When I first began my training in integrative somatic trauma therapeutic practices, I couldn’t help but wonder what exactly is somatic therapy. “Soma” is a word that represents the body within the mind-body connection. Somatic work is the use of the body as a tool for mental healing. Sounds complicated? Yes it can be. Reflecting on and now seeing the effects of using this therapeutic model on clients has given me more insight, clarity and an even more urgent sense that humanity is in need of this type of healing now more than ever.
Our bodies and minds are in constant communication, but what happens when we only hear one side of the conversation? How much of the time throughout the day is spent in your head? Thinking of your to-do list, reimagining the argument you had with your partner last night, reviewing the email your boss just sent you… It’s common in our chaotic world to maintain our awareness in the conscious thinking mind in order to complete all of the tasks and problem solving that comes with daily living. This type of thinking is a survival skill that keeps us alert to our surroundings and available to make real time decisions.
However, there is also an alternate form of awareness that relinquishes its space in the conscious thinking brain and roots itself deeply into the somatosensory space of the brain and central nervous system. This space is ruled by the central nervous system, or the spine, and often requires practice to learn to connect to. This deep level of awareness is always turned on, even when we are not consciously tapped into it. This is the space where somatic therapists begin to instruct clients on how to form a relationship to this new type of inner thinking to encourage more internal and bodily awareness. But how does it work?
Your central nervous system is the ultimate sensory receptor. It is constantly intaking your full sensory awareness (sight, smell, sound, taste, touch) and essentially inputting and calculating your lived experience. It has been doing so since you were born and will continue to do so, with or without your knowledge of this process.
Throughout your life, maybe you have experienced forms of fear, insecurity, or trauma. Your body interpreted and stored that information during that time as such. The body uses this information for protective and survival factors. Once you have moved past the negative experience, it is looking to discharge the energy from the event to create room for new experiences. Unless you are actively stepping out your conscious thinking brain and spending time in your somatosensory brain, then the energy may not be properly moved or discharged.
Unmoved energy left in the body may show up in life as physical symptoms (tiredness, headaches, gut imbalances, etc.) or emotional symptoms (anxiety, depression, etc.). Your body is telling you that it needs attention, that something is going on inside. This is where somatic therapy steps in.
It is very common to have displaced energy from past lived experiences that seem stuck in your body. Animals discharge their energy through shaking, humans aren’t taught how to connect to their bodies to relieve the energy within themselves.
A somatic therapist is there to help guide you to creating a relationship to your body, your somatic experience. Practices include guided imagery, visualization, breathing and movement exercises. Oftentimes, these practices can bring up memories or feelings associated with something needing expressed or discharged. The therapeutic space is a safe space to experience your feelings, identify where they exist in your body and to practice discharge techniques to integrate this experience and release it from your body. Once the negative experiences are discharged, more space opens up in your body to intake positive experiences. Experiences that are related to safety and peace. The more space that is filled in the body with peace and joy, the less physical symptoms will appear.
In the modern day world where everyone is reachable at any moment, where spending quiet time in our bodies is not something that is ingrained in our culture, and where living a busy distracted life is praised, it can feel hard to connect to your body. Pain or anxiety in the body is a symptom of something larger and needs to be addressed and discharged to create balance within oneself. It can feel like an internal physical or emotional battle against yourself. Now more than ever, somatic therapy is crucial for the longer term healing that is necessary to occupy our bodies in peace.
California Associate Clinical Social Worker #ASW100012
Under supervision of:
Javanne Golob #77915
San Francisco, California
I am a clinical therapist specializing in providing personalized care for individuals seeking support in addressing their mental health concerns, including trauma and addiction.