Somatic Therapy: Uses, Benefits, Techniques, Results

Somatic Therapy is a type of therapy that connects the mind and body through touch or movement. It is used to help process trauma that is stored in the body. Types of somatic therapy include somatic experiencing, the Hakomi Method, and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR).

Read on to learn more about the benefits, techniques, and what to expect with somatic therapy.

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Core Principles

Traditional talk therapy focuses on cognitive or thinking skills, known as the top-down method. Somatic therapies focus first on the body, known as a bottom-up approach. Core principles of somatic therapy include the following key terms.

Grounding

Grounding, also referred to as earthing, is making direct contact with the earth’s surface, which has been shown to reduce inflammation, pain, and stress.

Boundary Development

Boundaries are the limits between ourselves and others. People with a history of trauma may have learned to disconnect from their body’s boundaries.

Somatic therapy focuses awareness on paying attention to how the body responds physically while using exercises to develop a physical sense of boundaries.

Self-Regulation

Self-regulation is about learning to manage the overwhelming emotions that may come from releasing and recognizing traumatic memories. Somatic therapy teaches skills to regulate emotion before uncovering and processing traumatic memories.

Movement and Process

Movement helps process and release emotions.

For example, if a client is slumped in their posture, a therapist might ask them to mindfully explore how they are holding their body. Becoming aware of the physical movement can create an internal shift and may even create a sense of calm in the body.

Touch, movement, massage, and breathing techniques may all be part of movement and process.

Sequencing

Animals in the wild usually recover naturally when they have been on high alert in response to danger. That doesn’t always happen for humans. The nervous system can become stuck, and physical tension can be stored in the body.

Sequencing is when memories stored in the body are released, and muscle tension is released as a result.

Who Can Benefit?

While somatic therapy was developed for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and trauma, it’s helpful for people experiencing many other conditions, including:

Techniques and Exercises

While exercises and techniques vary among the different somatic therapies, here are a few exercises that may be used:

  • Deep relaxation: Many somatic therapies use deep relaxation to reduce or release muscle tension. In bioenergetic analysis, muscular tensions are thought to be body defenses from past trauma that need to be released.
  • Positive imagery: This includes visualizing a safe person, place, or moment in time to restore balance and emotional regulation.
  • Mindfulness: Mindfulness is a practice of re-centering the self in the present moment, as trauma can often keep people in the past. The Hakomi method incorporates mindfulness with bodywork.
  • Breathing techniques: To Improve physical and emotional awareness, different breathing techniques may be used.
  • Physical sensations: Somatic experiencing focuses on increasing awareness of physical sensations to process traumatic memories.
  • Body movements: May include specific exercises to reduce physical tension stored in the body. EMDR uses eye movements to process traumatic memories. Brainspotting explores points in a person’s visual field to access memories stored in the brain.

Somatic Exercises at Home

For self-calming strategies, there are a few somatic-style exercises that can be done at home:

  • Grounding: Put your bare feet on the ground and imagine you are anchored by your feet with the earth, much like a tree. This is also called earthing.
  • Mindful meditation: Sit in a quiet space, take deep breaths, and observe without judgment the different sensations, feelings, and responses of the body.
  • Deep relaxation: Much like mindfulness, this is meditative but with a focus on deeply relaxing the body and releasing muscle tension. There are apps and videos online that offer guided meditations that may be helpful.

What to Expect

Most first-time sessions involve getting to know the therapist, who may explore your goals for therapy. They will answer any questions you have and may do some initial relaxation or meditative exercises.

Consenting to Touch

Somatic therapy may involve touch. A trained and skilled therapist will discuss and make sure you feel comfortable. Be sure to ask any questions you have so you can know what to expect. Listen to your gut; If a situation doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t.

Effectiveness of Somatic Therapy

One study exploring somatic experiencing found that it was an effective form of treatment for PTSD. In the study, 44% of participants no longer had a diagnosis of PTSD following treatment, even though many of them were experiencing ongoing and current trauma.

If It’s Not the Right Fit

If somatic therapy does not sound like the right fit for you, there are many other types of therapy that can improve your well-being.

Summary

Somatic therapy is a type of mind-body therapy. It is body-centric and focuses first on the sensations within the body. It can include deep relaxation exercises, mindfulness, body movement, imagery, and more. Somatic therapy can help process trauma, and is often used for people living with post-traumatic stress disorder.

A Word From Verywell

If you are interested in somatic therapy, it’s important to find a mental health provider who is skilled and trained at administering it. You should also feel comfortable and at ease with the person. Don’t hesitate to question what to expect from therapy, as each type can be different.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What happens during somatic therapy?

    Somatic healthcare providers help people release muscle tension stored in the body from memories of traumatic events. This is accomplished through body movement, deep relaxation, touch, or other techniques.

  • How long does it take to see the results of somatic therapy?

    In one study, 44% of participants no longer had a PTSD diagnosis after 15 weeks of once-weekly somatic therapy sessions.

  • What are some examples of somatic exercises?

    Somatic exercises may include mindfulness techniques, meditative techniques, relaxation techniques, and movement to help the body and mind express and release emotions.

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