From Margin to Mainstream

From Margin to Mainstream

Peter Levine’s Bottom-Up Approach to Healing

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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