Traumatic events have an adverse effect on people and often take years to process. Symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder have been known to manifest for months or even years after the initial traumatic event. Some of the ways that unprocessed trauma manifests include;
Flashbacks and nightmares
The concept of treating the mind and body connection has been practiced for many years in Eastern medicine and philosophies. However, traditional western psychotherapy techniques have often focused on treating the mind and the body separately.
Mental health issues often manifest through physical symptoms; therefore, there is a need to heal both the mind and the body at the same time. That is why we need to consider new approaches like Somatic psychotherapy.
In this article, we will explore the concept of Somatic trauma therapy by focusing on the areas below;
What is Somatic trauma therapy
How Somatic therapy works
Types of somatic therapies
Somatic therapy approaches
Criticism of Somatic Therapy
Starting your somatic therapy session
What Is Somatic Trauma Therapy
Somatic therapy, created by Peter Levine, is a therapeutic approach centered on the mind-body connection to help treat physical pain and psychological symptoms of selected mental health conditions. It is gaining popularity as a mind and body treatment for trauma, grief, anxiety, and depression that makes the body the foundation point of healing the mind.
How Somatic Therapy Works
Somatic therapy focuses on helping a person develop new thinking patterns and behaviors aimed at assisting them to respond better to experiences and emotions. The treatment helps clients channel their attention to their bodies through focus and mindfulness. It also helps you recognize the various sensations brought on by trauma and deal with them effectively.
Somatic therapists utilize various techniques to help clients release pent-up tension in their bodies. Some of the methods that the clients are taught include;
Somatic therapy can help treat post-traumatic stress disorder and physical discomfort in patients. It is effective in treating posttraumatic stress disorder because it considers the condition a syndrome rather than a disorder with multiple traits that stem from a single stressor.
Treatment aims to teach the client to release the physical tension associated with the initial trauma. Somatic therapy relieves physical pain by helping the clients understand their pain and be aware of the movement that alleviates or brings relief. Scientific research has proven the effectiveness of Somatic therapy in helping patients let go of pent-up trauma. A study found that Somatic therapy helped reduce severe post-traumatic and depression-related symptoms in patients over 15 weeks. Another study carried out on Tsunami survivors treated using Somatic therapy indicated significant improvement in the post-traumatic symptoms of the survivors after eight months.
Steps in the Somatic Healing Process
A typical somatic healing process will often involve the steps outlined below.
The therapist will educate the client on somatic strategies designed to cope with past traumatic events and memories.
In a controlled environment, the therapist gently introduces material related to the client’s trauma.
The therapist will lead the client in guided visualization exercises to help identify the physical trigger points associated with the traumatic event.
The therapist will take note of changes in body movement and ask the client to report the body sensation they may be experiencing, which promotes body awareness.
The therapist will alternate between addressing the trauma and guiding the client toward stabilizing or safe support.
Types of Somatic Therapy
Somatic Experiencing is one of the most popular and well-known types of bodily therapy to treat the body’s reaction to trauma. Somatic Experiencing often uses talk therapy that involves explicit descriptions of the physical sensations, traumatic events, or the use of movement to describe the traumatic event.
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy is used to help clients remember past trauma in small doses while focusing on external stimuli such as hand movement, sound, and eye movement desensitization.
Sensorimotor psychotherapy helps clients reimagine the traumatic events and introduce a different ending to the event scenario or complete any unfinished actions. The therapy technique is aimed at helping the clients get a sense of closure and relieve tension stemming from a freeze response reaction from the trauma event.
Hakomi is centered around helping clients master mindfulness, where they can accept the present moment without it triggering a negative mental reaction. It aims to assist clients in processing mental triggers and helps release trauma.
Neurosomatic therapy is aimed at helping clients identify the source of their stressors in their nervous system, skeletal system, and soft tissues by use of techniques such as massage, posture work, and specific exercises.
Resourcing is a powerful approach that helps clients strengthen their sense of safety and stability. The therapist will guide the client to identify people, relationships, and experiences where they felt most safe in their past. The events can also be imagined and channeled any time the client is overwhelmed by the healing work, as they serve as a point of replenishing safe energy.
Postures, movements, and gestures are natural ways for the body to connect to others and feel deeply. Our movements communicate what we think of ourselves and the people around us and can indicate our past experiences. A somatic therapist will often use movement to help the client identify how past experiences show up in their movement and teach them how to access, process and release the associated trauma.
