Blog Mental Health Therapy Somatic Exercises Somatic Experiencing Therapy: A Guide to Getting In Touch With Your Innermost Self

Somatic Experiencing Therapy: A Guide to Getting In Touch With Your Innermost Self

When we experience something deeply traumatic, our minds “shut down”, unable to process and cope with the distress. But this does not happen because there is something intrinsically wrong with our brains. It just means that the nature of the distress exceeds our personal resources to cope with it. When discussing trauma and the aftermath, many think of war, violent incidents, or life-altering accidents. But trauma is not limited to those. 


In fact, trauma is an emotional response that can recur to many disruptive events. Since there is no universally agreed definition on what makes an event traumatic (5), we can define trauma as any distressing experience that exceeds our brain’s natural ability to self-regulate and return to a baseline sense of safety. This is why everyone’s reaction to potentially traumatic experiences is different.

After a difficult experience, most people recover well with their in-built coping abilities and/or with support and do not experience long-term problems. On the other hand, others experience problems directly after the traumatic event or start noticing the symptoms at a later stage. These unadressed traumatic experiences can leave deep imprints on our nervous system, and could lead to psychological disorders such as anxiety, depression, chronic stress  and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Some of these disorders are insufficiently addressed with conventional talk therapy or medication. That’s not because such interventions are ineffective, but the physical component of trauma needs a different approach. 

This is where Somatic Experiencing Therapy comes in.

This innovative approach to trauma recovery focuses on the body’s innate ability to heal itself by releasing pent-up emotions associated with traumatic events. It’s about reconnecting with your body, acknowledging your past experiences, and empowering yourself to navigate through your healing journey.

In this article, we’ll dive deep into this transformative therapy, shedding light on how it works, its benefits, and how it could help you find balance and peace in your life.

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What Is Somatic Experiencing Therapy?

Somatic Experiencing Therapy, often abbreviated as SE, is a unique modality of trauma therapy. It was developed by Dr. Peter Levine, drawing on his observations of animals in the wild and their innate ability to recover from life-threatening situations (1).

The essential theory behind is that when a traumatic event happens our natural survival-oriented responses (fight, flight, or freeze) kicks in. When the event is overwhelming, our nervous system stays on ‘high alert’, leading to increased muscle tension, and altered biochemical processes, which can contribute to the physical and emotional manifestation of traumatic memories and reactions. 

Simply put, the reactions to the overwhelming experience could be stored in the body as unresolved emotions. This trapped energy can manifest as symptoms of trauma such as anxiety, depression, or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) (1).

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SE guides the individual to release this stored energy and turn off this ‘high alert’ that causes severe dysregulation and dissociation. In practice, SE works by facilitating the completion of these self-protective motor responses and releasing the bound survival energy (3).

The therapy makes use of a framework known as SIBAM (Sensation, Imagery, Behavior, Affect, and Meaning) to help clients integrate their bodily awareness into the process of healing from trauma (2). The sensations and experiences explored in SE are: Interoceptive (i.e., internal awareness of the body) Proprioceptive (i.e., spatial orientation of the body) Kinesthetic (i.e., movements of the body (4)

SE is effective because it operates on the understanding that life experiences are stored not only in our minds but also in our bodies. It works from the “bottom up”, using the body as an entry point to explore sensations and related thoughts and feelings.

By addressing both the physical sensations in our bodies and the emotional aspects of our experiences, it offers a comprehensive approach to therapy.

The ultimate goal is to help individuals release this trapped energy, recover from their traumatic experiences, and build resilience for a healthier, more balanced life.

Read more: How To Use Somatic Breathing Exercises.

What Happens During Somatic Experiencing Therapy?

Somatic Experiencing Therapy facilitates the completion of self-protective motor responses and the release of thwarted survival energy that is bound in the body, thus working towards healing trauma (3). Once this survival energy is addressed, the body no longer needs to stay on high alern and resort to protective mechanisms like dissociation, arousal, or fawning. Therefore, it returns to a physiological sense of safety, which also translates into mental and emotional well-being. 

