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Types of Somatic Therapy for Mental Health

Somatic therapy is a holistic therapy often used to treat trauma. Find out what it is, how it works and whether you could benefit, here at HealthyPlace.

Somatic therapy is a holistic treatment approach that promotes healing by connecting the mind, spirit and emotions. This kind of therapy views the mind and body as one entity rather than seeing mental health as somehow "separate" from the physical experience, as is the case in most modern medicine.

Somatic therapy is grounded in the belief that the inner world (a person's attitudes, thoughts and feelings) impacts physical wellness and functioning. Somatic therapists, therefore, practice techniques such as improving diet, adjusting habits and aligning posture. Let’s explore the basics of this approach and whether it might work for you.

What Is Somatic Therapy?

Somatic therapy is a branch of psychotherapy that promotes better self-awareness, resolution of psychological conflict and positive changes in behavior. It was developed in the late 19th and early 20th century by Austrian psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich and French psychotherapist Pierre Janet. Sigmund Freud is also known to have explored Somatic therapy, as he was particularly interested in the role of the body in certain mental health disorders.

Somatic therapy differs from regular talking therapy because it communicates with the body as well as the mind. According to somatic theory, our mental health can be affected by a range of physical concerns, such as hormonal imbalances, digestive issues, sexual functioning, and chronic pain. Somatic therapy helps patients become more aware of these tensions and negative sensations by practicing techniques such as:

Somatic therapy can be applied to a range of issues such as anxiety, depression, posttraumatic stress disorder, relationship conflict and low-self-esteem. Some research suggests that somatic treatment may also be beneficial for individuals with borderline personality disorder.  

What Is Somatic Massage Therapy?

Somatic massage therapy is a specific branch of somatic therapy that focuses on areas of pain or trauma in the body. It applies the physical techniques of massage to the soft tissue of the body to relieve physical and psychological symptoms.

Each practitioner will have a different way of approaching somatic massage therapy, but it differs from regular massage in the way that it promotes full body integration. In somatic massage therapy, giving your body space, time and attention to itself as a whole is considered an important element of mental health.  

Some therapists will work with joints and ligaments to relieve pain points and improve mobility. Others will address the “fascia” under the skin or work to drain the lymphatic system. Somatic massage will also include breath work and expression through voice.

Somatic Therapy Exercises and Techniques

There are several somatic therapy exercises and techniques taught by somatic therapists, such as:

  • Biodynamics: addressing and resolving psychological concerns through the body, most likely with physical exercises and massage
  • Hakomi: a form of therapy that combines semantic therapy with mindfulness exercises
  • Core energetics: a somatic therapy exercise that uses movement to balance energy between the mind, body and spirit. It is believed that by engaging your core and improving your balance, you can better express innate qualities and psychological concerns
  • Bioenergetic analysis: this somatic therapy technique integrates regular treatment (such as psychoanalysis) with bodywork
  • Emotional reintegration: The transformation of the self through emotional and psychological healing

Somatic therapy is usually offered by private, holistic therapists. However, it may also be integrated into other forms of counseling and psychotherapy. To find a licensed and experienced mental health professional with training in somatic therapy techniques, you can search the United States Association for Body Psychology register.

article references

APA Reference
Smith, E. (2019, August 19). Types of Somatic Therapy for Mental Health, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2020, March 29 from https://www.healthyplace.com/other-info/mental-health-newsletter/types-of-somatic-therapy-for-mental-health

Last Updated: October 15, 2019
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Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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