What is somatic therapy?
Updated: Sep 18, 2019
Therapy that incorporates our bodies is known as somatic therapy. As trauma treatment progresses, the mental health field is beginning to acknowledge that the body is a necessary component of healing.
Whether you are a trauma survivor or not, body based therapy helps us come home to ourselves and feel more safe & connected. Practices like breath work, yoga, meditation, and grounding have become common ways for folks to have lower stress and anxiety. Somatic work of all kind helps us breath deeper, be more present, and can improve our physical health.
Most people have experienced some kind of trauma. This can be what we call “capital t Trauma” (being a war veteran, a sexual assault survivor, a natural disaster survivor), it can be any attachment disruption (anytime our needs weren’t met as a child), or living with an identity where you experience daily/frequent oppression (being queer, trans, disabled, a person of color, an immigrant, a woman etc). Most people have had to leave their bodies or experienced being in their bodies are unsafe at some point.
All of this to say that any can benefit from somatic therapy or therapy that at the very least acknowledges your body. So what does somatic therapy look like in the room with a therapist?
Somatic work usually starts with psychoeducation. Meaning, the therapist and client exploring the impact of trauma on the body, understanding our bodies responses to stimuli, the nervous system, and how other mammals use their bodies to expel stressful & traumatic energy. It’s important to build an understanding of how our bodies are a part of our emotional experience and react to stress before digging deep into processing through the body.
Somatic work also means building internal resources so that the body starts to feel like a place of comfort and safety, instead of chaos. Having grounding techniques, movements for feeling centered, and external resources like supportive relationships, are ways of resourcing.
Then, client and therapist can move on to process difficult memories or feelings using the body. Titrating a little bit of the feeling or memory at a time and letting the body take over, while dropping the story. We let our bodies natural cycle of activation and settling move the stress or trauma energy out and through.
This kind of therapy is often non linear, with the above looking like many different variations. Sometimes just talking about the body is as far as someone can get, and that’s ok. Sometimes it’s just about building resources and the trauma feeling like too much to touch, which is fine too. Ultimately, any therapy that incorporates the body in some way is somatic therapy, and the therapist and client get to decide what that looks like.
My training is in Sensorimotor Psychotherapy, which I find to be very holistic, looking at the body, belief systems, and attachment. It honors our innate healing capacities, and looks at what we have right inside us as what we need to heal. I also incorporate the Polyvagal theory which helps us to befriend our nervous systems.
All somatic work invites us home to our bodies, which is something that no matter your life experiences, we all need in the world we live in.