Your Guide To Somatic Therapy (Sometimes Talking Through Your Issues Just Doesn't Cut It)

Going to therapy has become much more normalized over the past ten years, so less traditional modes of therapy are also gaining traction. One such therapeutic model is called somatic therapy. Somatic therapy is defined by Psychology Today as "body-centered" therapy. Combining psychological methods with physical therapy that targets certain tension points, somatic therapy can be wonderful for those who feel that traditional talk therapy simply just doesn't cut it. For some, traditional talk therapy can be an incredible resource when it comes to gaining insight about the past, about our current emotions, or about patterns we want to develop in the future. But for those suffering from mental health issues, having an awareness of such issues is just one piece of the pie when it comes to potential treatments. Creating actionable steps forward is another piece — a daunting one at that. This is where somatic therapy can be helpful. For those who may struggle with depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, grief, and more, somatic therapy is said to forge a path between the mind and body that can make taking action easier. 


Somatic therapy contains a large swath of techniques, the core of each focused on centering oneself in the body. Such techniques can include breathing exercises and guided meditations, an emphasis on physical awareness, and even specific exercises meant to release tension. 

Somatic therapy in practice

On TikTok, some have posed the question: "What if you're too self-aware for therapy?" Now, this might sound like something of a Weird-Flex-But-Okay moment — it is not. At the heart of this question is another: what do you do when you feel as though you have gone as far as you can in pursuing relief from your mental health woes, but it still feels farther away from where you want to be? This sentiment can feel frustrating, confusing, and downright frightening. TikTok creator Maddy (@madzy__grace) shares that somatic therapy helped her make progress in addressing her mental and emotional wellbeing. She said she learned to disassociate from talking about her traumatic experiences as a coping mechanism in a TikTok video. "Somatic therapy is more about your body and what you're feeling than talking about it. This has changed my life," she continued.


Patricia (@quirkyblack_therapist) is a licensed mental health therapist specializing in somatic therapy and trauma, who makes videos about mental health on TikTok. She says in a TikTok video that there are several things she does not do during somatic therapy sessions. For example, she does not dichotomize coping skills as either "good" or "bad," she does not pressure her clients to retell a traumatic event, and she does not hide her own emotions, among others. Somatic therapy asks clients to prioritize how they feel in their bodies rather than what they think about an experience they had.

How does somatic therapy work?

At its core, somatic therapy is about regulating your central nervous system and subsequently releasing trauma. TikTok creator Jess (@sunfirepoppy) says in a TikTok video, "People healing from trauma have a hard time getting out of the fight, flight, or freeze response, their central nervous systems are all messed up." She continues, "The goal of somatic experiencing is to modify the way we respond to stress." Also known as "somatic experiencing," somatic therapy is about being present in our bodies and using this presence to both identify pain — whether it's emotional, physical, or spiritual — and ultimately release it. As such, somatic therapy also encourages moving the body as a means to connect to it. 


Multidisciplinary psychotherapist Dr. Peter A. Levine developed somatic experiencing in the 1970s to treat post-traumatic stress disorder, and studies have shown that somatic therapy can be highly effective for those suffering from it. One 2017 study from the Journal of Traumatic Stress shows that somatic experiencing techniques did make a significant change for the better in symptoms for those with PTSD. People who have experienced trauma may have learned to suppress their emotions, but somatic experiencing is about letting it out. 

Somatic therapies to try

There are many kinds of somatic therapies to try; some of which can be done at home, others, under the guidance of a somatic counselor. One of the first steps to somatic experiencing is being able to tune into your body; this can be a challenge in itself. Certain somatic therapy techniques include physically acting out our emotions — for example, screaming into a pillow when you're angry could be considered a somatic practice that can be done at home. 


Another somatic therapy is called Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, also known as EMDR, where a client moves their eyes back and forth as though they were dreaming, and recall a traumatic event. Developed by Dr. Francine Shapiro, EMDR focuses on rewiring your body's response to certain triggers, where your body reacts less viscerally to the memory of the event, and studies have shown it to be effective, per the Cleveland Clinic

Additional modes of somatic therapy include pendulation and titration, where in the former, a somatic counselor guides you both toward and away from a traumatic experience repeatedly in an effort to release stored emotion surrounding the event. In the latter, a counselor will ask you to recall a traumatic memory and identify where in your body the response to that memory is stored. When considering somatic therapies, remember that the experience can look different for everybody. Work with a somatic counselor to find the best therapeutic fit for you.