A doctor explains everything you need to know about this trauma-based treatment.

Rebecca Norris
Feb 15, 2021 @ 12:10 pm
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what is somatic therapy
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You know how it's common for people to suggest moving your body if your mind is in a funk? There's a reason for that. Along with boosting endorphins, getting your body moving—especially in slower, more mindful ways—can help you process pent-up emotions. This, my friends, is the science of somatic therapy. Intrigued? Keep reading to learn more about the life-changing alternative therapy.

What is somatic therapy?

At its root, somatic therapy is an alternative therapy that focuses on bodily sensations as a way to alleviate triggering thoughts.

"Using the body as a starting point, somatic therapists believe that our lives' events are stored within the tissues, and healing both physical and psychological issues begin by connecting to the body," naturopathic doctor Dr. Brad Lichtenstein tells HelloGiggles. "This can be done through awareness exercises, touch, and/or movement."

By releasing the chronically-held tension and tuning into the body, we can restore a sense of healing, freedom, and vitality, says Dr. Liechtenstein. "Somatic therapy can focus mainly on freedom and ease of movement in practices like Feldenkrais, Alexander Technique, Hanna Somatics, dance therapy, and even yoga therapy," he explains. Where the Feldenkrais Method is a form of exercise to promote human function through bodily self-awareness and the Alexander Technique is geared toward retraining the body to revert from habitual movements and postures, Hanna Somatics is all about ease of movement as a way to overcome chronic pain. As for dance therapy and yoga, the ways in which they can benefit the body go without saying.

What are the benefits of somatic therapy?

Above all else, somatic therapy focuses on the idea that the mind and body are connected and that, as a result, moving and manipulating the body in particular ways can lend to a more restful mind. With this in mind, Dr. Lichtenstein says that somatic therapy is particularly beneficial for those dealing with depression, anger management, PTSD, and other mental health conditions.

"The belief that trauma, or any psychological condition, exists solely in the 'mind' is mistaken," he explains. "Every thought and experience is a full mind-body experience. You cannot have one without the other." Knowing this, he calls emotion into question to prove a point.

"I invite people to 'get raging mad' at me without tensing a muscle (keeping the entire body relaxed and soft) or thinking a single thought (such as 'He is not listening to me, he doesn't care about me, he's a jerk…')," Dr. Lichtenstein says, noting that it's practically impossible. "Thus, we realize that by changing our posture, muscle tension, and breathing patterns (all somatic experiences), we can change our emotional and cognitive states."

With this in mind, he points out that this is one reason why people on muscle relaxants or beta-blockers (which affect blood pressure) have less anxiety.

When it comes to PTSD specifically, Dr. Lichtenstein says that somatic therapy allows the individual and therapist to bypass verbal discussions processing the trauma—which can be retraumatizing—and instead, focus on the individual finding more freedom and flow within their body as a means to physically processing the emotions.

"One of the key benefits of somatic therapy is that it can bypass the potential for being retriggering and can give the person suffering a sense of agency as they actively connect and use their body as a source of wisdom, insight, and healing," Dr. Lichtenstein says.

The most common forms of somatic therapy:

Remember, somatic therapy refers to any sort of bodily movement that can impact the mind. While it includes functional approaches like the Feldenkrais Method, Alexander Technique, and Hanna Somatics—mentioned above—Dr. Lichtenstein says that it also incorporates structural approaches (like massage, trigger point work, and myofascial release), movement approaches (like dance therapy, Pilates, yoga, and Tai Chi), energy approaches (like acupuncture, reflexology, and reiki), somatic-based psychotherapies (like somatic experiencing), and breathwork (like that featured in meditation).

"[All this is to say,] somatic therapy is anything that attends to and gives attention to the body," Dr. Lichtenstein says.

While somatic therapy offers a non-verbal way to process trauma, Dr. Lichtenstein points out that it's possible to move in a manner (or receive energy or structural healing) that can retrigger emotions. For this reason, it's important to take it slow with somatic therapy instead of trying to rush into it. And, in the sense of energy work, to never work with someone who gives you a bad vibe, as it's possible that their energy exchange could be triggering.