The therapy involves specific techniques such as:

  • Resourcing, which involves developing inner memories, images, sensations, or experiences that evoke feelings of calm, safety, and well-being. Developing resources – both internal and external – is the first step before diving into the traumatic event. This ensures that you are able to relax and regulate a strong emotional response.  
  • Pendulation, which involves moving attention back and forth between areas of comfort and ease and areas of tension or discomfort in the body. In practice, this may look like accessing the memories of the event for a few minutes, then moving on to a comfortable sensation that you can access in the here and now. 
  • Titration, which involves breaking down the processing of traumatic material into smaller, manageable doses. Instead of diving into the entire traumatic experience all at once, the traumatised individual processes the event gradually, which signals the brain and body that the healing process is safe. 

This body-centered approach to treating PTSD focuses not just on thoughts or emotions, but also on releasing the survival defences that become the main way in which the body and nervous system operate after a traumatising event.

During a somatic experiencing session, techniques like titration are used to keep arousal at a low level during the processing of traumatic triggers. It may involve the introduction of small amounts of traumatic material and the observation of a client’s physical responses.

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Therapists guide patients to focus on their underlying physical sensations. The therapist may include somatic exercises such as breathwork, meditation, visualization, massage, grounding, dance, and sensation awareness work into the session. 

Each of these techniques is designed to help clients reconnect with themselves and build the capacity to manage their physical reactions when they encounter something that triggers their trauma. 

While somatic experiencing therapy does not involve a complete retelling and processing of your past traumatic experiences like talk therapies, you may be reminded of these memories. These memories can appear in your mind in the form of images, sounds, sensations, or emotions which are associated to the traumatic event. 

Doing so may result in you feeling “activated” or feeling a high level of energetic arousal in your body. This is a normal part of the process, and your therapist will help you manage these emotions. 

The duration it takes for somatic experiencing to work varies. Some clients may experience relief after only one session. However, more complex cases may need more sessions before they experience significant symptom relief. 

12 guided somatic experiencing exercises

What Is an Example of Somatic Therapy?

An example of a somatic therapy session could look like this:

Let’s say the client has been dealing with feelings of anxiety or flashbacks due to a car accident they were in a few years ago.

The therapist begins the session by creating a safe and comfortable environment for the client. They then guide the client to focus on their breath, helping them to ground themselves in the present moment.

Once the client is calm and focused, the therapist instructs the client to pay attention to the physical sensations that arise.

The client might notice a tightness in their chest, a clenched jaw, or a racing heart. The therapist would encourage the client to stay with these sensations, breathe into them, and observe them without judgment. This process helps the client to engage with their body’s sensations and giving this attention will help regulate the nervous system. In the meantime, the therapist would guide the client to track their bodily sensations as it down-regulates, while maintaining their awareness of what happens in their physiology. Over time, this can lead to a release of tension and a reduction in trauma-related symptoms.

The therapist might also introduce somatic exercises, such as gentle stretching or movement, to help the client release stored tension in the body.

These exercises are intended to help the client reclaim control over their physical responses and foster a sense of safety and stability within their body.

This is just one example of what a somatic therapy session might look like. The specific methods and techniques used can vary widely depending on the therapist’s approach and the individual needs of the client.

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12 Guided Somatic Exercises

Here are some examples of guided Somatic exercises that you can perform:


Definition: An exercise to help you feel more connected to your body and the present world around you.


  1. Sit or stand comfortably. Taking your shoes off for this exercise may make you feel more comfortable.
  2. Take a few deep breaths, focusing on the sensation of your feet connecting with the earth.
  3. Visualize roots growing from your feet into the ground, anchoring you to be connected with the earth.
  4. Start shifting your weight from left to right, swaying as a tree. Shift your weight from front to the back. 
  5. As you shift your weight, slowly bring your swaying to a standstill. Bring your awareness to your center of gravity, located in the upper pelvic area and below the navel. 
  6. Bring your hands on top of your lower belly and feel your center. 
  7. Feel the connection between your body and the earth.
  8. Focus on this sensation for a moment several minutes.

