What Is Somatic Therapy And How Does It Work?
Updated May 12, 2020
Reviewer Debra Halseth, LCSW
Until quite recently, most Western medical practices have treated the mind and body separately. However, there's been a new emphasis on the mind-body connection in the last few decades as doctors become more aware of the psychological aspects of physical illnesses. More therapists are learning to use somatic therapy to address mental health issues, too. If you're considering seeking treatment for emotional problems, it's a good time to learn about somatic therapy and how it can help you improve your mental health.
What Is Somatic Therapy?
Somatic simply means "having to do with the body." Therefore, a somatic therapy of any kind is one that works directly with the body. As a form of psychotherapy, somatic therapy is a way of affecting emotional change via the body. Talk therapy can be combined with mind-body exercises to treat PTSD and other mental health issues holistically.
Somatic therapy theorizes that traumas from the past cause instability in the autonomic nervous system (ANS). Our body's natural response to a threat is extremely helpful for immediately dangerous experiences, but the nervous system can become stuck in a state of tension, arousal, or shutdown. If you've experienced trauma, you may feel both the emotional and physical effects of that instability.
Therapists can use somatic therapy to get your ANS back into balance. Somatic therapy isn't just one type of therapy though. A wide array of physical techniques can be used to create positive changes in the body and mind. Your therapist may specialize in one of these techniques, or they may use more than one to suit your specific needs.
It's important to understand that many people rely on therapy to help themselves heal. Many people go through trying times, and this trauma can lead to various issues. If you're going through problems that have put you in a difficult position, then understand that you're not alone. Somatic therapy might be a good solution to help you to overcome what is happening in your life.
Struggling with problems like these isn't unusual at all. You shouldn't hesitate to reach out to a therapist if you're in need of support, and somatic therapy might be a good solution for you to consider. Let's take a look at some of the different types of somatic therapy, so you can better understand how it works.
Types of Somatic Therapy
Somatic therapy takes many forms. From ancient Eastern practices to recently developed Western techniques, beneficial somatic therapies can be found in nearly every culture. The following list is just a sampling of the many somatic therapies available.
- Postural integration
- Sensory awareness
- Body-mind centering
- Kinetic awareness
- Martial arts
- Polarity therapy
- Trigger point therapy
- Somatic experiencing
- Meditation in movement
- Neurosomatic therapy
- Somatic gene therapy
Often, somatic therapy is used to help people who have experienced trauma or abuse. People with PTSD in particular can benefit from these types of techniques. However, somatic therapy can also be used effectively for people suffering from depression, anxiety, addictions, relationship issues, and other mental health disorders. It's especially helpful for any disorder that effects people physically or energetically. For example, people who are bothered by unexplained pain often get relief from somatic therapy. Some somatic therapies are helpful for treating specific physical diseases (both inherited or acquired). These therapies may also help with life-threatening illnesses like cancer and cystic fibrosis.
Benefits of Somatic Therapy
Somatic therapy is considered to be a mind-body therapy because it relies on the connection between mental and physical processes. After all, your mind works with your body and your body works with your mind to make you who you are and to create the physical and emotional pain you experience. From that perspective, somatic therapy makes sense, but how can you benefit from it?
If you pursue somatic therapy to heal trauma, your counselor will help you reframe your traumatic experiences, so you can overcome their negative effects on your mind and body. You can also learn to have a greater and more positive sense of self. Your self-confidence increases, too, as you reduce or stop worrying, gain a sense of hopefulness, increase your personal power, improve your ability to concentrate, and become calmer and more resilient to stress. From a physical perspective, you may find you become more active. Your pain and discomfort can diminish dramatically as well.
As mentioned before, some somatic therapies can help you manage chronic physical pain or treat life-threatening diseases. A more recent development, somatic gene therapy is a way of inserting normal genes into the body where abnormal genes are causing disease. This therapy is expected to become much more common in the next few years.
Below are different types of somatic therapies.
