You might benefit from somatic therapy if…
You feel so nervous before a presentation that your stomach is churning…
You are so happy to see someone at the airport that you jump up and down when they exit the doors into baggage claim…
You are so angry that your jaw aches from clenching it…
These are all examples of somatic responses.
A somatic response is a complex interaction between your emotions and your nervous system where your emotions have become physically manifested in your body.
Somatic therapy works to tap into this mind-body connection to support health and healing by moving emotions through the body instead of allowing them to get trapped in negative patterns and control the nervous system like in some cases of chronic pain or panic disorders.
Somatic therapy comes from the Greek word for body: soma. It is a therapy that considers how emotions and trauma manifest or get stored in the body. Talk therapies like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, or Psychoanalysis train our minds to rest on other thought patterns and behaviors. We refer to these types of therapy as top-to-bottom therapies because they start engaging the frontal lobes of the brain and the effect travels down through the amygdala and hippocampus in the cerebellum. Somatic therapies are bottom-to-top techniques that start at the base of the brain and work their way to the top.
First, they engage our basic functions like our nervous system, and physical movement and then affect our cognitive function.
Some examples of somatic therapies are EFT tapping, movement, dance, meditation, and breathing techniques. Acupuncture, massage therapy, and yoga can all function as somatic therapy–even your daily jog or trip to the gym!
So, what does somatic look like in practice? Well, it is different depending on the clinician or practitioner.
In my office, somatic informed therapy may look like this: I start by leading the client in a centering technique. This could be a short breathing exercise or guided meditation to help the client separate therapy from the rest of their day. Next, we might do a body-mapping exercise where we bring attention to each body part and notice and discuss any different sensations resting there.
Depending on what arises, we will continue through the session led by this information.
For example, a client may feel that their throat is tight, pain or heaviness in their neck and shoulders and that they can’t take a full breath. Imagine that the client shared that they are carrying the stress of their mother not respecting their boundaries. To support the client in releasing the emotions in the body we might do some simple stretching accompanied by deep breathing.
Then we will find a movement pattern to transmute the energy and build a sensation of strength and space in the body. This might look like lifting the hands and staying stop! Or pushing the unwanted energy away. The client will then practice this movement pattern along with some appropriate phrases.
Hopefully, the client chooses to use this new movement/emotional/cognitive pattern in their next interaction with their mother. The body’s memory of the strength and space created in therapy will come back in real life because the client has integrated a new pattern of movement into their nervous system.
Some of the benefits of somatic therapy include…
- Release of muscle pain and tension which reduces overall feelings of stress.
- Improved breath patterns.
- Spending more time in the “rest and digest” parasympathetic nervous system and less time in “fight” or “flight” sympathetic nervous system.
- Release of stored trauma patterns in the body.
- Rewiring the brain to process and release emotions instead of harboring them in the body.
- Improved physical fitness
- A new set of tools to add to your well-being toolkit that helps you navigate life more easily.
I’d love to help you learn how somatic therapy can help you re-calibrate and get your mental health and your body, back to good. We’ve got you!
This article was contributed by:
Anna is currently seeing adult women & LGBTQ+ members ages 18 and up, in-person & virtually to residents of Maryland.