What Is Somatic Psychology?

Updated February 04, 2021
Medically Reviewed By: Wendy Boring-Bray, DBH, LPC

There are many forms of psychology. One that we will be looking at today is known as somatic psychology. In this post, we will look at this field and discuss its principles.

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Somatic psychology takes a holistic approach to treatment. The concept of holism involves treating the whole. It's believed that someone's whole life is important when treating someone, not just the isolated parts that exhibit symptoms. One of the biggest parts of somatic psychology is somatic psychotherapy. Somatic psychotherapy looks at the body, mind, spirit, emotions, and other factors when healing a person.

It's believed that someone's whole self, be it their thoughts, feelings, beliefs, and other emotions, can affect the physical attributes of a person. It's also believed that physical actions, like diet, exercise, and how you cope can affect your mental state. Somatic psychology can help those who are dealing with numerous problems in their life.

The belief is that if someone treats both the mind and the body, this can help the person as a whole.

It's also believed that people who have experienced trauma can become trapped inside negative cycles of thoughts and actions. Someone's body language can betray their trauma. Your expression, how you present yourself, and other subtle body language may be a way you show carry your past.

Somatic psychotherapy may use talk therapy to help those who are going through trauma. As you probably know, talk therapy involves speaking to a professional counselor and coming up with solutions together. However, it's believed that people have different needs, and there may be body techniques you can use to help with your healing.

History Of Somatic Psychology

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Somatic psychology has quite a deep history when you look at it. Wilhelm Reich is believed to have contributed more to somatic psychology than any other researcher in the field. He was an Austrian psychoanalyst who helped create somatic psychotherapy as therapy method. There were others who helped create it, such as Pierre Janet and, of course, Sigmund Freud. Freud believed that there might be bodily manifestations that occurwhen a person is dealing with mental health problems.

Reich was once a student of Freud. He believed that humans and their impulses are inherently good,and someone should want to want to seek a treatment method that involved the body.

Reich published his book Character Analysis after studying how the body is involved with psychotherapy. He published it in 1933, and the community at large praised it. The book put forth the theory that people have repressed emotions and personality traits that can be looked at through one's muscular tension, movement, and body language. He called this body armor. This does make sense. Sometimes, we hide our emotions and feelings in our body language, and this acts as our armor.

He believed that to let one's emotions out, you might need to use physical pressure to help you. For example, massages and other physical treatments may help ease tensions.

Body psychotherapy's acceptance became criticized due to Reich's other works. He adopted vegetotherapy, which combines psychotherapeutic treatment with body massage. The psychology community at large criticized this, and this response lead people to reject body psychotherapy as a whole. Despite Reich's problems, he was able to get the ball rolling. Other people who he treated began researching his works and helped to build on to the concept of body psychotherapy. Soon, somatic therapy was born.

There are quite a few people who realize the importance of the mind and body when it comes to treating people. The idea that mind and body should be treated separately seems a bit outdated because we do work as a whole. If there are health problems, they can affect our mental state. If we are having problems with work or with other people, they can affect your state.

The Schools Of Somatic Psychology

What is interesting about somatic psychology is just how many practices and schools there are. Some are based on the work of Reich, while others are the creation of others. A few examples are:

  • Core energetics. This takes the concept of energy. It's believed that energy goes throughout your body, and when there is an imbalance, that is a bit of a problem. By balancing yourself, it can help you with all of life's qualities.
  • Bioenergetic analysis. This is when therapy combines with bodywork.
  • This is when the body is looked at,and it's used to resolve problems such as mental health problems.

There are a lot of other schools of somatic therapy as well. These are just a few examples.

How It Works

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You may wonder how exactly somatic therapy works. The belief is that some emotional problems are not adequately addressed through talk therapy alone. Talk therapy is believed to be highly useful but does not reveal everything. The body of someone can reveal more than their words. It's believed that trauma can impact someone's nervous system, creating the unconscious bodily cues.

