What is Somatic Therapy and How Does it Help Trauma?

Overcoming through recovery

In today’s world of research studies and the constant drive to find new ways to treat mental health, various approaches are beneficial to help treat trauma. Somatic therapy is one of these approaches. Targeting the connection between mind and body, somatic therapy helps clients recognize and cope with the physical and psychological scars left by trauma to cultivate healing. Here is an in-depth look at what somatic trauma therapy is, what it treats, how it works, and what to expect during a session. 

What is Somatic Therapy?

Somatic therapy was founded by Dr. Peter Levine in the 1970s. Somatic means “of the body.” Dr. Levine created the approach based on the idea that the mind and body are connected. This means that when a person goes through a traumatic event or experience, the mental effects can cause changes in the physical body, specifically the nervous system. It uses both physical therapies and psychotherapy to heal both mind and body. The goal is to release any tension or pain in the body by identifying and healing the psychological scars caused by trauma. 

What Does Somatic Therapy Treat?

Because somatic therapy is used to treat the connection between mind and body, the list of things it treats will be related to both of these. This is unlike other forms of therapy often done in trauma work because physical pains are healed alongside psychological concerns. Somatic therapy treats a variety of things, including:

  • Guilt
  • Shame
  • Anger
  • Anxiety
  • Sleep problems
  • Digestive issues
  • Chronic pain
  • Muscle tension
  • Muscle pain
  • Respiratory problems

How Does Somatic Therapy Work?

When Dr. Levine created the somatic therapy approach, he did so based on the belief that the body, mind, emotions, and spirit are all connected. He believed that traumatic events affected not only the brain but also the nervous system. This means that physical changes can occur due to trauma such as physical pain, altered posture, and changing facial expressions. 

Through the use of various psychotherapies and physical therapies, the patient can heal both mind and body. Somatic therapists use a “bottom-up” approach, using multiple methods to help clients identify bodily sensations connected to traumatic memories. Often, therapists use alternative therapies to help relax the client during sessions. This can include touch therapy or similar movements to help heal energy across the body. Physical exercises are done to help a person relax and loosen up. Moving can help reduce the stress response. Typically movement is done when a person is in something known as a “freeze” state. 

The Freeze State

A big part of what somatic therapy is based on is known as a freeze state or freeze response. This is similar to the body’s fight-or-flight response, which is when your brain perceives a threat and causes adrenaline to be released, causing you to flee the situation or stay and fight. This stress response causes your muscles to tense up, your respiration rate to increase, hormone amounts to be increased, and your heart rate to speed up. 

On the other hand, the freeze response is when your body responds to a perceived threat by freezing because you cannot run or fight. Because this response causes your body to not move, the energy that builds up from the stress response is not released. Therefore, even after the event, you may still have some of that energy stored in your body, keeping you from healing from the experience. You stay in this state longer as symptoms of trauma affect you.

What to Expect During a Somatic Therapy Session

Preparing for a somatic therapy session generally involves getting your mind ready to discuss painful memories linked to your traumatic experience. Once you are in a session, you will typically begin by talking with the therapist. They will use this conversation to get a background on what you want to work on and get comfortable with each other. After this step, the therapist may ask you to get on the table for touch therapy. They will ask you to describe how you are feeling, specifically in your physical body. Questions may seem a bit unusual, such as “what temperature does your body feel at the moment?” and “what contact is your body making with itself and the environment around it?” These questions help bring the client into the present moment. 

The therapist may move their hands over your body more, bringing more awareness to each part. Other forms of alternative techniques include breathing exercises, exercise, dance, and voice work. Different patients respond differently to each treatment, and it is often a process of trial-and-error. 

Patients are asked how they feel throughout the session while the therapist moves their hands over the areas that the patient describes feeling sensations in. The goal is for the patient to release tension related to the trauma to induce healing. 

Healing from trauma takes time and proper treatment. One such treatment is somatic therapy, which heals clients based on the belief that the mind and body are connected. Somatic therapy is used at Choice House because we see the benefits it offers our clients that are struggling with past traumatic events. Through the belief that the mind and body are connected, we hope to support the healing of both as clients go through treatment. Somatic therapy is a great way to heal from trauma because it brings awareness not only to the psychological scars of trauma but also the physical damage that we may be unaware of. As a client goes through somatic therapy, they will heal all of the scars left by trauma so they can lead a happy and healthy life. This is what we hope to accomplish through our use of somatic therapy. For more information on somatic therapy and our treatment programs, give us a call at (720) 577-4422.

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