Voo Practice

Definition: A vocal exercise where you make a deep, resonant “voo” sound. This can help to slow down the heart rate and bring about a sense of calm.


  1. Find a quiet space where you feel comfortable.
  2. Bring your wandering mind to attention to your breath and bodily sensations.
  3. Take a deep breath in. Notice your breath in and out. 
  4. As you exhale, make a “voo” sound, drawing out the vowel for as long as possible. You will feel this sound resonate through your abdomen and chest. 
  5. Pay attention to how the vibration feels in your body
  6. Repeat several times.


Definition: This involves giving yourself a gentle hug as a way of providing self-comfort and reducing anxiety.


  1. Cross your arms over your chest, placing your right hand over your heart
  2. Your left arm reaches over your shoulders.
  3. Gently squeeze your shoulders or upper arms.
  4. Breathe deeply and enjoy the sensation of self-comfort.

Self-Soothing Touch

Definition: This involves holding yourself in a comforting way to soothe feelings of fear or anxiety.


  1. Find a calm enviornment, away from distractions
  2. Sit or lie down, whichever you prefer
  3. Hug yourself, and close your eyes
  4. Focus on the sensations in teh areas your hand touches your body
  5. Breathe deeply and send comforting energy to these areas.

Lower Body Inclusion

Definition: This exercise involves bringing awareness to the lower part of your body to help ground your experience.


  1. While sitting or standing, bring your attention to your lower body.
  2. Notice the sensations in your hips, legs, and feet.

Mental Container / Mental Calm Exercise

Definition: This involves visualizing a container where you can store distressing thoughts or memories, which can be revisited when you feel more capable of handling them.


  1. Visualize a container.
  2. Mentally place any distressing thoughts or memories into the container.
  3. Close the container and set it aside for later.

Patting Exercise

Definition: This involves gently patting different parts of your body to increase body awareness, promote relaxation and develop a sense of being contained and safe.


  1. With your hand in a cupping position, tap your body all over, from your feet to your head. Start at your feet and gently pat your body all the way up to your head. .
  2. Notice the sensation of touch and the presence of your body.
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somatic experiencing therapy

The 5 Senses Exercise

Definition: This exercise involves tuning into each of your five senses one at a time to help ground yourself in the present moment.


  1. Spend a moment focusing on each of your five senses.
  2. Notice what you can see, hear, touch, taste, and smell.

Somatic Stretching

Definition: somatic stretching refers to releasing muscular tension through gentle movement and awareness of how your muscles feel in various positions and movements.


  1. Choose a comfortable stretch.
  2. As you stretch, pay attention to the sensations in your muscles.

Boundaries Exercise

Definition: This involves visualizing or physically establishing personal boundaries to improve feelings of safety and control.


  1. Stand or sit comfortably.
  2. Visualize a bubble or shield around you.
  3. This is your personal space, and you have control over who or what comes into it.

Read more: 11 Somatic Grounding Exercises for When You Need To Manage Your Triggers.

Can I Do Somatic exercises On My Own?

Somatic Experiencing (SE) is a specialized therapeutic approach that should be conducted by a trained therapist. It is a delicate process that could potentially retraumatize an individual if not handled correctly.

That said, some self-care techniques may draw from principles similar to SE, such as mindfulness and body awareness. You can certainly work on enhancing body awareness and mindfulness at home. 

In the paragraphs below, you can find some exercises and tips drawn from various sources that can help you practice Somatic exercises at home:

Somatic Exercise To Process Triggers

This involves noticing when you are triggered and taking a moment to ground yourself. A trigger could be anything such as scent, smell, object etc. that brings up memories of the experience.

Pay attention to the physical sensations in your body, breathe deeply, and place your hand on the area that has experienced a shift or change. You do not need to dive deeper into the sensation. Just notice it and allow it to unfold while you body finds its way back to safety. This allows the body to process the unresolved emotions and creates a passageway to release the tension.