The goal of somatic therapy is to help people be aware of the sensations in their body. Therapy can help them release their emotions and tensions. Therapy may include breathing, exercise, dance, massaging, and quite a few other unique exercises. Everyone is different, and the fun of somatic psychotherapy is figuring out what can help an individual. Someone may benefit from voice work, while another person from grounding.

A session may involve reflection. Someone may look at their patterns of behavior and try to figure out how these behaviors can affect their emotions.

Here are some ways somatic therapy can help.

  • Somatic therapy can help by increasing one's self-awareness. All of us have unconscious actions and thoughts we are not aware of. Somatic therapy helps by teaching you about your actions and increasing your awareness. By being aware of your body, you can be able to see changes and identify your emotions.
  • Somatic therapy can be a good way to treat PTSD. When one experiences trauma, they may display it in many different ways. Somatic therapy looks for the subtle signs of trauma and seeks to fix them.
  • Somatic therapy can help with other mental health troubles like anxiety or depression. Many of the activities are designed to calm the mind and give you more energy.
  • Somatic therapy may be good for your confidence and your relationship issues. This is because it can make you more self-aware and mindful of what you say and how you present yourself when it comes to body language.

The Downside

The problem with somatic therapy is that it is difficult to standardize its practice to the extent that it can be researched. As such, few efficacy trials have investigated the scope of its effects. Some research seems to indicate that it may be good for those who are dealing with a borderline personality disorder.

There are other aspects of somatic therapy that requires a nuanced approach. One example is the use of touch. When it comes to touch therapy, there is always the issue of ethical problems. Someone who has experienced trauma involving touch, such as sexual abuse, may be hesitant or react negatively to the experience. Communication is also important in the field of somatic therapy, as is establishing boundaries.

Transference issues may be a problem of somatic therapy as well. Touching can cause someone to feel sexual feelings. This is transference, and it can present a problem in therapy.

Also, the problem with somatic therapy is that there are many types, and quality control is difficult to oversee. Some forms of somatic therapy may be useful, while others may rely on junk science or no scientific research to work. Still, many find somatic therapy to target their mental illness better than any other intervention.

When you're dealing with somatic therapy, talk to your therapist and make sure it's right for you. It can be a unique experience and a possible way to treat your problems, but communication needs to be there at all times.

Seek Help!

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If you're having a problem, there is no shame in talking to a therapist. It doesn't matter if it's a traditional talk therapist or someone who deals with somatic therapy. The goal is for you to feel better with yourself and be able to deal with all your problems in a healthy manner.

Somatic therapy is worth a shot if you want to be more self-aware, especially in body language. Body language is highly important for communication, after all. Talk to a therapist today and see how they will treat you and your issues.

It may be the case that a professional who practices somatic therapy simply does not live close enough to you. If this is true, there is a strong likelihood you will be able to find someone who can online. Online therapy has been conclusively shown to deliver the same results as in-person treatment. As such, the modality has done wonders in providing people who can’t otherwise access care the treatment they need.

At BetterHelp, an online counseling platform, you will be able to find licensed therapists skilled in practicing a number of treatment techniques, including somatic therapy. If you don’t connect with the first therapist you are matched with, you can switch at any time. Many people try out several counselors before they find someone who is a good fit. Mental health practitioners are available to get in touch via videoconference, call, or chat. Read what others have to say about their experiences with BetterHelp below.

“By far one of the best counselors I’ve seen. She is very holistic in listening and responding. I would definitely recommend her services. After one session, I had major breakthroughs.”

“While I have only been using BetterHelp for a couple of weeks, I couldn't be more pleased with Meagan Jones as my counselor: she's adept at asking the right questions and creating an atmosphere of trust and rapport as we identify, examine, and confront the patterns in my life that have adversely affected my personal and emotional development as well as the experiences that have contributed to those patterns. I recommend Meagan to anyone who is serious about owning their problems and seeking a supportive and attentive counselor who is focused on healing and holistic wellness.”


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