Many types of therapy for mental illness focus only on the mind, but the body also plays a role in and experiences trauma and mental health. Somatic therapies recognize this and aim to use the body and physical sensation as part of therapy to manage a traumatic past and symptoms like anxiety, depression, and stress.
Somatic Therapy – Body and Mind
Mental health professionals use somatic therapy as a way to include what the body experiences along with more traditional talk therapy. It is particularly useful for processing trauma and managing trauma disorders, like PTSD. Somatic therapy can also be used to help treat anxiety, depression, grief, and other mental health conditions and symptoms.
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Trauma disorders and other mental illnesses impact the body as well as the mind. They can cause symptoms like headaches and stomachaches, muscle tension, a racing heart rate, and sweating. Trauma and the memory of trauma particularly impact the body and physical health.
Experts in trauma and somatic therapy believe that the body stores stressful energy from bad experiences. It is not the trauma itself but the overwhelming response to trauma that causes so much damage. The body’s memory of the event is what matters and what is addressed and productively processed in somatic therapy sessions.
A somatic therapist uses a variety of strategies to help patients safely release the stress of trauma:
- Mindfulness, focusing on the body’s sensations in the moment and accepting them
- Cycling between consciously feeling distress and feeling safe
- Recognizing how the body feels when safe and at peace
- Discovering behavioral responses to difficult emotions
- Breathing exercises
- Massage therapy
EMDR Therapy – Processing Trauma with Movement
A specific type of somatic therapy that was developed to treat PTSD, EMDR stands for eye movement desensitization and reprocessing. This therapy uses bilateral stimulation, in most cases by moving the eyes in a directed way, to dull the emotions connected to terrible traumatic experiences. In addition to PTSD, it can help with other trauma disorders, anxiety disorders, depression, and panic attacks.
EMDR therapy is provided by a trained mental health professional and moves through eight phases, through ten to twelve sessions:
- The therapist reviews the patient’s history and plans which specific memories to address and process.
- The patient learns positive and productive coping strategies for stress management.
- During assessment, the therapist activates targeted memories, focusing on images, thinking, and physical sensations.
- The patient then focuses on the difficult memory while going through eye movements as directed by the therapist. This is desensitization.
- The therapist then asks the patient to describe their feelings and thoughts after the desensitization.
- The patient then focuses on physical sensations brought up by the memory and how they are changing.
- The therapist brings a close to the session and determines whether the specific memory has been processed successfully or if it needs more time in treatment.
- The final phase of EMDR is to evaluate progress and determine the next steps.
EMDR therapy has been proven to be effective in helping most people with PTSD. It is thought that by using distraction—in the form of stimulating eye movements—it helps desensitize the patient to the painful memories. With time and practice, the physical and emotional distress triggered by trauma lessens.
Somatic and EMDR therapies go beyond traditional therapy. They connect the mind with the physical experiences of the body. Being aware of how trauma and distress affects the body can lead to true healing from past experiences and other mental health symptoms.
If you or a loved one are struggling with trauma, anxiety, depression or another mental health disorder, please contact us at (855) 409-0204 or submit the form below and a treatment specialist will contact you.