What is somatic psychotherapy?
Somatic psychotherapy is a body-centered approach to healing, concerned with the relationship between the mind and body in relation to past experiences.
To help people heal from trauma, somatic psychotherapy incorporates the narrative aspect of therapy with observing body movements. By becoming more aware of the body and its response to past trauma, individuals learn to sense and disrupt habitual patterns, release emotions, and move on.
Read on for more information about somatic psychotherapy, what it’s like, and tips for finding a therapist.
What can somatic psychotherapy help with?
Somatic psychotherapists believe that the approach can help address emotional issues that may not be evident in traditional talk therapy, because they are held physically in the body.
Somatic psychotherapy tends to be used most often with people seeking healing from trauma. This might include the following kinds of experiences:
- Physical, psychological, or sexual trauma or abuse
- Grief and loss
- Witnessing violence or death
- Other forms of child maltreatment or traumatic loss
- Natural disasters
Does somatic psychotherapy work?
There is only limited research into the efficacy of somatic psychotherapy at present. Early research suggests that somatic psychotherapies such as Somatic Experiencing show promise for the treatment of PTSD (1).
Further research is required before any firm conclusions can be made about how effective a treatment it is.
How does somatic therapy work?
The connection between the mind and body is essential to the therapeutic process in this approach.
Somatic therapy is based on the idea that trauma disrupts the functioning of the nervous system. As such, past traumas are believed to be stored and re-experienced physically in the body. This might be evident in a person’s posture, movements, and body language. Or, in the experience of physical symptoms like digestive issues or pain.
Somatic psychotherapy aims to release these trauma memories that are physically stored in the body, and therefore help release stored emotions. Various physical techniques such as breathing or relaxation exercises are used to this end.
Length and frequency of somatic psychotherapy sessions
Unlike some other therapy types, somatic psychotherapy does not follow a set protocol or structure, meaning that session frequency and length of therapy depends on individual circumstances. You and your therapist can decide together on the right time to finish therapy.
What happens in a typical somatic psychotherapy session
Somatic psychotherapy sessions are typically focused on achieving awareness and release of the physical aspects associated with past trauma. The therapist helps you to track and explore your bodily experience and sensations as they arise throughout the session.
Session content varies as there are different types of somatic-based therapy. Some of the more well-known types are:
The therapist might help guide you through memories associated with past trauma, observing and increasing awareness of how your body reacts. To release these physical aspects of trauma, sessions are likely to involve your active participation in activities, such as:
- Breathing exercises
- Physical exercises
- With your permission, touch
- Voice work
Learning these techniques helps to release tension in the body. The release achieved through this work is thought to have a positive impact on mental wellbeing as well, as this therapy operates on the idea that the mind and body are closely interrelated.
What to look for in a therapist for somatic psychotherapy
There are several factors to keep in mind when selecting a therapist, including:
Look for a therapist who has experience treating people in a body-centered modality, and specialized training in the particular somatic psychotherapy you are interested in.
Therapists often include this information in their biography on their website or online profile.
With so many different provider types available, it can be difficult to decide which type of mental health professional to see. The most important thing is to look for a currently licensed therapist. This ensures that your therapist has completed the appropriate level of education to practice. All therapists on Zencare have already been vetted.
The trusting relationship between you and your therapist, known as the “therapeutic alliance” can have a huge impact on the efficacy of therapy. People who have experienced trauma may feel unsafe and see the world as a more dangerous place. It’s important to work with someone you trust and feel understood by.
The best way to judge how you might feel about a therapist is to ask for a preliminary phone call. This also allows you to ask about their training, experience, and what therapy will be like. Try to speak to a few different therapists before deciding.
Find therapists specializing in somatic psychotherapy
Find therapists who specialize in somatic psychotherapy on Zencare. Search by insurance, fees, and location; watch therapist introductory videos; and book free initial calls to find the right therapist for you!
Sources and references
- (1) Brom, D., et al., 2017, “Somatic Experiencing for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder: A Randomized Controlled Outcome Study”. Accessed online March 2020 at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5518443/
- Somatic Experiencing Association UK, https://www.seauk.org.uk
- The Ranch Treatment Centers, “Somatic Experiencing Therapy Releases Stored Emotions for Victims of Trauma”, available at https://www.recoveryranch.com/addiction-blog/somatic-experiencing-therapy/