What exactly is Somatic Experiencing/ Organic Intelligence?
My favorite descriptive term for Somatic Experiencing is "Interpersonal Biofeedback". Biofeedback is a process whereby electronic monitoring of a normally automatic bodily function is used to train someone to acquire voluntary control of that function. As the provider I play the role of the monitor and reflect back to the client and "shepherd" their nervous system out of the chronic stress loop (the feedback loop of perpetual fight/flight/freeze/collapse) to a state of greater peace, ease, and feelings of safety (a state influenced more by the ventral part of the vagus nerve). The hope is that eventually the client will be able to do this for themselves after getting the "roadmap" from the provider.
Why would I choose Somatic Experiencing/ Organic Intelligence as a therapeutic modality?
People typically come to see me for Somatic Experiencing when they are feeling sad, anxious, overwhelmed, angry, confused; when they have recurring symptoms that confuse other providers (easily "triggered", digestive issues, panic attacks, auto-immune issues); because they are having problems with their close relationships or have issues with boundaries; because there is a specific issue they are coping with; because their identity is somehow in flux; because they are seeking growth and increased wellness; or simply because they feel something is "missing" and desire deeper meaning in their lives.
What is the goal of Somatic Experiencing/ Organic Intelligence?
In the words of one of my teachers Bessel Van Der Kolk: "The purpose of therapy is to help the client acknowledge, experience, and bear reality". And as we all probably know, reality is sometimes hard to bear. SE helps to bear reality by learning how to ride the waves of the stress response. This leads to greater resilience, self awareness, and the ability to form healthy relationships. According to psychological research the number one factor for overall happiness in life is good relationships. When the nervous system is in a state of chronic stress (fight, flight, freeze) the biological imperative is not on forming good relationships but on surviving the day. If one can shift to a nervous system state of greater ease and subjective safety (social engagement) then one is actually in a state where one can form healthy relationships.
What Interventions are used during a Somatic Experiencing/ Organic Intelligence Session?
The primary tool utilized during an SE session is mindfulness (a non-judgemental awareness of the present moment) directed to sensations in the body and the external environment. Other tools include gentle touch, boundary exercises sometimes including pushing into a pillow or hands, and unwinding body patterns using a Belicon trampoline. Like jazz improvization no two SE sessions are alike.
How is SE/ OI different from traditional psychotherapy?
SE is a distinctly "bottom up" approach to therapy. In a "top down" approach (CBT, DBT, Byron Katie's "the work" for example) the client might come in to a session in an aggitated state, having just had a conflict with their mother; a typical top down approach would be to explore underlying beliefs, thought patters, psychodynamics, object relations, and hopefuly clear up the conflict in that arena. In a bottom up approach (Somatic Experiencing, Organic Intelligence), I would pay more attention to the underlying nervous system state triggered by the conflict with the mother; I would track the breathing pattern, heart rate in the coratid artery, pupil dilation, facial expression, tone of the skin, and suss out the dominant nervous system state (fight/flight/freeze/social engagement) and respond with an appropriate intervention to help shift the state to one of greater integration. Both approaches are useful and when utilized well lead to a similar goal: self acceptance, greater ability to form healthy relationships, compassion, and resilience.
I don't have typical trauma (war, sexual abuse, car accident). Will SE/ OI still be useful?
The common association with Somatic Experiencing is trauma, but one need not have typical trauma to gain benefit from SE. Trauma is just one way the human nervous system can be dysregulated. Other ways include loss of a loved one, shaky work situation, overwork, over consumption of media, micro aggressions in the form of systemic sexism or racism or classism, and anything else that can stress one out over time.
Is SE/ OI difficult or painful?
Somatic Experiencing is informed greatly by positive psychology, meaning that the emphasis of a session is on what is going well, ok, right, or good enough. That being said, SE is about acknowledging reality in a truthful way, which is sometimes not all peaches and cream. The client can really set their own pace for treatment.
Cost for 1 hour session: $120, cash, check, or card. Sliding scale is available, please don't hesitate to ask if there is financial necessity.