Many, but not all, mental health issues can be traced back to trauma in one’s life. Coping can be difficult after a traumatic event. Somatic therapies can be used to treat a variety of mental health issues by prioritizing the mind-body connection and focusing on integrating them.
The Basics of Somatic Therapies
Somatic therapy leverages the body’s ability to heal itself. As such, it is sometimes referred to as somatic psychotherapy or body psychotherapy. It achieves healing by helping the person modulate sensations, emotions, and reactions, thereby healing the whole person (mind and body).
Other therapy techniques, such as cognitive behavioral therapy, address thoughts to affect emotions and behaviors. However, these techniques focus on the cognitive processes first.
On the other hand, somatic therapy techniques start with the body’s sensations. Therefore, this strategy addresses physical symptoms first to help one understand how stress or trauma affects one’s mind.
While somatic therapies are most beneficial for those dealing with trauma, these techniques can be used for a variety of health issues, including:
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Chronic pain
- Bipolar disorder
- Sexual dysfunction
- Grief and trauma
- Sleep disorders
Traumatic stress can often result in emotional and physical pain. Somatic therapy can work by using the mind-body connection to reduce tension, stress, anger, and other negative emotions. This therapy aims to be aware of the mind and body connection, lean into it, and learn to calm the nervous system.
Types of Somatic Therapies
There are multiple types of somatic therapies, as different individuals respond better to different techniques than others. Anyone pursuing somatic therapy must find a strategy that works best for them.
Some of the types of somatic therapy include:
1. Somatic experiencing therapy: This type of therapy uses techniques such as massage, acupuncture, and yoga to alleviate physical issues. This technique promotes relaxation and stress relief and can alleviate physical symptoms resulting from pain, anxiety, depression, and chronic stress.
Somatic experiencing therapy allows the nervous system to resolve the physical effects of trauma. Somatic therapists may use multiple techniques, such as:
- Resourcing or drawing on positive memories while calm as you reprocess trauma
- Titration, which reprocesses traumatic experiences step by step to expand an individual’s tolerance for stressors and trauma triggers
- Pendulation alternates between releasing traumatic energy and calming the person’s body’s stress response
2. Sensorimotor Psychotherapy: Sensorimotor psychotherapy is another type of trauma therapy that guides the body through a trauma response. This treatment functions on the idea that the body’s trauma response was never fully completed, and this trauma response must be completed for healing to begin. This type of somatic therapy has three steps.
- Stabilization and symptom reduction, in which the mental health professional will help one feel safe and relaxed before engaging in sensorimotor psychotherapy
- Processing, during which time the therapist will guide an individual through their traumatic experience and help them notice and regulate both physical and emotional responses
- Integration, which allows the individual to say or do things they wished they had done during the original trauma
3. Hakomi Method: The Hakomi Method takes a mindfulness approach to somatic therapy. It believes everyone comprises core material or the thoughts, feelings, and beliefs that makeup one’s personality. This therapy technique allows people to recognize their core material and accept, challenge, or transform it through five core principles:
- Mindfulness: the process of living in the present moment and allowing oneself to observe, meditate, and reflect on their beliefs in a non-judgmental way
- Nonviolence: the support of a person’s defensive mechanisms to learn from them
- Mind-body integration: the belief that both the mind and body comprise a person’s core material
- Unity: the belief that individuals are interconnected systems that participate in larger interconnected systems
- Organicity: the belief that the self naturally gravitates toward healing, wisdom, and wholeness
While eye movement desensitization and reprocessing is another therapy often grouped with somatic therapies, it is not a type of somatic therapy. However, it can be helpful for processing trauma, and mental health professionals may incorporate somatic treatments in eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy.
The mind-body connection is essential when dealing with many mental health issues. And somatic therapies have been found to be highly effective, especially when dealing with trauma or post-traumatic stress disorder.
However, it is good to remember that somatic therapies may not be the best treatment for all individuals.
With the growing rates of many mental health conditions, somatic therapies may become a more prominent treatment method for many conditions. However, it is crucial to consult with a mental health professional before deciding on treatment. The professional can provide insight into the best methods for your unique challenges.