Our mental health remains an important staple in our lives. Whether we’re experiencing year-round mental health issues or dealing with seasonal affective disorder as we creep toward the latter half of fall, it’s key to continue to prioritize our mental and emotional health alongside our physical.
However, not all mental health treatments work well for everyone – including therapy. If traditional talk therapy doesn’t work for you, there may be another option: somatic therapy.
What is somatic therapy?
Somatic therapy is an alternative therapy method that focuses on the body and how the emotions that we experience will appear within the body. This type of therapy proposes that our bodies are able to hold and express both experiences and emotions, and any traumatic instances or unresolved emotional issues can thus become trapped.
At the end of the day, the goal of somatic therapy is to help the individual increase their awareness of the physical sensations that spawn from their mental health conditions — whether that be a knot in their stomach, shortness of breath, difficulty sleeping, or other physical symptoms. This awareness is then used to help release pent-up stress, trauma, and tension.
How does somatic therapy work?
We may be most familiar with talk therapies, including cognitive behavior therapy, which helps engage only the mind but not the body. Instead, somatic therapy engages the body as the starting point for healing. This happens by way of fostering an individual’s awareness of sensation of the body and encourages them to feel safe amid the exploration of emotions, memories, and thoughts. This therapy model focuses on individuals finding the resources they need from within to encourage self-regulation of emotions. This mind-body connection thus helps to release feelings of anger, frustration, tension, and other emotions that linger after a negative experience.
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There are several pillars of somatic therapy, including bodywork, centering, and physical awareness. Bodywork can involve breathing patterns, guided meditation, and the practitioner manipulating the body’s tissue. Centering has the individual create a “calm home base” within the body by building awareness of their breath, mood, and muscles in order to feel what is happening within them and around them.
Physical awareness is, understandably, one of the key areas of somatic therapy. The practitioner will help the individual first by asking them to acknowledge and notice certain signs from their body, including what signals the body is sending to show that they are upset. Once this is identified, the individual is instructed to focus on those feelings to inform what path should have been taken.
What are the benefits of somatic therapy?
Somatic therapy can be a helpful practice for those who experience or have suffered from addiction, anxiety, depression, grief, post-traumatic stress disorder, self-esteem issues, and trust and intimacy issues. This type of therapy can help individuals with chronic pain, enhance emotional regulation, increase self-awareness, manage mental health disorder symptoms, as well as provide a set of tools in order to be able to deal with and process emotions.