If you have sought therapy over the past few years, chances are you have heard of somatic therapy. Traditionally, we tended to separate physical health and mental health. Even as we knew that chemical imbalances had a huge impact on mental health, therapy stuck mainly to the realm of the mind. Somatic therapies subvert that tradition.
What is somatic therapy?
Somatic therapies take the approach that the mind cannot be treated without taking the body into account. Traumas and foundational events that impact your development are stored in your body. Talk therapy is not totally effective at helping you release these pent up experiences.
Instead of therapy focusing only on thoughts and abstract feelings, a somatic therapist will therefore address physical feelings as well. They do this by bringing attention to the body in a session. Through this process, the individual learns where in their body they experience certain emotions. For example, they may feel anxiety in their stomach, and sadness as a weight on the chest.
When are somatic therapies used?
Many therapists now use somatic therapies as part of regular talk therapy. They bring the client’s attention to their body when feeling different emotions, in order to help them learn where they experience their feelings as well as to regulate emotions through their bodies.
However, it is also common to use somatic therapy for trauma, especially for people who have not had success in traditional talk therapy. Somatic therapy is also particularly useful for stress, anxiety, depression, and grief. All of these are held in the body and have a major effect on it, even impacting physical health.
Somatic therapy techniques
Certain methods and techniques are used in somatic therapy. These include:
The most basic somatic therapy technique is grounding. This involves focusing your attention on your body so as to experience yourself physically in the moment. You engage your senses to do so, and the process itself is calming and stabilizing.
By focusing on the present moment, you are able to develop clear boundaries. We tend to see boundaries as an abstract concept, whereas your body inherently sets boundaries for you. Boundary development helps you identify where you end and the rest of the world begins, and what you need to take care of your needs.
People suffering from emotional dysregulation benefit from somatic therapy. Emotions are regulated by feeling them without the associated anxieties and fears. By finding them in your body, you are able to experience them and let them go.
Sequencing is about finding the feeling in the body and tracking its movement through, until it reaches a catharsis, such as tears or a sigh of relief.
Somatic therapy involves touch, although different therapists approach this to varying degrees. Some therapists will spend much of the session lightly touching the client’s body, helping them find and process their experiences. Others will only occasionally use touch or do so briefly when helping guide the client verbally.
Finding a somatic therapist may be exactly what you need, especially if you are struggling to make breakthroughs with talk therapy alone. The connection between body and mind is well-established, and working with both is key to treating mental health.