Somatic therapy is a form of body-centered therapy that helps people release stress, tension, and trauma from one’s bodies. It focuses on one’s body and bodily manifestations of any mental health concerns one is living with. Somatic therapy looks at the mind-body connection and integrates psychotherapy and physical modalities to form a holistic approach to emotional healing. Somatic therapy allows one to connect with the body when accessing feelings and thoughts in therapy. Some somatic therapies involve body-focused techniques such as dance, breathwork, and meditation. Such physical techniques help release blockages or pent-up physical and emotional pains that may have negatively affected one’s well-being.
Somatic therapies can be useful for chronic pain, digestive issues, stress, anxiety, depression, trauma, sexual functioning, addiction, and grief. In a somatic therapy session, the practitioner helps the patient attune to any physical reactions that arise in the body once the emotion and memory are retrieved. It is common for practitioners to advise engaging in additional somatic exercises that can stimulate body-mind healing.
Physical awareness is the cornerstone of somatic therapy. When uncovering negative feelings or traumatic experiences, a patient may be confronted with questions from the practitioner that allow for integration of the “body” in mind-body healing. For example, if the patient is angry, the practitioner may ask, “What is your body doing to show its anger? Is it an increase in your heart rate? Or are you feeling hot in certain places in your body? What places in your body do you feel this heat?” The practitioner will then guide the patient through a mind-body connective to focus on bodily sensations. In this, the patient and the practitioner will observe and work through gestures and postures that could have been made instead. So, instead of altering thoughts and teaching new thinking pathways, somatic therapists help patients alter physical states and new pathways for feeling in the body when certain emotions or thoughts arise.
Centering is an important somatic technique where patients can bring themselves back to the body when activated. Think of the body as an anchor. When the mind becomes ‘loud,’ a patient can develop a sense of awareness in the body and use the body as a calm home base. This home base can be strengthened through awareness in the breath, mood, and muscle tension. Once patients have reduced their physical sensations, they can then attune to the here and now.
Somatic therapies emphasize helping people develop resources within their bodies so they can manage their emotions or reactivity in a better way moving forward. Using somatic therapy techniques, a patient may be able to release building tensions, anger, stress, or other negative feelings that may linger in the body. It is only through the ability to become aware of the mind-body connection that one can move through these painful experiences. The ultimate goal of somatic therapy is to help one become more aware of their mind-body connection and move through whatever obstacles prevent them from living life in a way that feels right for them.
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Dr. Easton Gaines is a licensed Psychologist practicing at MindCare Psychology in Manhattan. She’s passionate about integrating mindfulness, neuroscience, and wellness approaches to help build a meaningful life. You can contact Dr.Gaines from her MyWellbeing profile or directly through her website here.