How sensorimotor psychotherapy can benefit you
Sensorimotor Psychotherapy (SP) is a therapeutic approach that can be used to help those who have experienced trauma. This approach is generally viewed as a form of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM). It often involves a combination of talk therapy, mindfulness, and somatic exercises to release trauma that may be trapped in the body. You may be able to find a sensorimotor therapist online or in your local area.
Unlike other modalities of therapy, sensorimotor psychotherapy is a type of body psychotherapy, meaning that it is generally a talk therapy that is concerned with bodily functions and how a person perceives their body on the inside. It is rooted in somatic psychology and usually seeks to assist trauma patients by helping them to pay close attention to how their body, mind, and behavior can be interrelated. Its aim is typically to remove the debilitating effects of traumatic memories by turning them into sources of strength for the patient. Clients may integrate talk therapy and somatic exercises of the desired movement that they could not perform during the traumatic event. They may also be asked to perform exercises that focus on certain breathing patterns. This can help them release the trauma trapped inside their body so they can move forward with life.
Physical symptoms of trauma
The following may be examples of physical symptoms related to traumatic experiences, some of which may activate the autonomic arousal system:
- Low energy - You may not feel motivated to do anything.
- Sleep disturbances - This can be connected to low energy, as those with a trauma history may find it difficult to sleep.
- Poor eating habits - Again, this can be connected to low energy, which tends to affect those who don't eat well.
- Somatic symptoms, like headaches and muscle pain
- Freeze, flight, fight – This can be the most common physical symptom of trauma. With “freeze,” it may feel like you can't move, as you may be unsure how to handle a situation. With “flight,” you may want to run away from the situation to reach safety. With “fight,” you may resort to using aggression against the situation you are facing.
The history of sensorimotor psychotherapy
As the pioneer of sensorimotor psychotherapy (SP), Dr. Pat Ogden noticed the mind-body connection while working as a yoga instructor at a psychiatric hospital in the 1970s. She noticed that patients did not seem to see a relationship between their mental health issues and physical sensations. Additionally, she saw that some forms of therapy appeared to trigger past events. Seeking a comprehensive approach, she combined psychotherapy and somatic therapy techniques.
Before spearheading the development of SP, Dr. Pat Ogden was a student of Dr. Bessel Van der Kolk, an expert in the field of trauma and its effect on the body. She was also a co-founder of the Hakomi Institute, which generally focuses on the Hakomi method of therapy developed by Ron Kurtz. Hakomi, like SP, can be a body-centered approach to psychotherapy.
Dr. Pat Ogden's Sensorimotor Psychotherapy Institute began offering training in the early 1980s. In 2006, the first book on SP, titled Trauma and the Body: A Sensorimotor Approach to Psychotherapy, was published. A second book, Sensorimotor Psychotherapy: Interventions for Trauma and Attachment, became available in 2015. These books can explain how bodily intelligence may be an untapped resource and can help therapists and clients alike in their journeys toward understanding complex trauma. Each of these books can explain key concepts of sensorimotor therapy and may be great resources if you wish to learn more about this integrative approach.
Who can benefit from sensorimotor psychotherapy?
Clients who aren’t aware of any trauma but have had issues with attachment can also benefit from this treatment. Attachment theory generally says that your interactions and attachment with your caregivers (also known as attachment figures) and any childhood trauma you experienced can affect your relationships in adulthood. An insecure attachment to your caregivers may result in difficulties in attaching to other adults later in life. Trauma and attachment issues are often interlinked, since insecure attachments are often caused by major issues in childhood, such as neglect or abuse*, which can be traumatic. Therefore, clients who believe they have attachment issues may also consider sensorimotor treatment.
Sensorimotor psychotherapy session basics
Therapy sessions can vary and often depend on factors such as the client's ability to process trauma-related memories and the therapist's training. Initially, the therapist usually ensures the client is stable and feels safe before addressing the traumatic history.
The client is generally asked to relate what they recall about the traumatic event and, in particular, what was happening inside their body at the time - shaking, gasping, chills, etc. In addressing the painful memories in such a detailed way, the goal is usually for the client to establish a somatic narrative, which may help them be able to discuss the trauma while becoming acutely aware of their bodily responses.
