From Margin to Mainstream


From Margin to Mainstream

Peter Levine’s Bottom-Up Approach to Healing

By Lauren Dockett

March/April 2019


Two middle-aged men, who appear to be only glancingly familiar with each other, are up on a stage about to do something that’s both an inescapable part of everyday human experience and a doorway to the deepest form of intimacy—tapping into the power of body-to-body communication.

TJ is a soft-spoken movie-industry career man, sitting ramrod straight against an upright pillow in an armchair. Wearing a plain blue sweatshirt, dark slacks, and hiking shoes, he looks slacker-casual, but he’s clearly anxious, staring wide-eyed at the man next to him as he waits to be told what to do.

That man he’s deferring to is Peter Levine, the originator of a form of body psychotherapy called Somatic Experiencing (SE). Levine’s thin frame and clean-cut, tidily dressed look give him the appearance of a museum docent, rather than a man who’s leading a small legion of practitioners to refine and harness their intuition as they direct their attention to the body. With his shock of white hair, kindly avuncular eyes, and the calm way he’s nestled into his chair, we get the sense that TJ, whom he’s brought up on stage for a demonstration of SE, is in good hands.

Levine starts by asking TJ why he’s come, and TJ haltingly describes how years ago, he started waking up with a painfully tight back each morning. Despite doctors, acupuncturists, chiropractors, massage, and staying active for many years, the pain just worsened over time. As TJ finishes his description, Levine, who’s…

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4 Comments

Friday, May 3, 2019 5:32:51 PM | posted by Christopher
Peter Levine is a giant of somatic therapy and trauma work, and has contributed immensely to the field. But to insinuate that he invented somatic-based trauma informed care ignores his predecessors like Al Lowen and John Pierrakos to name only a few. We are all standing on the shoulders of giants, that’s how the evolution of this work continues. Much respect and gratitude is due to Peter and all those who came before who dedicated their lives to this work. The power comes from the accumulated wisdom of the lineage, not the individual. When we forget that, we’ve forgotten everything.

Wednesday, May 1, 2019 2:03:52 PM | posted by Ann
I am quite disheartened at the quality of this article. With the lack of objectivity, the author comes dangerously close to admitting a cult-of-personality with Peter Levine, with statements like "Peter Levine and Somatic Expe­riencing, the approach he developed, have been at the forefront of this movement" and "no body-based therapy has gained more proponents than Levine’s". With no (reported) research into Sensorimotor Psychotherapy or Bioenergetic Analysis, whose histories go back as far or farther than SE, these statements are innacurate. To say that other therapies don't respect pacing/titration is false and splits the community. That splitting is scarey. The appearance of bias continues without mention of Stephen Porges and Polyvagal theory. Please, can we get an article that compares and contrasts all trauma based, somatic psychotherapies? Or an article that traces the histories of the trauma therapy movement, that includes the psychoanalytic view, and identifies the difference between cumulative relational trauma, developmental trauma, and event trauma?

Friday, April 5, 2019 2:57:04 PM | posted by Vincent Power
Would be interested in some training in SE methods and body psychotherapy..Am based in Dublin.

Sunday, March 24, 2019 11:32:37 AM | posted by Leslie
Thank you for this overview of the history of a somatic orientation to trauma therapy, and due respect for the work of Peter Levine in helping move the body to the forefront of psychological treatment. Many body approaches of the 1960s were oriented to cathartic expression; the positive shift toward a more nuanced, carefully-paced, neuroscience-informed and relational approach has been part of what made the movement toward mainstream therapy possible. Bioenergetic analysis has also changed with the times, currently offering a somatic psychotherapy that is firmly based in supporting clients to appropriately process experience from a grounded, connected stance, Training in bioenergetic analysis requires many hours of personal bioenergetic therapy, ensuring that therapists have a deep somatic self-knowledge that is needed to be able to be present with all that clients present. BIoenergetics offers an entire psychology of the person that includes but goes beyond traumatic experiences. This framework means that modern bioenergetics therapists can work effectively with structural aspects of the self, as well as supporting symptom relief. We can celebrate our current orientation to the body in psychotherapy and honor those who have made this possible. It is also helpful to notice that some of the older therapies, such as bioenergetic analysis, are not only historically important, but also have contemporary value. Modern bioenergetics has much to offer.