Neurosomatic therapy (NST) helps people whose pain, tension, and other symptoms exist closer to the physical end of the mind-body spectrum. NST addresses problems in the nervous system, the skeletal system, and the soft tissues. This therapy identifies the underlying sources of physical pain and tension, and it's often used at pain management centers to help people deal with chronic or unexplained pain. The primary techniques used in neurosomatic therapy are massage, posture work, and exercises to correct imbalance.
Somatic Gene Therapy
Somatic gene therapy is one of the ways doctors can help your body fight cancer. It can also be used for diseases that you inherited from your family or diseases that you've acquired since birth. What distinguishes somatic gene therapy from other types of gene therapy is that, instead of using reproductive cells, genes bearing information about health are inserted into the cells in your body. This prevents new genetic material from entering your reproductive system, so any children you have will still be your children in every way. It also allows doctors to target specific cells that are causing damage, such as tumors, or specific types of cells that are weakening or dying off, as in the case of degenerative diseases.
Somatic Experiencing Therapy
Somatic experiencing therapy is a body-first type of therapy that starts by addressing the body's reactions to trauma-induced stress. Depending on the therapist you choose and the techniques they employ, you may not talk about your traumatic experiences aside from your physical sensations during the event and the physical symptoms that still bother you. To the somatic therapist, the body memory is far more important you're your thoughts about the traumatic memory.
While you talk, the therapist observes your reactions and asks you what you're feeling. Then, you may be asked to move in a way that triggers a specific negative reaction. As you slowly activate it, you can identify the sensations you're having right before that physical reaction. Somatic experiencing allows you to release or discharge the energy buildup safely, so you can gradually remove the trigger over time. This can be done in several ways, including titration and pendulation.
In titration, your therapist takes you through a traumatic memory. They instruct you to notice the changes in your body that appear while you describe the traumatic event or situation in detail. If you have any physical symptoms, your therapist helps you address them fully when they occur.
In pendulation, your therapist guides you from a state of relaxed homeostasis to a state of unstable arousal that's similar to what you experienced during the traumatic experience. Then, they help you regain homeostasis. They will repeat this process several times, allowing you to discharge the energy you've been holding since the traumatic event occurred. While the energy is being discharged, you may feel anxious, uncomfortable, or nauseous. However, your somatic therapist will help you return to a state of calm over and over again. As you do this work, you will learn how to come back to that relaxed state on your own.
Talk Therapy Combined with Somatic Therapy
In conjunction with somatic therapy, psychotherapy can help you deal with trauma, pain, or changes in your physical health. Specifically, talk therapy can help you to:
- learn to embrace life again after recovering from a disease caused by genetics.
- gain a better perspective on mental health and relationship issues that came up due to your illness.
- learn relaxation techniques to help reduce tension and cope with stress more effectively.
- improve social skills and reduce any isolation that occurred because of your trauma, pain, or illness.
- decide how you want to live now and make positive steps toward your future.
You can talk to a licensed therapist to work through traumatic reactions, pain, discomfort, and disease without even leaving the comfort of your home. Counselors are available at BetterHelp.com wherever and whenever you want to begin. Online therapy is a convenient way to get the support you need while you heal. Until you deal with the physical and emotional effects of trauma or disease, you can't heal your body completely. Reach out to an online counselor today. Read the reviews below to learn more about BetterHelp counselors, from people experiencing a range of issues and life challenges.
"It's been so easy to open up to Bradley. He's so cheery and encouraging! He makes me look forward to our sessions, and I've always felt lighter after. I can't thank him enough for being a constant friend through my depression."
"Dr. Mohammed is a very good therapist to work with. She gets me to think and to challenge my core negative beliefs with more positive beliefs in ways that are easy to do. She is a caring therapist who makes me feel validated and is helping me to see my worth as a human being. I highly recommend Dr. Mohammed to anyone seeking therapy especially for past traumas."
A somatic therapist can help you regain your health and access the power of your body and mind. With the help of a counselor, you can live a healthy life on every level and enjoy the emotional benefits of overcoming many kinds of suffering. Soon, you can be on your way to a happier, calmer, freer, and more satisfying life. Take the first step today.