I’m so excited, and I know I like it!
Results from the first randomized controlled study evaluating the effectiveness of Somatic Experiencing (SE) for treating people with PTSD are in. The study, conducted in Israel by the Herzog Israel Center for the Treatment of Psychotrauma (ICTP), was published this month in the prestigious Journal of Traumatic Stress (Brom et al., 2017). The study evaluated a 15-session protocol with 63 participants whose post-traumatic responses emerged after motor vehicle accidents, assaults, terrorist attacks, medical trauma, combat, death or injury of a family member and complex trauma.
Some of the goals of SE are to decrease the distress and symptoms caused by trauma, and to restore healthy functioning and capacity to respond in daily life (Levine, 2010; Payne, Levine, & Crane-Godreau, 2015). Many clients, students, and practitioners around the world have experienced the effectiveness of SE first-hand. There have also been several exploratory studies examining SE in the wake of natural disasters (Leitch, 2007; Leitch, Vanslyke, & Allen, 2009). However, until recently, this unique, powerful, and caring way of working had not been studied using methods required for inclusion on the roster of “evidence-based” practices.*
In the Israeli study (Brom et al., 2017), a decrease in posttraumatic symptoms, as well as a decrease in depression symptoms were measured as significant at the end of a 15-week SE treatment, and maintained at 30 weeks. A significant number of participants – 44.1% – lost their PTSD diagnosis while many others experienced a decrease in symptoms. The results of this study and the research directions emerging from it will make many more allied health professionals and administrators aware of SE, and will assist in making it more accessible in communities around the world.
In my own practice I use many approaches based on developmental, psychodynamic, spiritual care and creative arts understandings of people and relationships, however, SE is the core of my practice. SE informs my relationships with clients and enriches the way I live as a person and nervous system in today’s demanding world. I celebrated the publication of this significant research by Brom and team (2017) by enjoying something that brings pleasure to my senses: A quiet walk by the ocean with gratitude for the mentors and teachers that have taught me how to bring somatic practices into my life.
*The “evidence-based practice” movement has historical, ideological, and political roots that I do not describe here. Globally, there are powerful actors influencing how evidence is understood, which research gets funded, which ideologies guide policy and which forms of knowledge and ways of knowing are marginalized. A recent report to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva (Puras, June 2017) on mental health and human rights states that a research agenda confined to the neurobiological determinants of mental health negates a large body of experiential and participatory research that exists and supports a broader range of non-pharmaceutical, community-based, and non-coercive alternatives to existing mental health services.
OHCHR | World needs “revolution” in mental health care –UN rights expert. (2017). Retrieved June 26, 2017, from http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=21689&LangID=E
Also see critical view of evidence-based movement in healthcare: Askheim, C., Sandset, T., & Engebretsen, E. (2017). Who cares? The lost legacy of Archie Cochrane. Medical Humanities, 43(1), 41. https://doi.org/10.1136/medhum-2016-011037
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. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 30(3), 304–312. https://doi.org/10.1002/jts.22189
Leitch, M. L. (2007). Somatic Experiencing Treatment With Tsunami Survivors in Thailand: Broadening the Scope of Early Intervention. Traumatology, 13(3), 11–20. https://doi.org/10.1177/1534765607305439
Leitch, M. L., Vanslyke, J., & Allen, M. (2009). Somatic Experiencing Treatment with Social Service Workers Following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Social Work, 54(1), 9–18.
Levine, P. A. (2010). In an unspoken voice: how the body releases trauma and restores goodness. Berkeley: North Atlantic Books.
Payne, P., Levine, P. A., & Crane-Godreau, M. A. (2015). Somatic experiencing: using interoception and proprioception as core elements of trauma therapy. Frontiers in Psychology, 6. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2015.00093