How Somatic Therapy Can Reduce the Effects of Trauma

Updated on July 9, 2021

Somatic therapy is a treatment approach where the practitioner teaches mind-body awareness, along with talk therapy, to treat patients with PTSD and other psychological issues. Somatic therapy has been around since Freud or one of his students, Wilhelm Reich, first started dabbling in it circa 1930s; it has since evolved into a successful approach to healing and dealing with trauma. 

Practitioners of somatic therapy work on treating emotional issues caused by trauma that sometimes manifest into physical pain or other health-related conditions like anxiety or depression.  By guiding individuals and having them “tune in” to what’s going on in their bodies, patients can work through emotional blockages making room for the healing process to begin.

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Understanding trauma.

PTSD can get complicated, especially when children are involved. It’s not uncommon for symptoms of trauma or PTSD to take a year or more to surface after the traumatic event has occurred. Also, many times, treatment is not sought right away because symptoms may be difficult to detect or misdiagnosed as something else.  Many childhood trauma is centered around abuse and neglect which is often overlooked if physical signs do not present themselves. 

Symptoms of trauma-related disorders can include intrusive memories like nightmares and flashbacks, as well as negative changes in thinking and mood, like feelings of hopelessness or detachment.  PTSD can also manifest itself through physical and emotional reactions like self-destructive behavior or angry outbursts. Avoidance-type behaviors are also a common characteristic of someone suffering from PTSD. Some of the more overt characteristics of someone suffering from trauma are:

  • Flashbacks
  • Nightmares
  • Emotional or physical distress
  • Avoidant behaviors
  • Negative thoughts
  • Difficulty concentrating 
  • Mood swings
  • Feelings of detachment 
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Behavioral outbursts

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Things to expect from a somatic therapy session.

There are different styles of somatic-based therapy like Hakomi Therapy and Core Energetics, so when you see a therapist it might look different depending on the style and practitioner.  For the most part though, a somatic therapy session is likely to include some of the following components.

  • Talk therapy to uncover trauma-based memories and guide patients through emotional experiences. 
  • Breathing exercises 
  • Guided somatic experiences for body awareness. 
  • Physical exercises. 
  • Light touch (consensual) to bring awareness to different areas of the body. 

How does somatic therapy work in reducing the effects of trauma?

Somatic therapists work with their clients on bringing awareness to the body.  In a somatic session, the therapist may cue the patient to focus on a particular part of the body which may trigger a trauma-based emotional reaction.  By bringing awareness to this reaction, the patient is able to work through areas of current and repressed emotional responses.  Somatic therapy can reduce the unwanted emotional responses leading to a reduction in associated symptoms. 

A somatic therapist will provide a safe and secure environment for their patients to experience emotional and physical responses related to trauma.  Many times, individuals suffering from PTSD feel as if they are forced to repress emotions associated with their trauma, which ultimately could exacerbate symptoms. Working through the trauma in a controlled environment helps give patients a sense of security. 

Aside from reducing the trauma-related symptoms, somatic therapy can have other positive effects on the patient’s condition and overall well-being.  Whether or not someone has suffered extreme trauma or not, it’s safe to say almost anyone could benefit from a session of somatic therapy. Many of the insights learned in the therapy session can be carried over to daily life, like:

  • Self-regulation
  • Boundary development 
  • Increased self-esteem 
  • Body and spatial awareness
  • Coping skills
  • Breathing techniques 
  • Increased focus
  • Better sleep

Most somatic therapists will schedule 4 initial sessions on a 1x per week basis to start with.  Once the initial sessions have been conducted, the therapist will determine whether to increase or decrease the frequency of the sessions based on factors like receptiveness and responsiveness. Since some time is needed to gauge the overall effectiveness of the treatment, patients are generally seen on a weekly basis for at least 3 months.

What is a somatic therapist?

A somatic therapist is a practitioner or psychotherapist who treats patients using a holistic approach involving mind-body integration. Practicing somatic therapy requires many years of schooling including a master’s degree in counseling or psychotherapy. Practitioners are also required to do internship hours as part of their schooling and certification process. There are many somatic therapists out there who are associated with reputable groups like the United States Association for Body Psychotherapy

Is somatic therapy evidence-based?

Somatic therapy is one of the leading treatment approaches when it comes to trauma-related disorders; even though there is not much evidence-based research. The few studies that have been done are indicating positive results; like the group of tsunami survivors that were followed for 8 months after receiving somatic therapy. In this case, 90% of the participants reported a 50% improvement in their trauma-related symptoms.  While there is still a lot more research to be done in this field, somatic therapy continues to be a progressive and reputable treatment for trauma. 

A therapy for us all

Photo by cottonbro from Pexels 

Somatic therapy combines physical therapy, talk therapy, and psychotherapy as a holistic approach to helping patients who’ve experienced trauma. This style of counseling is very child-centered making it a worthwhile option for parents looking for less invasive treatment for children with trauma. When it comes to children, early intervention is key, especially if the child has experienced a high degree of trauma over an extended period of time.

Somatic therapy doesn’t necessarily have to be exclusive to trauma victims; most people would benefit from a session or two.  It’s like getting a massage even though your back doesn’t hurt; you’re likely going to feel a whole lot better afterward.  The idea of mind-body awareness and how it can be integrated into your self-help toolkit can only have a positive outcome. Somatic therapy is not only used to reduce the effects of trauma, it can be used as a tool for personal growth and development.  

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