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Bringing the Body to the Table: Use of Somatic Experiencing at Meals to Enhance Therapeutic Effectiveness

Thursday, March 23, 2017: 2:00 PM-3:30 PM
Del Mar II (Green Valley Ranch)

Background: Therapeutic meals serve an important purpose in client’s recovery. Intuitive eating and mindfulness have helped in accessing internal cues. The addition of Somatic Experiencing ® allows clinicians to bring in the full range of felt sensations to help clients reconnect to their bodies and explore underlying emotional over coupling.

Objectives: 1) Attendees will be able to compare and contrast Somatic Experiencing ® to Mindfulness Practice, Intuitive Eating and Attuned Eating 2) Attendees will be able to articulate and experience SE™ techniques of Orienting, Titrating and SIBAM 3) Attendees will be able to name three specific ways in which SE can be used in Therapeutic Meals to enhance and deepen client experience.

Somatic Experiencing ® (SE™), developed by Dr. Peter A. Levine, is a potent psychobiological method for resolving trauma symptoms and relieving chronic stress. SE offers a framework to assess where a person is "stuck" in the fight, flight, freeze, or collapse responses and provides clinical tools to resolve those fixated physiological states. In the course of his multidisciplinary studies, Dr. Levine found that prey animals in the wild are rarely traumatized, despite routine threats to their lives. All mammals automatically regulate survival responses in response to threat: massive amounts of energy will be mobilized in readiness for self-defense through the fight, flight and freeze responses, and then, once the animal is safe, will be discharged through involuntary movements, resetting the autonomic nervous system and restoring equilibrium. Unfortunately, human beings tend to disrupt this innate capacity to self-regulate through rationalization, judgments, shame, enculturation or fear of bodily sensations. SE facilitates the completion of innate self-protective motor responses by gently guiding clients to develop increasing tolerance for difficult bodily sensations and suppressed emotions.

Our clients often will experience a therapeutic meal as a significant threat, particularly in being asked to face feared foods and binge foods, in recalling past trauma associated with meals or in eating in the presence of others. As a result, they may be stuck in the fight, flight, freeze, or collapse response when asked to eat as part of programming. Intuitive eating and mindfulness practices will help clients to access internal hunger and fullness cues. However, the addition of SE techniques allows the clinician to bring clients gently into a supported awareness of the full range of felt sensations. As clients reconnect with their bodies and develop increasing tolerance for difficult body sensations, they are encouraged to use the direct felt experience to explore and resolve the underlying emotional over-couplings in their relationship with food.

The goal of this presentation is two-fold: first, to support clinicians in themselves connecting with the felt sense to begin to track and regulate activation and second, to help clinicians use the skills and experience thus gained to support clients in exploring their relationship with food.

This presentation will initially introduce Somatic Experiencing (SE) as a framework for understanding the varying responses clients may have to experiencing threat. Clinicians will be introduced to basic techniques, such as Orienting, Titration, and Pendulation, that can support clients in regulating their emotions.

A fundamental premise of Somatic Experiencing, and of this presentation, is that SE practitioners must first learn to recognize and regulate their own activation in order to be a resource and support for their clients. As such, the majority of the presentation will be experiential. Clinicians will be encouraged to track their felt sense to begin to determine their level of activation and to experience how they can use the techniques with each other to support regulation.

Clinicians will then be asked to consider, through example and role play, the circumstances in which these skills could be of benefit when eating with clients. We would argue that the main purpose of eating in programming is to support clients in bringing curiosity to their experience, something none of us can do when our nervous system is dysregulated. Our experience is that communicating to clients how the flight/fight/freeze response can impact one is often experienced as extremely liberating, lifting self- judgment and shame. Therefore, in addition to practicing SE skills with clients to support them in self-regulation, one goal of this section of the presentation will be to support clinicians in articulating SE with clients so that clients can bring curiosity to their experience in the meal rather than shame.

Primary Presenter:
Rachel Slater, PhD, LP, SEP

Dr. Slater gained her doctorate in Counseling Psychology at the University of Minnesota in 2007 and Somatic Experiencing Practitioner in 2013. She joined the Emily Program in 2010. Since that time she has worked in all aspects of outpatient eating disorder treatment, including assessment, individual and group therapy and intensive outpatient programming for those with Binge Eating Disorder. She brings her training in Somatic Experiencing to support clients in attending to and resolving physical and emotional activation associated with eating. She has a private practice where she focuses on using SE with clients working with trauma and living with cancer.

Hilmar Wagner, RD, CD, MPH

Hilmar Wagner is a Regional Clinical Nutrition Manager for The Emily Program. He received his Bachelor’s degree in Nutrition/Dietetics and Master’s Public Health Nutrition from the University of Minnesota. Hilmar has been working with eating disorders for over ten years and has co-facilitate 100's of therapeutic meals. Hilmar is mid way through his training in Somatic Experiencing, successfully blending traditional dietetic practice with a body centered approach.

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