Sensorimotor Psychotherapy is
a method of treating the way in which a traumatic event is held in a person's body. A trauma that has not been processed,
can continue to be re-experienced on a somatic level, with symptoms such as, but not limited to, physical pain, numbing, hyperarousal
of emotions or rapid heart beat.
Psychotherapy interventions guide an individual in becoming aware of how their body communicates emotion, particularly
those that resulted from a traumatic experience, and then focuses on assisting the client in learning how to manage those
feelings and the somatic expression. Treatment is designed to prevent re-traumatization by building resources for the modulation
of emotion and arousal. For additional information go to: www.sensorimotorpsychotherapy.org.
For Mental Health Professionals:
The differences and similarities between Sensorimotor Psychotherapy and Somatic Experiencing
Many people wonder about the differences and similarities between Sensorimotor Psychotherapy and Somatic Experiencing.
Amy Gladstone, LCSW, PhD, faculty member of the Sensorimotor Psychotherapy Institute provides the following answer:
Experiencing and Sensorimotor Psychotherapy are two very distinct therapies with differing goals. Their founders had different
objectives in mind; Peter Levine wanted to learn how to heal human trauma from observing animals in the wild, while Pat Ogden
wanted to synthesize body and talk therapies to heal traumatic and developmental wounds. As a result, there are fundamental
distinctions in their notion of therapeutic action; their understanding of the role of feelings, words, and thoughts in treatment;
and their ideas about the therapy relationship. For example SP has developed specific techniques for emotional and cognitive
processing which plays a very important role in SP treatment. In comparison, because SE is an approach based on
animal behavior, it does not treat higher order functioning in the same systematic way that it treats autonomic nervous system
imbalance for which it has a highly developed protocol.
The distinction in goals and intention is clearly reflected in the overall
structure and content of the training programs. While some of the techniques are similar because both incorporate a
neurobiological model, they are elaborated in very different contexts. In SP the techniques are taught in relation to broad
principles of practice, phases of treatment, and stages of the therapy process. Students are taught to apply SP
techniques in accordance with certain criteria, i.e. whether the trauma is developmental or shock trauma, whether the phase
of treatment is stabilization or memory processing. In SE on the other hand, the focus is not on the timing of the application
of the technique but on the refinement and enhancement of the individual’s capacity to discharge arousal through such
practices as titration, pendulation, resourcing and managing over-coupling between different elements of experience.
the first level of training, SP and SE completely diverge. The second level of SP deals with attachment patterns and
character strategies and processing resulting emotions and limiting beliefs. In the second level there is an elaboration of
the relational focus of the model with an emphasis on transference, countertransference and enactments. In contrast,
the second level of SE applies the principal techniques of the first level to distinct kinds of categorical trauma like physical
injury, horror, inescapable attack, emotional trauma and natural disasters. Training hours are spent on specific traumas
within these categories such as drowning, tornados, electrocution, burns and car accidents.
Which training should
a practitioner choose? Pat Ogden’s broader project of combining talk and body therapies into a cohesive psychotherapy
model to work with trauma and attachment is the mainstay of the SP training in the way that Peter Levine’s broader project
of utilizing the technique of discharging excess arousal as a means of trauma resolution is the mainstay of the SE training.
Which training a student would find more helpful is a matter of individual choice based on professional training and interest."