Unlike other trauma therapies that involve discussing and processing difficult emotions, somatic therapy relies on the physical sensations that occur in your body. This approach allows you to release thwarted survival energy trapped in your body, which helps relieve symptoms of trauma.
Your therapist will slowly revisit your trauma and follow the bodily sensations that arise. This process is called titration and is what differentiates somatic therapy from other trauma therapies.
Unlike some other forms of therapy that focus on talking about trauma or other mental health issues, somatic counseling takes a body-based approach. This is often referred to as somatic experiencing (SE) or sensorimotor psychotherapy. It uses various physical techniques to help people re-negotiate past events on a cellular level. This can relieve traumatic memories and other symptoms like stress, anxiety, depression, and chronic pain.
Somatic experiencing is based on the theory that emotional traumas can cause instability in your autonomic nervous system. Traumas can trigger a fight-or-flight response, even when you don’t physically engage with the source of the threat. This compressed fight-or-flight energy can remain in the body, causing a variety of psychological symptoms such as flashbacks, mood swings, and insomnia. SE therapists guide individuals through the process of releasing this compressed energy and turning off the body’s alarm of threat.
When you engage in somatic therapy, your therapist will likely start by getting to know you and building rapport. They will also provide you with a psychoeducational component that teaches you about the mind-body connection and how trauma impacts both your thoughts and feelings. They will explain key concepts like trauma vortices and dissociation and discuss different methods of healing, including somatic experiencing. Some body-oriented therapists use therapeutic touch during sessions, which can feel uncomfortable for some people. If you don’t want to participate in this aspect of your treatment, ask your therapist about their training and what other techniques they may be able to offer.
An important part of somatic therapy is the use of breathing exercises. The therapist guides you in breathing a certain way that inspires a deeper connection to your body and enables you to feel more of your emotions. This helps you recognize if you are holding tension and anxiety that is oftentimes rooted in past trauma.
When you are able to process the emotions that are stuck in your body, you will experience a sense of relief and freedom in the form of physical sensations. These sensations are triggered by a release of energy from your nervous system, and they are usually expressed as shivering or shaking.
Somatic therapy teaches you to use these sensations as tools for self-care and healing, but your therapist is also there to support you in moving beyond them when it feels safe and right. One example of this would be leaning into boundaries with your therapist and learning how to set them verbally and non-verbally.
Somatic therapy has been found effective for a number of emotional issues, including stress and anxiety, relationship difficulties, low self-esteem, and depression. In addition, those who have experienced trauma and are suffering from symptoms such as flashbacks, chronic pain, and sleep disturbances may find somatic therapy helpful. BetterHelp can match you with a somatic therapist near you or one who is available via telehealth. They will be able to answer your questions and help you get started.
Many somatic therapies focus on a body-focused approach, with techniques like yoga, mindful meditation, and breathing exercises. The goal is to strengthen the mind-body connection, so patients can better manage and navigate negative thoughts and feelings.
During somatic therapy, the client works to identify and become aware of physiological cues that occur in response to trauma triggers. This helps them develop a calm home base and can help reduce negative emotional reactions like fear or anxiety.
Another important part of somatic therapy is a technique called centering. It involves focusing on the sensations of your body and becoming present in the moment rather than being overly focused on thoughts or emotions. This can include visualizations, guided meditation, or grounding exercises, such as concentrating on the contact between your feet and the floor.
Another popular somatic therapy technique is Somatic Experiencing (SE), which is used to help individuals suffering from trauma. SE uses a process called pendulation to gradually reduce the stress response triggered by traumatic memories through bottom-up processing. This involves directing clients’ attention to internal sensations, both visceral (interoception) and musculoskeletal (proprioception and kinaesthesis), rather than focusing on the cognitive or emotional experience of the memory. SE also avoids reliving the memory itself, which can be overwhelming. Instead, a therapeutic process called titration is utilized to decrease the intensity of the stress response without directly evoking a traumatic memory.
A key part of somatic therapy is helping people release trapped emotions in their bodies. This is based on the theory that trauma can register in our body at a cellular level, so some of these feelings can remain stuck in our nervous system even after the event has passed. A trained somatic therapist can help you heal these issues at the body level through mindful movement, dialogue, and touch.
Your therapist will also help you identify the bodily sensations that are connected to difficult emotions or traumatic experiences and teach you how to recognize when your body is releasing these feelings. This is known as bottom-up processing, and it can help you feel lighter and more balanced after the traumatic experience has passed.
One of the ways that your therapist might do this is through a technique called pendulation, where they will guide you from a state of relaxation to a state that feels similar to the trauma you experienced. Then they will slowly release (or titrate) this compressed fight-or-flight energy a bit at a time so your nervous system can reintegrate it.
Somatic therapy can be a powerful approach to healing. It can help you reconnect with your body and emotions, which can support you in overcoming the challenges you face. If you’re interested in learning more about somatic therapy, connect with licensed mental health professionals who specialize in this practice to see if it may be a good fit for you.
A key aspect of somatic therapy is grounding exercises. These techniques, developed by Peter Levine and others, encourage a sense of safety and connection with the earth. The purpose is to help individuals feel grounded in their bodies so that they can manage stress and anxiety.
Somatic experiencing is a particular type of body-mind therapy that addresses trauma and stress-related disorders like PTSD. It focuses on the idea that people physically express deeply painful experiences. A trained somatic therapist can use several different techniques to support nervous system regulation in their patients.
During the initial session, your somatic therapist will build rapport and get to know you. They’ll also introduce the basics of somatic therapy and how it can benefit you. For instance, they’ll explain terms like “trauma vortices” and “healing vortices.”
Many traumas disrupt the autonomic nervous system. This can mean that the sympathetic nervous system, home of our fight or flight energy, is stuck, resulting in chronic anxiety or a hyperactive ANS. It can also mean that the parasympathetic nervous system, which helps us calm down, is constantly activated.
These disruptions leave behind psychological symptoms like flashbacks and nightmares. But they can also cause physical symptoms, such as muscle tension or digestive issues. Somatic experiencing works to release compressed, unprocessed fight-or-flight energy from the body. It does this by encouraging the body to fully experience each phase of its reaction, including the immobilization stage.
Whether you are dealing with anxiety, PTSD, or other mental health issues, body awareness is an important part of healing. A therapist can guide you through a variety of techniques that connect the mind and body.
These include yoga and breathwork, which aim to boost body awareness and help people learn self-regulation. They can also include mindfulness meditation practices, which help clients find clarity and calmness. A somatic therapist can also guide you through a range of expressive arts, such as writing and art therapy. Expressive journal writing can combine words, sketches, photos, and collages to represent emotions, thoughts, events, aspirations, strengths, and inner experiences. It’s a safe space to practice self-expression and build a sense of confidence.
A somatic therapist can also help you learn to set boundaries. This can be done both verbally and non-verbally. For example, a therapist may ask you to use your body to demonstrate how you want to be treated. They might also coach you on how to set boundaries with others in your daily life.
A somatic therapist can help you work through trauma and other emotional issues using a combination of body awareness and traditional counseling. They might also employ techniques like eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) counseling to improve mental health after trauma. They follow the theory that past trauma can cause instability in your autonomic nervous system. Eventually, these disturbances can manifest as symptoms like apathy, anxiety, low self-esteem, and gastrointestinal issues.