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    What is Somatic Therapy?

    by Laura Crow, LISW

    We have gotten used to thinking about our bodies and minds as two separate entities, rather than a single system.  It’s often easiest to think about medical care for bodies and mental health care for our minds happening independently of each other, with different providers, different treatments, and different reasons for the pain we are experiencing.  Somatic therapy challenges some of these ideas and incorporates our bodies into our mental health practices, focusing on the physical sensations we experience. These sensations are both part of understanding our pain and part of developing coping strategies and learning to heal.  Our minds receive, understand, and interpret the physical sensations in our bodies.  And our bodies often are where we literally experience our emotions – anxiety that tightens our chest, sadness that is a pit in our stomach, happiness that feels like a lightness or a bounce in our step.  

    So what does it mean when a therapist says they use somatic techniques?  A somatic therapist will be focused on the body sensations a client is experiencing, as well as how aware or connected to those sensations the client is.  Often life experiences can affect how aware we are of our bodies, and the sensations we experience, sometimes making us hypersensitive or distant and unaware.  A somatic therapist will be focused on helping a client develop both awareness of and connection to their body experiences, as well as learning tools for responding to sensations and creating relaxation and calmness in their bodies.  These tools can include breathing techniques and different kinds of movement.  

    Movement can be focused on releasing body sensations in a broad range of methods from trauma sensitive yoga to practicing tai chi or kickboxing or going on a walk.  Maybe even visiting a rage room for some safe smashing or letting out a loud scream in the privacy of your car.  The answers will look different for every client and the body they inhabit.  How aware are you of the body sensations you experience?  Do they feel threatening, reassuring, confusing, or something somewhere in between?  If these questions arouse your curiosity or speak to daily experiences you would like help understanding, somatic therapy may be beneficial for you.  

    There are some great resources out there for better understanding and connecting with our bodies as a resource as well as understanding how our bodies can be the recorder and hold memories of our trauma and safety experiences.  If you’d like to learn more on your own, here are some titles worth investigating:

    Becoming Safely Embodied: A Guide to Organize your Mind, Body and Heart to Feel Secure in the World by Deidre Fay, MSW

    Practicing Mindfulness: 75 Essential Meditations to Reduce Stress, Improve Mental Health, and Find Peace in the Everyday by Matthew Sockolov

    My Grandmother’s Hands: Racialized Trauma and the Pathway to Mending Our Hearts and Bodies by Resmaa Menakem, MSW, LICSW, SEP

    The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma by Bessel Van Der Kolk, M.D.