What Is Somatic Therapy? Definition & Types

Updated November 09, 2021
Medically Reviewed By: Debra Halseth, LCSW

Until recently, western medicine treated the mind and body separately. However, recent decades have brought a new emphasis on the mind-body connection as doctors become more aware of its importance, with somatic therapy being an example. Somatic therapy works to connect the body and the mind through body-centered psychotherapy. 

Do You Want To Learn How Somatic Therapy Works?

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Somatic Therapy

The APA definition of somatic therapy is “the treatment of mental disorders by physical methods that directly influence the body, such as the administration of drugs (pharmacotherapy) or the application of a controlled, low-dose electric current (electroconvulsive therapy).”

When we talk about somatic therapy as a form of talk therapy, we’re generally talking about a specific type of somatic therapy called somatic experiencing. As a form of psychotherapy, the aim of somatic experiencing is to get in touch with the body and work through suppressed emotions.

Therapists who use somatic experiencing understand that emotional traumas of all kinds can cause instability in the autonomic nervous system (ANS). Our body's natural response to threats is vital for dangerous situations. Short term, this is positive, but the nervous system can subsequently become stuck in a state of tension, arousal, or shutdown. Needless to say, being in one of these states long-term doesn’t feel the best. If you've experienced trauma, you may feel both the emotional and physical effects of that response. This may manifest in body aches, headaches, nausea, and other symptoms. Note that the term “trauma” is used vastly in this context and can range from the trauma caused by a traumatic event (I.E. physical illness, abuse, a car accident, etc) to the trauma - or impact - of a mental health condition such as depression.

Therapists can use somatic therapy to get your ANS back into balance. Many people notice that, with therapy, both physical and emotional or psychological symptoms of disorders such as depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) improve.

Somatic therapy doesn’t always look the same, however. A wide array of physical techniques can be used in conjunction with standard talk therapy. Your therapist may specialize in one of these techniques, or they may use more than one to suit your specific needs.

The healing journey will vary from person to person. We all go through rough patches, and they all have the potential to impact us in various ways. To better express what somatic therapy or somatic experiencing may entail, let’s take a look at some of the common techniques used in somatic therapy and how they work.

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Techniques

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 techniques that can be used in somatic therapy.

  • Breathing exercises
  • Vocal work
  • Sensory awareness
  • Body-mind centering
  • Dance
  • Kinetic awareness
  • Martial arts
  • Ayurveda
  • Yoga
  • Massage
  • Postural integration
  • Reiki massage
  • Acupressure
  • Meditation

It’s important to note that you’re in control of your therapeutic experience. Before you start working with a therapist, you can speak with them about what techniques and approaches they like to use to see if you’re a good fit. As for how these techniques work, they all have one thing in common, which is that they require you to connect with your body.

Applications

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 effective for people experiencing depression, anxiety, substance use disorder, relationship issues, and other mental health disorders. Somatic therapy can be especially helpful for any disorder that physically or energetically impacts an individual. Some somatic therapies help treat specific physical diseases (both inherited and acquired), and they may also help with life-threatening illnesses like cancer and cystic fibrosis. Remember that what’s considered somatic therapy is vast and that somatic experiencing is likely what you’re looking for if you’re seeking a somatic or body approach to talk therapy.

Benefits

Somatic therapy encompasses a range of mind-body therapies and relies on the connection between mental and physical processes.  If you look at the signs and symptoms of mental health conditions such as PTSD or depression, you’ll notice that they include physical symptoms. Somatic therapy can help you get in touch with and address physical symptoms you may or may not have even noticed in the past as well as where those symptoms are coming from and the emotions or distress that may show up along the side, allowing you to feel emotional, psychological, and physical relief.

If you pursue somatic therapy to support your recovery from past trauma and other similar concerns, your counselor will help you reframe your traumatic experiences and build distress tolerance so that 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 may grow as you reduce your worrying, gain a sense of hope, improve your ability to concentrate, and become calmer and more resilient to stress. From a physical perspective, somatic therapy helps you get in tune with your body and where your feelings show up in your body. You may find that your physical pain or discomfort decreases and, in some cases, that you’re able to be more active. Somatic therapy can improve sleep, too.

Getting in touch with your body can be intimidating or even scary for some people. Doing so in a safe, confidential setting such as therapy can be advantageous for nearly anyone. Many of us learn to turn away from or ignore the way our body feels to cope, especially those of us who have encountered trauma or who experience high-stress levels. Talk therapy, broadly speaking, is one of the leading treatments for several different conditions and concerns, and adding somatic practices can enhance the outcome of talk therapy even more.

Why Integrate Somatic Practices Into Talk Therapy?

Talk therapy is an umbrella term of sorts, encompassing the vast majority of client-therapist, client-psychologist, or client-counselor relationships. Talk therapy that integrates somatic practices can help you:

  • Learn to embrace life again or improve your quality of life during or after recovery from or management of a physical illness or trauma.
  • Gain a better perspective on one’s emotional, psychological, and social health as well as how these things connect with the physical body.
  • Learn relaxation techniques to help reduce tension and cope with stress more effectively.
  • Improve social skills and reduce any isolation that occurred as a result of trauma, pain, or illness.
  • Decide how you want to live now and make positive steps toward your future. Therapy can help you move through any roadblocks you might have and move forward with more clarity, skills, and confidence. As the saying goes, today is the first day of the rest of your life!

Do You Want To Learn How Somatic Therapy Works?

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Find A Therapist

There are several different ways to find a therapist who meets your needs. You can search the web, ask your doctor for a referral, contact your insurance company to see who they cover, or sign up for a reputable online therapy platform with licensed providers like BetterHelp.  If you are considering therapy, BetterHelp can connect you with a mental health professional in a flexible format that suits your schedule and life. You can connect with a therapist via video chat, phone call, or even through messaging. Your sessions will remain confidential, and a bonus of online therapy is that it’s often more affordable than traditional in-person counseling or therapy is without insurance. Regardless of how you find a provider, you deserve quality care, so don’t hesitate to take the first step and reach out or sign up today.

BetterHelp Therapist Reviews

If you're searching for a therapist who you can trust, who will listen without judgment, and who can even make you laugh, then look no further! Dr. Clifton is all of that and more. He's kind-hearted, intelligent, open-minded, and the best therapist I've ever encountered. He helped me through some pretty heavy PTSD and in my time working with him I feel like I have control over my life again. Just be prepared to put in the work, but trust me when I say his assignments are not without thought or reason. I finally feel able to conquer whatever life throws at me, all because of Dr. Clifton. 

"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 additional help of a counselor, you can live a healthy life on every level and enjoy the emotional benefits of overcoming past struggles. Get started today.

Conclusion

Whether you’re facing the impact of trauma, a mental health condition, a physical health condition, life stress, or something else that’s on your mind, therapy can help. Therapies such as somatic experiencing have been proven effective in reducing symptoms of trauma, pain, depression, and other concerns. By incorporating somatic practices into your therapeutic experience, you can treat your whole self and find holistic healing.  There are many different forms of therapy out there, and you deserve to find the approach that works for you.

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