Use Your Felt Sense

Somatic Experiencing uses your “felt sense” to access physical sensations, behaviors, and emotions internalized from traumatic experiences. You felt sense refers to the changes that occur in your internal landscape as you become more aware of sensations, emotions, and images. This might involve noticing subtle bodily sensations, such as a fluttering in the stomach or tension in the shoulders. To use your felt sense, attune to your body and notice what it appears. 

Orienting To 5 Senses

This technique involves focusing on your five senses to ground yourself in the present moment. You might take a few moments to notice what you see, hear, smell, taste, and touch. Take your time to fully engage with these sense and observe that appears in your internal space as you do so. 

Integrate Healing Into Your Daily Life

There are many ways to integrate healing your nervous system into your daily life. This could involve regular mindfulness practices, deep breathing exercises, or gentle physical movements like yoga or stretching.

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somatic experiencing training

What Are The Risks of Somatic Therapy?

Somatic therapy, including Somatic Experiencing (SE), is generally considered safe, and research indicates its potential effectiveness in reducing symptoms of traumatic stress and related disorders (3). However, like any therapeutic approach, it may carry certain risks or challenges.

Delving into traumatic memories can be emotionally intense and cause distressing physical sensations. Some people may experience a temporary increase in symptoms such as anxiety, intrusive thoughts, or somatic complaints (1).

Another risk is associated with the therapists themselves. Therapists working with highly traumatized clients are at higher risk of developing symptoms of burnout and compassion fatigue.

Additionally, while somatic therapy focuses on releasing trapped emotions from the body, this process can sometimes bring up intense emotions and memories, potentially leading to emotional overwhelm during sessions. It’s essential that these therapies are guided by trained professionals who can navigate these complexities.

Lastly, somatic therapy might not be suitable for everyone. Individuals with severe mental health conditions, such as psychosis or complex disorders, may require additional care or alternative therapeutic approaches.

Remember, it’s crucial to discuss any concerns with a healthcare provider before starting somatic therapy or any new treatment approach. They can provide guidance based on your specific needs and circumstances.

Frequently Asked Questions 

Does Somatic Experiencing Involve Touch?

Somatic Experiencing can involve touch, but it is not a requirement. When used, touch is always consensual, non-invasive and is applied gently to help the client focus on bodily sensations. The use of touch depends on the individual client’s comfort level and the therapeutic strategy.

What Does Trauma Release Feel Like?

Trauma release can be a unique experience for each individual. It can be accompanied by a variety of physical and emotional reactions, including shaking, crying, laughing, deep sighs, or feelings of warmth. Everyone’s experience is different, and there’s no “right” way to feel.

How Long Does Somatic Experiencing Take to Work?

The length of time it takes for Somatic Experiencing to work varies from person to person. Some individuals may begin to feel a shift in their symptoms after just a few sessions, while others may require several months of regular sessions.

Factors such as the severity and duration of the trauma, individual resilience, and the presence of a supportive environment can all influence the timeline.

What Is the Goal of Somatic Experiencing?

The goal of Somatic Experiencing is to help individuals resolve symptoms of trauma and restore equilibrium to their body and mind.

It aims to help individuals develop a greater awareness of their bodily sensations and learn how to regulate their emotions and reactions to a stressful event. Ultimately, the goal is to promote healing and improve overall well being.

The Bottom Line

Somatic Experiencing Therapy is a powerful approach to healing trauma-related and stress disorders. This guide provides an in-depth look into the therapy’s techniques, goals, and benefits, helping you understand how it could be a pivotal part of your journey towards emotional and physical wellbeing.



This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!


  1. A Review of the Literature (n.d., 
  2. Somatic Experiencing for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder: A Randomized Controlled Outcome Study (2017, 
  3. Somatic experiencing – effectiveness and key factors of a body-oriented trauma therapy: a scoping literature review (2021, 
  4. Somatic experiencing: using interoception and proprioception as core elements of trauma therapy (2015, 
  5. A Review of the Literature (n.d.,
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