What is Somatic Therapy (and How it Can Help You)

Blog Mind What is Somatic Therapy (and How it Can Help You)

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1.10.2024 0 comments

Somatic therapy is a form of therapy that has proven highly effective in the treatment and management of PTSD, anxiety, depression, stress, grief, and even chronic pain.

What’s fascinating is that it does so by taking a mental and physical approach to your conditions. It gets your body involved in the healing process through a number of exercises and breathing techniques.

In this post, we’re going to take a deep-dive into what is somatic therapy, where it originated, how it’s practiced, what it’s used to treat, and what you can expect from a therapy session.

By the end of this page, you’ll have a much clearer idea as to what somatic therapy can do and how it can benefit your physical and mental wellbeing specifically.

Somatic Therapy 101

What is Somatic Therapy?

Somatic therapy (or “somatic psychotherapy”) is defined as, “a modality grounded in the mind-body connection.” [1]

It’s built on the principle that the mind and body are connected, two parts of a single entity, and as such need to be treated in tandem in order to lead toward the healing and growth desired.

The idea is that “the sensations associated with past trauma may become trapped within the body and reflected in facial expressions, posture, muscular pain, or other forms of body language.” While talk therapy can help to deal with the trauma, but for full effectiveness, the body needs to get engaged along with the mind.

It’s based around a few core concepts, which are present in every somatic therapy session:

  • Grounding, which helps to shut off our nervous systems when they go into hyper-active mode as a result of trauma. Grounding brings us back to a place of physical and mental calm and settles us into the present moment.

  • Breathing, which helps to calm our bodies, increase body awareness, and self-regulate during periods of big emotions.

  • Boundary development, which helps us understand how best to respond to the needs of our bodies while also giving us a safe space from which to address trauma and distress, both in the present and future.

  • Titration, which involves slowly introducing new elements one at a time until the right “solution” is achieved.

  • Pendulation, which involves finding a rhythm so you can swing from stressful situations to a place of calm.

  • Resourcing, which means cataloguing the physical sensations and positive body feelings that help you to feel safe and provide an anchor to calm your body and mind when you’re overwhelmed with stress or trauma symptoms.

All of these concepts can help you to better regulate yourself and take control of your mind and body.

How Did Somatic Therapy Originate?

Somatic therapy originated with psychotherapists in the 19th and 20th centuries, with people like Sigmund Freud and Pierre Janet contributing to its development. However, it was William Reich, a student of Freud’s, who conceptualized somatic therapy.

The therapy revolved around the concept that “human impulses are innately good”. He believed that the physical body’s actions (physical movement, muscular tension, posture, etc.) reflected the state of the mind, and was used like “body armor”, to protect against emotions people were incapable of confronting or processing on their own. He suggested using physical “pressure” to trigger emotional release.

Thanks to his work, a number of schools have crafted their own approach to somatic therapy, and it has become a widespread and accepted form of therapy.

Types of Somatic Therapy

There are a few types of somatic therapy utilized today:

  • The Hakomi Method – This type of somatic therapy pays particular attention to four core concepts: mindfulness, nonviolence, gentleness, and compassion. It combines spiritual therapies with scientific and established psychotherapeutic methods. [2]

  • Sensorimotor psychotherapy – This type of therapy “welcomes the body as an integral source of information which can guide resourcing and the accessing and processing of challenging, traumatic, and developmental experience.” It’s “a holistic approach that includes somatic, emotional, and cognitive processing and integration” to enable its patients to “discover and change habitual physical and psychological patterns that impede optimal functioning and well-being”.[3]

  • Biodynamic psychotherapy – This type of somatic therapy uses “a combination of verbal and non-verbal methods” including “biodynamic massage and vegetotherapy” to engage the mind and body both. [4]

  • Bioenergetic analysis – This type of therapy “combines a bodily, analytic and relational therapeutic work”, using techniques that “address the energetic aspect of the individual, including her self-perception, self-expression, and self-possession” with the goal of “having aliveness, getting a taste of vibrant health.” [5]

  • Core energetics – This type of somatic therapy focuses on the three “layers of personality” (the mask, the lower self, and the higher self) and takes patients along a “journey of self-discovery” so they can break through the mask, transform the lower self, and center in the higher self. [6]

  • Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy – This type of therapy “combines talk therapy with guided eye or sensory movement exercises to help alleviate symptoms associated with trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder.” [7]

What is Somatic Therapy Used to Treat?

Somatic therapy is often used to treat a number of mental and physical health issues, including [8]:

  • Sexual dysfunction

  • Stress

  • Depression

  • Digestive disorders

  • Grief

  • Anxiety

  • Chronic pain

  • Addiction

  • PTSD

It’s often used as an alternative or complement to talk therapy. Its focus on mindfulness and grounding is also utilized by those who are simply desirous to get to know themselves and have a better understanding of why their bodies react certain ways in stressful situations, as well as how to control those reactions.

Research has proven that somatic therapy is useful for treating at least PTSD [9], including symptoms of avoidance, arousal, and intrusion [10]. One study [11] also provided evidence that somatic therapy (in this case, somatic acupuncture) led to a decrease in pain.

Are There Downsides to Somatic Therapy?

Many, though not all, forms of somatic therapy do involve touch as part of the treatment process. For those who are averse to being touched—for example, survivors of sexual abuse—this may lead to issues with the treatment.

There has also been the question raised as to the possibility that the physical touch could cause the sessions to feel “frightening, arousing, or sexual”. Some have suggested a higher risk of transference and countertransference resulting from the physical contact.

However, these are only potential drawbacks, and may not be the case across the board.

Is Somatic Therapy Right for Me?

At the end of the day, it all comes down to how you feel about the idea of using movement (such as dance or eye movements), physical touch (including massage), and various forms of talk therapy to help you address whatever is causing you grief.

As you’ve seen above, somatic therapy has a lot to offer, and if applied correctly by a trained therapist, it could result in visible improvements in both your physical and mental health.

If you’re interested in trying somatic therapy, make sure to do your research so you can be certain you’re working with an experienced therapist who will take you safely through the various types of treatment methods.

There is a lot you can uncover about yourself—both mind and body—and it’s a journey you’ll want to undertake with a guide you can trust.


[1] https://www.goodtherapy.org/learn-about-therapy/types/somatic-psychotherapy

[2] https://hakomiinstitute.com/about/hakomi-mindful-somatic-psychotherapy/the-hakomi-principles

[3] https://sensorimotorpsychotherapy.org/about/

[4] https://somaticpsychotherapytoday.com/transformative-moments-short-stories-from-the-biodynamic-psychotherapy-room/

[5] https://usabp.org/International-Institute-for-Bioenergetic-Analysis

[6] https://www.goodtherapy.org/learn-about-therapy/types/core-energetics

[7] https://www.firstsession.com/resources/emdr-therapy-exercises-techniques

[8] https://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-somatic-therapy-5190064

[9] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5518443/

[10] https://psycnet.apa.org/doiLanding?doi=10.1177%2F1534765608319080

[11] https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S096522990500052X


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