Somatic Therapy For Mental Health Conditions

 

According to Dictionary.com, the word “somatic” is defined as of or relating to the body, especially as distinguished from the soul, mind, psyche, or the environment. In the field of psychology, somatic means a feeling. The study of somatic therapy focuses on the mind-body connection, specifically the relationship between our body structures and how it affects our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.  The mind-body connection phenomenon proves that when a person experiences stressors, the causes, development, and outcomes of physical and mental illness such as anxiety and depression are determined by the integration of biological, environmental, and social factors. These affect the following: 

  • Your decision-making, behavior, and ability to manage feelings

  • Self-awareness and self-esteem

  • Your overall psychological well-being

  • Relationships with others at work and home

  • Ability to learn and develop positive coping skills

Someone’s overall health can be affected by good and bad stress due to life events such as marriage/divorce, breakups, promotion/lay-off, being in rush hour traffic, meeting deadlines, having unrealistic expectations, and interpersonal relationships.

What Is Somatic Therapy? 

When a person’s body responds to stress or experiences, it takes a serious toll on all aspects of their life. Somatic therapy is used to facilitate the resolution of both trauma and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) responses. As a form of psychotherapy and intervention, this method aims to engage body awareness, and address the connections between the brain, the mind, and behavior.  Also, known as body psychotherapy or body-oriented psychotherapy, somatic psychotherapy is a modality highly focused on the mind-body connection and is the largest branch of its kind.

Essential to the therapeutic process, believers in somatic psychology see the mind and body as one entity.  It is said, that the right environment and social interactions result in a positive experience, and most importantly, will help a person heal and grow faster. When this process is conducted correctly in a safe manner, the mind-body connection becomes stronger and regulated as time goes on.  

The Mind-Body Connection: Theory Behind Somatic Therapy

According to the theory of somatic therapy, when someone faces thoughts, feelings, and behavior due to past traumas they may have experienced if left untreated, those unresolved feelings will become trapped in the body, causing distress.  This is demonstrated by the body having a negative reaction including symptoms of chronic pain within the muscles and is reflected in one’s facial expressions and body language specifically. This is the mind-body connection. What affects the mind, affects the body.  In psychology, the Mind-Body Connection phenomenon is the belief that the causes, development, and outcome of disease are determined based on the interaction of psychological, social factors, and biological factors, including: 

  • Your Environment

  • Overall psychological well-being

  • Quality of relationships at work and at home 

  • Your ability to manage your feelings

  • Your feelings about yourself 

  • Your ability to create and use positive coping skills

Somatic therapy/talk therapy can help address the root of these emotional health issues through therapeutic body techniques, and other treatments. Although, it depends on various factors, including the person’s needs, mental health history, and the severity of their condition.   Symptoms of trauma and PTSD can last for weeks, months, or even years after the devastating event has occurred. It can be difficult to find homeostasis and reach a level of clarity, which is why treatment is so imperative. Often, mental health conditions are misdiagnosed or left untreated. That’s why it is imperative to address the issue as early as possible, as there may be underlying issues that need to be examined.  Our team at Montare Behavioral Health utilizes various types of physical therapies and psychotherapies during treatment. We believe in holistic approaches such as somatic counseling, as it aims to treat the “whole” person (mind, body, and spirit) not just the symptoms of a condition to get to the root of the issue and discover any underlying conditions that could be exacerbating the situation.

History Of Somatic Therapy

In the late 19th and 20th centuries, the Father Of Psychology, Sigmund Freud, French psychotherapist Pierre Janet, and most importantly, Austrian psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich made a major impact on the early development and initiation of somatic therapy. They truly garnered people’s interest in this type of psychology/therapeutic modality, and the role the body plays in the onset of mental health issues.   Reich was a former student of Freud’s who believed that human impulses were innate, and was one of the first people to investigate the body’s role in psychology and the dynamic it brings to psychotherapy specifically.  

In 1933, he published his book titled, Character Analysis, where he expressed his belief that an individual’s personality is characterized partly due to their repressed emotions (holding back feelings), seen through muscular tension, posture, and physical movements, or as he liked to call this, “body armor.” 

Although his work was highly criticized, Nevertheless, he introduced and developed several key concepts for the field of somatic psychotherapy. Since the 1930s, this form of psychotherapy involving feelings and thoughts in the mind and body has significantly improved and expanded. Mental health experts have begun to recognize the benefits of this holistic approach, allowing them to make adjustments to their treatment approaches as necessary. 

How Does Somatic Therapy Work?

Past traumatic experiences and other psychological issues can harm a person’s autonomic nervous system. Therefore, for individuals who experience emotional and psychological problems, it is common that they also suffer from physical concerns such as sexual dysfunction, digestive issues, hormonal imbalances, or muscular tension in parts of the body such as the neck, shoulders, head, and stomach.  As the main goal of somatic therapy is to find the connection between a person’s body and mind, therapists believe a person’s inner feelings impact their physical health. Therefore, they use techniques such as mind-body exercises to help release built-up anger and trauma that are affecting a person’s overall wellbeing. 

