic event can all impact treatment length.
This program is typically conducted in a(n):
- Birth Family Home
- Community Agency
- Foster/Kinship Care
- Outpatient Clinic
- Residential Care Facility
Somatic Experiencing® (SE®) Model includes a homework component:
Those receiving SE® treatment are encouraged to use the skills both with in sessions and at home.
Somatic Experiencing® (SE®) Model has materials available in languages other than English:
Croatian, Danish, French, Georgian, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Polish, Romanian, Spanish, Swedish, Turkish
For information on which materials are available in these languages, please check on the program's website or contact the program representative (contact information is listed at the bottom of this page).
Resources Needed to Run Program
The typical resources for implementing the program are:
Room suitable for therapy, access to a computer/internet
Education and Training
Prerequisite/Minimum Provider Qualifications
Individuals should be licensed mental/behavioral health professionals prior to being trained in using SE® as a trauma treatment.
Education and Training Resources
There is not a manual that describes how to implement this program ; but there is training available for this program.
Training is obtained:
See https://traumahealing.org/learn-se/ for more information.
Number of days/hours:
The training program consists of 6-8 training modules of 4 to 6 days in length. The program spans 2½ to 3 years, allowing for full integration of the skills and clinical application needed to support professional development. Class sizes are optimized for a supportive learning experience.
Relevant Published, Peer-Reviewed Research
The following studies were not included in rating Somatic Experiencing® (SE®) Model on the Scientific Rating Scale...
Leitch, M. L. (2007). Somatic experiencing treatment with tsunami survivors in Thailand: Broadening the scope of early intervention. Traumatology, 13(3), 11-20. doi:10.1177/1534765607305439
Note: This study was not used when rating Somatic Experiencing (SE) since it uses at adapted version of SE. This study examines the treatment effects of brief (1 to 2 sessions) SE/Trauma First Aide (TFA), derived from SE, with adult and child survivors of the 2004 tsunami in Thailand. Measures utilized include a demographic form and symptom tracking form. Results indicate that immediately following treatment, 67% of participants had partial to complete improvement in reported symptoms and 95% had complete or partial improvement in observed symptoms. At the 1-year follow-up, 90% of participants had complete or partial improvement in reported symptoms, and 96% had complete or partial improvement in initially observed symptoms. Limitations include nonrandomization of participants, lack of control group, and small sample size.
Blakeslee, A., Levine, P., & Riordan, J. (2017). Toddler trauma: Somatic Experiencing®, attachment and the neurophysiology of dyadic completion. International Journal of Neuropsychotherapy, 5(1), 41-69.
Payne, P., Levine, P., & Crane-Godreau, M. (2015). Somatic experiencing: Using interoception and proprioception as core elements of trauma therapy. Frontiers in Psychology, 6(93). doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2015.00093
Taylor, P. J., & Saint-Laurent, R. (2017). Group psychotherapy informed by the principles of Somatic Experiencing: Moving beyond trauma to embodied relationship. International Journal of Group Psychotherapy, 67(sup1), S171-S181. doi:10.1080/00207284.2016.1218282
Date Research Evidence Last Reviewed by CEBC: April 2018
Date Program Content Last Reviewed by Program Staff: October 2018
Date Program Originally Loaded onto CEBC: August 2016