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What Is Somatic Psychotherapy?

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  • Written By: Marjorie McAtee
  • Edited By: W. Everett
  • Last Modified Date: 22 November 2016
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Somatic psychotherapy is a branch of psychotherapy that seeks to treat psychological traumas by manipulating the physical body. People who practice somatic psychotherapy believe that the traumatic emotional experiences remain in the body, usually in areas of tension that may change posture, movement, body language, or facial expressions. Somatic psychotherapists seek to treat unresolved emotional traumas by releasing these tensions from the body and the nervous system. Somatic psychotherapy generally involves the discussion of physical sensations, especially relating to the changes one experiences in physical sensation as one mentally relives traumatic experiences. The body may release stress and nervous tension during this type of therapy, usually in the form of twitching, flushing, upset stomach or feelings of physical discomfort.

Benefits of this type of therapy can include increased sense of well-being and mood, enhanced confidence, relief of physical symptoms resulting from psychological stress, and increased psychological resilience. People who undergo this type of therapy may find it easier to think clearly, and may generally find more fulfillment in daily life. Practitioners of somatic psychotherapy believe that various physical symptoms can occur as a result of emotional trauma. These symptoms typically include digestive upsets, problems with immunity, sexual problems, and imbalanced hormone levels. Depression and anxiety disorders, substance abuse problems, and post-traumatic stress disorder are among the disorders believed to benefit from somatic psychotherapy treatments.

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Most practitioners of this type of therapy ask patients to pay attention to their own physical sensations as they discuss past trauma. When strong physical sensations arise, the practitioner uses small, gentle touches and physical movements. This is believed to release these feelings from the body.

Elements of somatic psychotherapy can be found in many types of psychotherapy, such as eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), in which clients are guided to make repetitive eye movements while discussing past traumatic events. Most psychologists believe that the principle behind somatic psychotherapy, that of the body itself retaining the stress of past emotional trauma, is sound. Early modern practitioners of this form of psychotherapy include Wilhelm Reich, considered to be the first psychotherapist who used manipulation of the body during psychotherapy treatments. Pierre Janet is also credited with developing some of the first theories regarding somatic psychotherapy, though it is believed that he did not put these theories into practice on his patients. Some psychotherapists point out that the principles and techniques of somatic psychotherapy are similar in nature to those used in energy-based therapies, such as reiki.

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