Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a psychological condition that creates intense emotional issues for people who survive terrifying experiences. For example, soldiers may develop this disorder as a result of combat, because it is an emotional defense mechanism: the brain partially shuts down during intense experiences, possibly to prevent a full nervous breakdown. As a result of this shutdown, the brain does not process a situation’s corresponding emotions, but instead stores them up. To heal from PTSD, soldiers should seek professional therapy, like Somatic Experiencing, to ensure that they can recover.
Effects of PTSD
PTSD can cause the following issues:
- Panic attacks
- Sleep disturbances
- Emotional outbursts
If left untreated, PTSD symptoms can worsen over time. Many soldiers self-medicate these symptoms with drugs or alcohol and develop an addiction as a result. However, if they seek help, soldiers can treat both the symptoms and the PTSD that devastates their lives.
How Somatic Experiencing Works
Somatic Experiencing is a form of therapy developed by Dr. Peter Levine in his 1997 book Waking the Tiger. Levine studied wild animals and their responses to attack, and he documented the following findings:
- Orienting, or changing positions to prepare either for attack or escape
- Fighting, using every available resource to attack the threat with the intent to destroy it
- Fleeing using every available resource to escape the threat
- Freezing attempting to be overlooked by the threat
When placed in life-threatening situations, humans exhibit these same instincts. The brain releases a high dose of adrenaline to boost speed and alertness. This burst triggers the emotional shutdown that PTSD causes, so the brain decides either to experience the resulting feelings later, or to ignore them while it strives simply to survive. That is consistent with many soldiers’ accounts of trauma.
Levine’s system uses careful conversations, imaging and guided reflections to help patients focus on body sensations, or somatic experiences, to recognize their pain and to recover emotionally. Levine’s theory is that PTSD symptoms result from disturbances in the autonomic nervous system, and that the brain’s capacity to return to proper functioning can be regained by walking the patient through various exercises.