Jacqueline Gautier


January 14, 2016
Submission for “Something’s Gotta Give” Eating Disorders Campaign

Treatment of Eating Disorders with Somatic Experiencing
Jacqueline Gautier, M.A., R.C.C., E.X.A., S.E.P.
Island Integrated Counselling Society, Nanaimo, BC

It is an honor to collect my thoughts and write a response to this very good question, “If we’re really going to get to the other side of eating disorders, something’s gotta give.....What IS IT?” It occurred to me that over the past 20 years dedicated towards counselling those afflicted with this illness, along with my own personal journey, I have been seeking an answer to this question.

Over the years I have worked with hundreds of eating disordered patients in a variety of venues; i.e. hospitals, agencies, rehabilitation centres and the privacy of my clinic office.

Like many of my colleagues, wanting to provide the best evidence-based therapy, I have been trained in a myriad of modalities, including Narrative, Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Expressive Arts, Family Systems, Maudsley Approach, Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, 12-Step Disease-Addiction Model, Satir, Acceptance and Commitment Theory, Dynamic Attachment Re-patterning Experience....and the list goes on. Using these approaches, there certainly have been success stories and a reduction of symptoms in clients. However, until I began looking at eating disorders through the lens of trauma and the resultant dysregulation in the Autonomic Nervous System, I was missing a key ingredient.

My desire to continue to improve my skills and knowledge base in trauma and body-centered approaches naturally led me to Dr. Peter Levine and his Somatic Experiencing® Trauma Institute (SETI). I had heard of Dr. Levine’s ground-breaking work and read “Waking the Tiger” years ago when completing my Masters of Counselling degree.

In 2015 I completed my 3-year Somatic Experiencing® (SE) training, became a Somatic Experiencing Practitioner (S.E.P.), and currently am assisting at another 3-year training to further deepen my understanding and application of this remarkable modality.

Somatic therapy is aimed at relieving and resolving the symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and other mental and physical trauma-related health problems by focusing on the client’s perceived body sensations (somatic experiences). The symptoms of trauma result in a dysregulation of the autonomic nervous system (ANS) which is evidenced by a host of physical and mental symptoms such as stress, anxiety, depression, dissociation, autoimmune illnesses, etc. Fortunately, the ANS has an inherent capacity to self-regulate.

I was finally able to make the link of how unreleased or un-neutralized survival energy trapped in the nervous system through a shock trauma or developmental trauma could trigger an eating disorder and fuel its continuation. The goal of SE is to release, or discharge this trapped energy. Somatic Experiencing® is based on the premise that trauma is a physiological, not psychological condition, and therefore the body must be included in the therapy.

In the past few years, incorporating SE in the treatment of ED clients, I have seen significant, long-lasting results, it is indeed a tool that restores self-regulation, and returns clients to a sense of aliveness, relaxation and wholeness. The dysfunctional coping strategy of the eating disorder is no longer required as trauma is discharged. Consequently, anxiety and ED symptoms are reduced.

Therefore, in my view, “If we’re really going to get to the other side of eating disorders, what has to give is a dedicated focus on treating trauma and the regulation of the ANS through a body-oriented approach.”

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