Somatic Therapy is the act of exploring the connection between mind and body, the power that mental distress has over physical well-being and how we can harness this connection for healing.
What is Somatic Therapy?
Somatic Therapy refers to therapy that accesses the knowledge or genius of the body in terms of healing the psyche, the emotions, and the mind. It is the relationship between the mind and body in regard to one’s psychological past. The theory behind somatic therapy is that trauma symptoms are the effects of instability of the ANS (autonomic nervous system).
We hear a lot about the mind, body, spirit, emotional connection and a holistic view of human experience. A client will come in with a somatic complaint like a heaviness in their chest, burning sensation in their throat, a tightness in their stomach, or butterflies in their stomach. I see these complaints as language or clues as to what’s happening with the person either emotionally, physically or cognitively.
Somatic therapy works by using the mind-body connection and sensations that each body possesses, and becoming familiar and intimate with those aspects of the body. You gather information to head down therapeutic paths as a way to get in touch with the unconscious and clear emotional and cognitive problems or issues.
How do use it in Practice, and How is it Combined with Other Therapies?
I use somatic therapy in conjunction with the other therapies. Most often, somatic therapy, when used with EMDR, allows us to find the most potent and effective source of trauma, or negative feelings and give them relief. When I'm helping a client to release their anxiety, or trace back and release their trauma, often times they have forgotten negative memories or bad feelings and their conscious mind cannot identify the exact target or historical negative event that has led them to this state. So I'll often use somatic therapy in conjunction with the EMDR.
Another good method of somatic therapy is getting in touch with your body through your breathing, similar to yogic breathing. If someone is having a lot of emotional or mental distress which historically would overwhelm them or cause them to disassociate, one of the ways that I help keep people “in their body” is by focusing on their breath, such as in Mindfulness Therapy, and doing the EMDR. This helps people who have not been able to tolerate feelings learn to accept, and deal with them. While the client breathes slowly and deeply, I do a scan from head to toe to see where they are feeling some sort of either disturbance in their body, a tightness or some sensation like a heat, pain, constriction or tension. Then I have the person basically commune with that part of the body.
First, having them breathe into it, put their attention into it. Often I'll use language which helps them engage their natural inner genius. This is where their natural ability to heal themselves exists. This gives them more access to their unconscious. By tracing it back in time and allowing a disturbing memory to surface, the key pivotal negative traumatic memory arises as well. That is the client’s inner genius. The inner genius is the ability to know on a deep level what you need. Accessing the inner genius is done by meditated breathing and being present with your body. This how somatic therapy help with one’s emotional therapy.
If you actually find a very potent target you could have an amazing sense of relief in every session. Even though clients are there for emotional and cognitive relief, we often find that somatic therapy eases physical symptoms like aches and pains. Physical and sports related injuries tend to heal up and give relief. Chronic physical illnesses that are associated with tension, anxiety and other emotional sources, tend to improve when you use somatic therapy as well.
I like to think of pain in the body as our body’s way of communicating with us. When a person feels pain, the body is screaming at them, sending an important message. With somatic therapy, I help clients connect with their breathing, so they can deeply listen to what their body is trying to tell them. If someone goes into an internal meditation, the body may tell them not to worry, everything will be fine; or you are pushing too hard and need to rest. Any tightness, injury or illness to the body can be communicated with you through this meditation technique. In a seemingly miraculous way, we find that the physical pain goes away, as well as emotional distress. Traumatic memories no longer feel disturbing.
Somatic therapy will use the body as a source of information, almost an inner voice or being, that will speak to a client and help them identify and resolve issues.
What are some examples of this in practice?
Often, without even realizing it, we can identify the physical ailments that are associated with our mental ailments. We intuitively know that ‘butterflies in the stomach’ is a sign of anxiety or the cold pinch at the base of our neck is the body fearing something, even if unseen or unknown. But sometimes our body reacts in unfamiliar ways and we don’t yet have the association between the mental and the physical explicitly explored.
You may find the anxiety about work that you’re feeling manifests itself deeply in the pain you feel in your shoulders, or the tightness in your chest. By exploring your inner genius and examining each part of your body, you can begin to let your body disassociate the physical from the mental and allow for healing to begin.