The client may then begin to work toward resolving the trauma, potentially developing a greater sense of control over how they respond to "triggers." At some point, the client may be guided in performing the type of response they wanted to make but could not in that traumatic moment.
The therapist may first establish the setting as a place of safety, which can leave the client free to focus on their emotions and physical sensations. In the process of stabilization and symptom reduction, the therapist may observe the client to ascertain how their posture and movement show signs of lingering effects of the trauma they endured. The therapist may help the client develop an awareness of these bodily signs and how they can be linked to memories and feelings.
Once the client is ready to speak about the traumatic experience, the therapist can work with them to pinpoint what physical reactions may now be linked to the traumatic memory. This is usually done in a specific fashion, such as determining the exact location of anger or fear in the client's body. During this phase, the therapist may also try to determine the defensive response the client wanted to perform in reaction to the trauma but was not able to, perhaps due to being frozen with fright. Once the client can finish this action, they may experience a sense of triumph and move past the trauma and on with their lives.
Re-integration may be conducted by reading the client's posture to see what light this may shed on how they are coping in their daily lives. For instance, issues such as low self-esteem may have resulted from the traumatic experience, and these can be detected by observing the client's posture. The therapist may then attempt to help the client overcome these problems.
One of the ultimate goals of sensorimotor psychotherapy can be getting clients to the stage where they are able to apply the healing experience to various areas of their everyday life.
Finding a therapist to support you
While in-person therapy may be an excellent option for many people, online therapy is often more affordable and available. It can also be more comfortable for some clients who may feel nervous about visiting a mental health professional in person.
As this study explains, online therapy can be as effective as traditional in-office therapy, and it can be used to treat a variety of mental health conditions, including the effects of trauma.
Sensorimotor psychotherapy is often viewed as a type of complementary and alternative medicine that is frequently employed to help clients who are experiencing physical symptoms due to traumatic experiences. In most cases, a sensorimotor therapist will use a combination of somatic exercises and talk therapy to help clients release trauma that may be trapped in the body. It can be possible to connect with a sensorimotor therapist in person or online.
Frequently asked questions (FAQs)
Below are some commonly asked questions about sensorimotor psychotherapy.
Therefore, sensorimotor approaches to trauma treatment involve somatic interventions and put a primary focus on body awareness. Clients who are trauma survivors are guided to re-experience the trauma in a safe environment and carry out the previously unfulfilled actions of fight or flight. Sensorimotor therapy may also support other mental health conditions that cause physical symptoms, such as anxiety, depression, and eating disorders.
Sensorimotor psychotherapy is an important clinical practice because it provides a more integrative treatment to clients who have experienced trauma. Survivors of trauma often have the traumatic experience trapped in their body which results in physical symptoms as well as mental health concerns. Mental health professionals who utilize sensorimotor psychotherapy aim to heal their clients through a combination of talk therapy and somatic experiences. This helps the clients heal their mind and body, resulting in reduced physical symptoms and improved mental health.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy differs from sensorimotor therapy in its focus and responses to trauma. Sensorimotor therapy focuses on the physical symptoms of trauma, attachment theory, and the mind-body connection in the treatment of trauma. Sensorimotor therapists may have trauma-informed training and use special methods like the Hakomi method to support their clients, offer resources, and ensure growth over time. Cognitive-behavioral therapists may also use trauma-informed techniques, but the scope of CBT is wider and primarily focused on thoughts and behavior instead of physical sensations.
What is the difference between Sensorimotor Psychotherapy and somatic experiencing?
Is Sensorimotor Psychotherapy evidence-based?
Why is sensorimotor psychotherapy helpful for clients who have experienced racial trauma?
What is sensorimotor theory in psychology?
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How do you feel somatic on yourself?
Therapy is a personal experience, and not everyone will go into it seeking the same things. Keeping these things in mind can ensure that you will get the most out of online psychotherapy, regardless of what your specific goals are — or the approach you want to take, which could include sensorimotor therapy. BetterHelp specializes in online therapy to help address all types of mental health, cognitive and emotional challenges and can help you find sensorimotor therapy. If you’re interested in individual psychotherapy or have questions about sensorimotor therapy, please reach out to email@example.com. Find more information on BetterHelp here:
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Why is Sensorimotor Psychotherapy important?
What happens during sensorimotor psychotherapy?
What are sensorimotor exercises?
What are examples of the sensorimotor stage?
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