“I don’t feel right in my own skin.” That sensation, of not feeling comfortable in your body, is a signal that simply talking about difficult memories, experiences, and emotions may not be enough to fully process and heal from your discomfort. The dis-ease you feel may need to be treated with therapeutic techniques that don’t rely solely on the thinking self, but on the feeling and sensing self as well: that is somatic psychotherapy.
Somatic approaches to healing were originally developed to treat trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder. Now, somatic therapies have been found to be helpful for relief of all kinds of stressors. Often, people automatically equate somatic therapy with eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), but there are many other types. Which somatic therapy is right for you?
EMDR – Benefits
When people look for somatic therapy, they often get directed to Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR). EMDR asks you to identify the sources of trauma in your life. As you recall the sources, a therapist guides you to follow certain eye movements (such as following a pen moving side to side in front of you) to retrain the brain on a neurological level to lessen the impact of that trauma memory. This modality has been proven helpful for many people who can identify the life events that caused them to feel distressed and slowly diminish their negative impact on the body and psyche.
EMDR – Limitations
EMDR may not be the best modality to treat conditions that are biological, genetic, or generational. EMDR is not recommended for people who have dissociative disorders, complex trauma, or those who cannot identify the events from their past that bring them emotional or physical discomfort.
You may not fall under any of the above categories, and still found that EMDR did not help you ease pain around past trauma. That may be because you do not get triggered during session when those memories are brought up. EMDR works when the client becomes activated or upset when a certain traumatic memory is brought up, but if you do not get activated, the treatment cannot be effective.
Alternative Somatic Therapies to EMDR
- Somatic Experiencing (SE): Like EMDR, SE asks clients to return to traumatic memories while a therapist guides them to slowly tolerate body sensations and emotional distress. This modality is based on the nervous system’s flight/flight/freeze response to potential harm. SE helps clients gently release stored energy from incomplete nervous system re-set.
- Brainspotting: Like EMDR, Brainspotting was developed to treat trauma and identifies spots in a person’s visual field. This modality involves asking the client to discuss difficult feelings while noticing when they blink, twitch, wobble or roll their eyes. These micro movements act as a map for where the client should mindfully hold a particular eye position to help process trauma.
- Body-Mind Centering integrates movement, touch, voice, and mind. Like Alexander technique, it works to re-pattern the fundamental natural developments of the body. This modality works well for those who are comfortable with free movement and are interested in the application of anatomical and physiological approaches to healing and wellness.
- Hakomi Method is based on the idea that the body is a core resource for self-understanding. Almost all Hakomi sessions takes place in a state of mindfulness, where the client holds an inward focus on the present moment. This modality also incorporates aspects of depth psychology, which allows unconscious material that the client might not be aware of to surface and be integrated.
- Sensorimotor Psychotherapy was developed to remedy the disconnect between mind and body during the healing process. Unlike EMDR and SE, this modality does not need the client to return to the traumatic memory itself, but rather simply the time leading up to the trauma, and then talk about any feelings they experience. The therapist will ask you to locate feelings in the body and encourage the completion of movement that were unfulfilled to create closure.
- Laban Movement Analysis (also known as Bartenieff Fundamentals) is based on the idea that certain non-verbal postures and body movements are connected to specific emotions and that you can impact your emotional state by adjusting your body shape. Therapists “track” client movement during session, offering insight into how the movement may be connected to emotion.
All the above somatic therapy modalities have their own training and certification process. If one of them feels like a good fit, you can find a specific practitioner near you.
Somatic Therapy Tailored for YOU.
If you are still not sure if you want to focus on just one treatment style, you can see a therapist, like me, who holds a Certification in Somatic Psychotherapies and Practices and can dip into many different modalities as needed. I highly recommend this path for those with more than one concern or diagnosis, people who suffer from both physical and emotional pain, for those who are unsure about where their emotional or physical pain comes from, and for those who want to augment regular talk therapy with specific somatic interventions tailored to fit their needs.
You may have come to therapy, not because your mind told you to, but because your body did. When the body speaks, listen.
I would love to talk with you more about providing the somatic therapy best for you.