What To Expect During Somatic Therapy

Traditional forms of psychotherapy or talk therapy can usually address various mental and emotional health issues. However, therapists who specialize in somatic therapy believe they can help people address their deeper emotional problems quicker, and get to the root of the issue by paying close attention to communication through someone’s body language, as opposed to just talking.  

During somatic therapy sessions, people will be encouraged to reflect on their patterns of behavior and identify what emotions, experiences, or concerns may have impacted their decisions.  By utilizing certain therapeutic techniques, individuals have successfully been able to release the pent-up tension and stress that has wreaked havoc on their bodies. These methods of somatic therapy include:

To help those who are suffering better manage/cope with their symptoms/conditions, and identify triggers, our mental health specialists at Montare Behavioral Health, most importantly, teach people how to become more aware of their bodies and the sensations they feel. 

The Benefits Of Somatic Therapy

There are many benefits of somatic psychotherapy. Everyone has unique needs, and therefore, our team at Montare creates customized treatment plans to assist people on their journey to recovery to be able to effectively reach their goals to have access to the quality life and health that they deserve. People undergo somatic therapy as a part of their treatment regimen to specifically achieve the following: 

  • Help improve symptoms of anxiety and depression
  • Improve regulation of emotions
  • Address relationship concerns 
  • Improve self-expression and communication skills

At Montare, our team also utilizes somatic psychotherapy to help our patients improve their self-esteem and self-awareness. As a result, this leads to an improved sense of self, increased awareness and exploration of the body, reduced stress levels, and improved connection/relationship with others.  

Who Are The Best Candidates For Somatic Therapy? 

The use of body-oriented counseling is an essential part of an integrated treatment approach, specifically treating people with trauma. Somatic therapy not only treats PTSD but can help address a wide range of mental health issues, such as Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). As mentioned before, this also includes physical and emotional concerns. The best candidates for somatic therapy are people who have mental health conditions that need to be treated with more conventional approaches that will provide holistic healing, meaning treat the whole person, not just their symptoms (mind, body, spirit). 

Difference Between Body Therapy And Somatic Therapy

It is important to know that while somatic therapy is also known as body-oriented psychotherapy, it differs from body therapy. Somatic therapy involves the treatment of deep-rooted mental health issues, resolving psychological concerns, and create positive changes in behavior.  Traditional body therapy does not, as it more focuses on other forms of treatment, such as therapeutic massage, non-therapeutic massages, and cosmetic skin treatments, as a means to reduce stress and increase long-term health. Somatic therapy provides actual crucial psychological insight and increases self-awareness of the body, mind, and spirit within.  

How to Improve Your Mind-Body Connection & Emotional Health

There are ways in recovery that you can help to improve your mind-body connection and overall health, along with somatic therapy. Below are some tips on how to do so: 

Practice Stress Management Techniques 

Stress can hinder various aspects of one’s life, physically, mentally/emotionally, and socially. Luckily, there are ways to manage stress, called stress management techniques. These include journaling/writing, meditation/yoga, participating in extracurricular activities, using creative outlets such as music therapy or art therapy, volunteering, etc. 

Meditation And Yoga

Evidence has proven that relaxation methods such as mindfulness mediation, yoga, and deep breathing exercises are useful ways to bring your emotions into balance. Meditating can help you focus on being at one with yourself, restore peace, and make you more aware of your body and how it feels.

Invest In You: Self-Care

Indeed, there’s never enough time in the day to do everything, and that includes having time for yourself. Self-care is imperative to good overall health and wellbeing. It’s okay to invest in yourself!   It can be important to schedule time just for yourself, to do whatever it is that you need to do to help yourself emotionally, mentally, and physically. Think about a purpose, what do you like doing (hobbies, activities)? What are you passionate about? Once you know or even if you don’t, you will figure it out eventually as you go along. Just remember to invest in all areas of your health: nutrition, fitness, relationships, work-life balance, and personal hobbies. Develop resilience will allow you to improve your self-awareness and can help cope with stress and emotions. Resilience is something that can be learned and strengthened with different strategies. These include having support, having good self-esteem (A positive view of yourself), accepting that change is inevitable, and perspective is key.

Montare Behavioral Health Can Help You Get Your Life Back On Track

There is evidence that finds a benefit to somatic therapy. With the help of a licensed therapist, a person can better manage the trauma and physical tension in their body and experience better mental health and improved quality of life.  To learn more about somatic therapy and if you or a loved one is suffering from mental health problems, contact us today! We look forward to helping you get your life back on track. 

References

https://www.johnshopkinssolutions.com/the-mind-body-connection/