Somatic therapy is based on healing the body and mind from a cellular level; therefore, teaching the clients how to increase awareness of their body is an integral part of Somatic therapy success. Therapists help clients identify areas of pain and tension in their physical body as well as identify thoughts and feelings that bring about a sense of calmness and safety.
Co-regulation and Self-regulation
Emotional regulation is an important aspect of promoting mental healing in trauma patients. In Somatic therapy, patients are taught how to co-regulate with someone else. Ideally, this person feels safe and warm to the client and can help them calm down in times of distress. Self-regulation is where clients are taught to develop vital tools to assist themselves when dealing with extreme emotions.
The two techniques work best when used together, and clients who have mastered the methods end up living more fulfilled lives.
Titration and Pendulation
Somatic therapists use the titration technique to help clients experience small levels of stress while giving the mind time to release tension from the body. Success is often achieved through incorporating pendulation, where the client alternates between focusing on stressful events and calming events or persons they perceive as safe.
An example of this could be when you process a traumatic event from the past and integrate a trusted resource to help reassure and calm you; combining the two helps create a balanced pace for managing traumatic memories.
Sequencing is a natural response of the body aimed at relieving built-up tension. Typical events associated with sequencing could include tightness in your head, legs, or hands or in your belly that leads to tightness in your chest. You can often feel the pressure leaving your body; most of the time, it culminates in sighing deeply or crying.
Somatic therapy encourages sequences and is focused on helping clients allow their bodies to release tension in a natural way that promotes healing.
Clients are taught to set boundaries from a Somatic therapy standpoint. Besides saying no, which is the standard way of setting boundaries, clients are prepared to set limits nonverbally based on their expressions and body movement. Learning to set boundaries is part of helping them develop safety and confidence in their daily interactions.
Act of Triumph
Somatic therapy is based on the belief that the body is often trapped in a freeze response after a traumatic event, which manifests through depression, panic, and intrusive thoughts. During therapy, the client is frequently asked to reimagine the traumatic event as a time when they could escape the incident or had the person that brings a sense of safety present. The act of triumph is aimed at helping the body release the pent-up tension about the event without talking about it.
Criticism of Somatic Therapy
Somatic therapy has been widely praised for showing positive results in trauma victims, particularly PTSD patients. However, a section of experts argues that the use of touch may be triggering to victims of sexual abuse and might bring about negative emotions, making it less effective as a therapy tool for that group of patients.
There is also the fear that using touch therapy may rouse intense emotions, leading to transference and countertransference issues between the patient and their therapist.
Starting Your Somatic Therapy Sessions
If you are considering Somatic therapy, it is important to look for a licensed professional counselor trained in Somatic therapy techniques. Certified Experiencing Practitioners (CEP) have specialized training in Somatic Experiencing (SE) and are ideal for anyone considering Somatic Experiencing therapy. You can find the therapist by contacting your insurance provider, asking your doctor for a referral, or conducting a simple internet search.
Remember, Somatic therapy involves touching and reliving deeply traumatic events that may make you feel vulnerable; therefore, ensure that you are comfortable with the therapist you choose. You should also ensure you have all the information about what to expect during therapy sessions.
During your first or subsequent appointments with your somatic therapist, you should expect it to involve information gathering and building a comfortable rapport with them. You will only begin processing the past traumatic events immediately if you are undergoing an active crisis. The therapist will also use this time to create a comprehensive treatment plan that they will share with you so that you know the length and intensity of the therapy sessions you will undergo.
Healing trauma often involves a gentle approach toward the traumatic event(s) that may not immediately explore the actual event. Still, it might revolve around talking about what was happening around the time of the event.
The pace of the sessions will be determined by the client’s comfort level, as Somatic therapy is designed to be a gentle exploration of the client’s traumatic experiences.
Is Somatic Trauma Therapy for You
Somatic therapy is a wide area of trauma therapy that allows clients to explore a wide range of treatment interventions, all aimed at bringing awareness of bodily sensations, improving stress response, and healing the mind. This therapy is effective at treating PTSD symptoms and is quite effective at helping patients deal with emotional and physical issues such as sexual dysfunction, digestive problems, hormonal issues, and chronic pain.
If you or a loved one are dealing with the effects of a past traumatic event and need professional help to navigate it, you might benefit from Somatic trauma therapy.
Reach out to us, and we will connect you with one of our certified somatic therapists who will walk you through your healing journey to live a more fulfilled and wholesome life.