What Is Somatic Therapy? Definition And Real-Life Examples

By Robert Porter|Updated May 26, 2022
CheckedMedically Reviewed By Debra Halseth, LCSW

Until recently, western medicine treated mind and body separately, contrary to the somatic approach. A new emphasis on the mind-body connection has emerged recently as doctors and therapists make new advances, with somatic therapy being an example. This kind of approach uses a body-centered approach to connect the mind and body. Many online therapists have been practicing somatic therapy with their patients, as well. Let's explore its benefits and definition.

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What Is Somatic Therapy?

The APA definition of somatic experiencing 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 psychotherapy, we’re generally talking about a specific type called somatic experiencing. As a form of body psychotherapy, the aim of somatic experiencing therapy is to get in touch with your body and become aware of suppressed emotions in session.

Autonomic Nervous System

Therapists who use somatic experiencing therapy understand that emotional traumas of all kinds can cause instability in your autonomic nervous system (ANS). Data and scientific research shows that our body's natural response to threats is vital for dangerous situations. Short term, this is positive, but your nervous system can subsequently become stuck in a state of pent up tension, arousal, or shutdown. Needless to say, being in one of these states of tension long-term doesn’t feel the best. If you've experienced trauma, you may feel both the emotional and physical effects of that response. Trauma symptoms 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 trauma caused by a traumatic event (I.E. physical illness, abuse, a car accident, etc) to trauma - or impact - of a mental health condition such as depression.

Balancing Your ANS

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

This approach doesn’t always look the same across physical therapies, however. A wide array of physical somatic therapy techniques can be used in conjunction with standard talk psychotherapy. This also varies in the United States and around the world. Your therapist may specialize in one of these physical sensation techniques, or they may use more than one to suit your specific issue or 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 experiencing may entail, let’s take a look at some common techniques used in this treatment and how they work to heal our emotional health challenges by releasing pent up tension.

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Techniques And Examples

From ancient Eastern counseling practices to recently developed Western techniques, beneficial somatic therapy approaches can be found in nearly every culture. The following list is just a sampling of the techniques that can be used sensorimotor psychotherapy.

  • 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 experience with somatic therapy. Before you start working with a somatic 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 somatic therapy techniques. However, it can also be effective for people experiencing other medical issues, like depression, anxiety, substance use disorder, relationship issues, and other mental health disorders.

Restoring Physical Balance

Somatic therapy can be especially helpful for any disorder that physically or energetically impacts an individual, like digestive disorders. Some somatic therapies help treat specific physical diseases (both inherited and acquired), and it may also help with life-threatening illnesses like cancer, digestive disorders, 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 psychology encompasses a range of mind-body therapies and relies on a 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. It 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 from pain.

Increase Sense Of Self

If you pursue somatic therapy to support your recovery from past trauma and other similar concerns, your therapist 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.

Getting In Tune With Your Body

From a physical perspective, somatic therapy as a treatment option 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 with somatic therapy and, in some cases, that you’re able to be more active and have more regular movement. It can also improve sleep, too.

Understanding Your Body's Responses

Paying attention to your body can be intimidating or even scary for some people. Doing so in a safe, confidential setting can be advantageous for nearly anyone. Many of us learn to turn away from or ignore how our body feels to cope, especially those of us who have encountered trauma or who experience high-stress levels or big emotions. A person's thoughts and feelings are powerful. Talk therapy, broadly speaking, is one of the leading treatments for several different conditions and concerns, and adding somatic therapy practices can enhance the outcome of talk therapy for other medical issues even more.

Integrating Somatic Practices Into Talk Therapy

Talk therapy is an umbrella term of sorts, encompassing a vast majority of client-therapist, client-psychologist, or client-counselor relationships. Talk therapy that integrates somatic practices and physical therapies can help individuals:

  • 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 and physical sensations.
  • Learn relaxation techniques or mind body exercises for self regulation to help reduce tension and cope with stress more effectively.
  • Improve and develop social skills and reduce any isolation that occurred as a result of trauma, physical pain, or illness.
  • Decide how you want to form your life now and make positive steps toward your future. It 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?

Find A Therapist For You

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.

Online Therapy Option

If you are considering somatic therapy, BetterHelp can connect you with a therapist in a flexible format that suits your schedule and life. You can connect with a somatic 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. Regardless of how you find a provider or get a psychology diagnosis, 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."

Do You Want To Learn How Somatic Therapy Works?

Somatic therapy pioneered by research and psychology leaders like Peter Levine, Alexander Lowen, and Pierre Janet can help you regain your health and access the power of your body and mind. With the additional help of a counselor, somatic therapy can help you live a healthy life on every level and enjoy the emotional benefits of overcoming past struggles.

Get started with a licensed mental health professional today.

Conclusion And Parting Thoughts

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

FAQs

What is a somatic approach to therapy?

Somatic psychotherapy services are used to enhance one's relationship between mind, body, brain, and behavior as tool in healing trauma and other mental health issues. These counseling practices are based on the core elements of somatic psychology and harness a therapeutic relationship between mind, body, and the present moment.

Somatic therapy can help people with the way that they navigate and deal with things by improving the relationship between the mind, feelings, experiences, thoughts, and exploring the connection between the experience and themselves. There are many health benefits for many people with this form of therapy for many people and can improve the quality of life for someone in something or many things or one person in many aspects.

What is an example of somatic intervention?

Somatic intervention and trauma therapy might include mindfulness or meditation practices, family sculpting, mind body exercises, or use of safe touch and other forms of physical contact on clients' bodies by the therapist. Movement such as yoga or physical sensations from massage can also be used to treat chronic pain and improve body awareness as it relates to the healing process of mental health issues and trauma symptoms.

What does a somatic therapist do?

Therapists training in somatic therapy and somatic psychology use interventions to help calm nervous system and create more ease in the healing process of trauma therapy. These specific interventions help effectively address the emotional health challenges happening in a person's mind in a way that combines mindfulness and bodily sensations.

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