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The Paradox of Trauma Is That It Has Both The Power To Destroy And The Power To Transform And Resurrect​.

Peter A. Levine

Founder of Somatic Experiencing


Q. How prevalent is trauma?

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), trauma and loss are common in people’s lives. In a WHO study of 21 countries, more than 10% of respondents reported witnessing violence (21.8%) or experiencing interpersonal violence (18.8%), accidents (17.7%), exposure to war (16.2%), or trauma to a loved one (12.5%). An estimated 3.6% of the world’s population has suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in the previous year.* In the United States, 61% of men and 51% of women report exposure to at least one lifetime traumatic event, and 90% of clients in public behavioral health care settings have experienced trauma. If trauma goes unaddressed, people with mental illnesses and addictions will have poor physical health outcomes and ignoring trauma can hinder recovery.**


A significant number of children in America are exposed to traumatic life events. According to the American Psychological Association (APA):


  • Estimated rates of witnessing community violence range from 39% to 85% and estimated rates of victimization go up to 66%.

  • Rates of youths’ exposure to sexual abuse, another common trauma, are estimated to be 25 to 43%.

  • Rates of youths’ exposure to disasters are lower than for other traumatic events, but when disasters strike, large proportions of young people are affected, with rates varying by region and type of disaster. Children and adolescents have likely comprised a substantial proportion of the nearly 2.5 billion people affected worldwide by disasters in the past decade.***


*WHO releases guidance on mental health care after trauma,, 08.06.2013, **Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, SAMHSA-HRSA Center for Integrated Health Solutions, ***Children and Trauma,


Q. On what science is Somatic Experiencing® based?

Animals are constantly under threat of death yet show no symptoms of trauma. From his years studying animal behavior (as well as stress physiology, psychology, neuroscience, and medical biophysics), Dr. Peter Levine discovered that trauma has to do with the third survival response to perceived life threat, which is freeze. When fight and flight are not options, we freeze and immobilize, like “playing dead.” This makes us less of a target. However, this reaction is time sensitive  - in other words, if freeze is employed instead of fight or flight, the massive energy is stored in the body until the threat has passed and is then discharged through shaking and trembling. If the immobility phase doesn’t get completed, then that charge stays trapped, and, the body continues to perceive itself as still under threat. The Somatic Experiencing® method works to release this stored energy and turn off this threat alarm that causes severe dysregulation and dissociation. Uplift helps people understand this body response to trauma and work through a “body first” approach to healing. For a video that illustrates animal behavior and its relationship to SE, please see “Nature’s Lessons in Healing Trauma: An Introduction to Somatic Experiencing®” available on our blog


Q. Somatic Experiencing® is considered “evidence-supported” not “evidence-based”. What's the difference?

An evidence-based approach to medicine, education, and other disciplines is based on a robust body of rigorous scientific studies and emphasizes the practical application of the findings of the best available current scientific research. Examples of evidence-based treatment for mental health include cognitive behavioral therapy, psychotherapy, functional family therapy, assertive community treatment, and FDA-approved medicines (ref: SAMHSA Evidence-Based Practices)


Resource Center accessed on May 12, 2020 @ Applying evidence-based principles in mental health treatment ensures that providers use the best evidence as a starting framework, while simultaneously affording them flexibility to individualize treatment. Mental health professionals can assess research data and decide if and how to incorporate it into practice. However, the conditions and characteristics of treatment outcome research can vary significantly vs. what professionals experience in their “real world” clinical practices.*


The gold standard for an evidence-based practice is to have a body of research that contains a series of randomized controlled clinical trials (RCTs). This type of study assigns treatment and compares it to non-treatment in a way that minimizes bias that might come from differences in the people studied. Generally speaking (and with many caveats), when a practice or treatment has been investigated in a variety of populations or under different conditions and is found to be effective, it can be considered to be “evidence-based.” Alternatively, an “evidence-supported” practice has a more limited body of research and typically is in the process of building “evidence.” So, for example, there have been only a few RCTs on SE™[1],[2] and a handful of observational studies. The results of these studies have found SE™ to be effective for specific populations with specific trauma symptoms but the full body of evidence is limited so it has not yet become an official “evidence-based practice.”

*Evidence-Based Psychotherapy: Advantages and Challenges, Sarah Cook, Ann Schwartz, Nadine Kaslow, Neurotherapeutics, July 2017,

[1] Brom D., Stokar Y., Lawi C., Nuriel-Porat V., Ziv Y., Lerner K. & Ross, G,(2017). Somatic experiencing for posttraumatic stress disorder: A randomized controlled outcome Study. J Trauma Stress, Jun; 30(3):304-312


[2] Elmose Andersen T., Lahav Y, Ellegaard  H., & Manniche C. (2017) A randomized controlled trial of brief Somatic Experiencing for chronic low back pain and comorbid post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms, European Journal of Psychotraumatology, 8:1.


Q. What research has been done to date on Somatic Experiencing®?

Clinical research on SE™ is in its early stages, despite having been practiced successfully by individual therapists trained in SE™ for more than four decades. Some of the research to-date, including the use of SE™ for treating war veterans and others with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), is published on our blog.


Q. How is Somatic Experiencing® different from or similar to traditional psychotherapy?

The practice of SE™ is an additional “tool” in the skill set of trained psychotherapists, social workers, medical professionals, body workers, and others. SE™ can be successfully integrated and added to a therapeutic practice in the same way that psychotherapists can use cognitive behavioral therapy, interpersonal psychotherapy, Jungian therapy, animal-assisted therapy, or art, music, drama and movement therapy. Somatic Experiencing® should be provided by a Somatic Experiencing Practitioner (SEP®) with extensive training in its principles and application.

Q. Can Somatic Experiencing® be practiced in groups?

Yes. Practitioners of SE™ find that when internal cues and interpersonal interactions are viewed through the lens of survival physiology, what previously looked like symptoms can be seen as management strategies. These patterns can be welcomed as the organism’s best attempt to protect itself. SE-informed group psychotherapy broadens and deepens the efficacy of either SE™ with an individual client or group psychotherapy informed by the principles and practices of SE. The group setting can be an environment in which members discover or recover a capacity for optimal self-regulation.*

*Group Psychotherapy Informed by the Principles of Somatic Experiencing: Moving Beyond Trauma to Embodied Relationship, Taylor & Francis, International Journal of Group Psychotherapy, 01.27.2017


For additional information or questions, please contact us at or read more about Somatic Experiencing at our Blog

Dr. Peter A. Levine
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