A Holistic Path to Healing: Somatic Therapy

Trauma can be a deeply troubling experience that can significantly impact an individual’s physical, mental, and emotional health.

Wiliam Reich is one of the great thinkers who initially popularized the idea that our body holds trauma. He believed that our body stores the remnants of a traumatic experience to lessen the burden on our mind. However, if body-stored trauma it’s not addressed, it can cause psychosomatic issues such as sleep issues, tiredness, irritability, and others.

Traditional talk therapy is generally regarded as one of the best forms of help for people suffering from trauma, but in some cases, it is not enough. A more holistic approach, such as somatic therapy, can fill this gap. Somatic therapy approaches trauma by incorporating a person’s mind, body, and emotions into the healing process. Read on to learn more about types of somatic therapy and the mind-body connection.

Uncovering the Roots of Trauma with Somatic Therapy

A woman who looks upset leans her head on the palm of her right hand while talking with a therapist.

Somatic therapy can help people deepen their mind-body connection and become more aware of their thoughts, emotions, and sensations.

Trauma impacts both the mind and the body, and for a person to be fully healthy, both must be addressed. An individual who has experienced a traumatic event can be perpetually stuck in a state of fight or flight. This state of mind puts the body under significant stress and can cause physical symptoms such as chronic physical pain, insomnia, and irritability.

Traditional talk therapy, such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), can help a person who has gone through trauma process their thoughts and feelings but might not address the physical symptoms that come with trauma. Cognitive restructuring is a CBT technique that replaces negative thought patterns with positive ones. However, psychosomatic issues, such as chronic fatigue, insomnia, and headaches, sometimes persist. ¹

Somatic therapy might be the key to solving those issues. This is a therapy based on the mind-body connection and the belief that a person’s thoughts, attitudes, and feelings can impact their physical functioning. According to the theory behind somatic therapy, physical factors such as diet, exercise, and posture might positively or negatively affect a person’s mental and emotional health. Somatic psychotherapy addresses both the mental and the physical aspects of trauma, providing a holistic path to healing.

What are examples of somatic therapy?

Here are some examples of different types of somatic therapies:

  1. Somatic experiencing therapy (SE):  In the 1970s, Peter Levine developed this type of therapy to help people process and release stored traumatic memories by focusing on physical sensations connected to them. Clients learn to gradually reduce the arousal caused by trauma by learning to accept and tolerate these sensations. Patients can use internal and external resources, such as identifying parts of the body or memories that invoke reassuring feelings, to reduce the arousal caused by trauma. Research shows that somatic experiencing therapy is effective for those suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or PTSD-related symptoms.⁶
  2. Body-oriented psychotherapy (BPT): This type of somatic therapy makes use of physical techniques such as movement, touch, and even massage, which help to relax and loosen tense muscles, stimulate circulation, and promote a greater sense of bodily awareness. Some therapists include techniques such as breathing exercises, guided visualization, and mindfulness to further increase the release of somatic tensions. The process of releasing somatic tensions, which are the result of mental conflicts, is tailored to the individual and might involve a combination of mental and physical techniques. Research suggests that BPT can be beneficial for a wide spectrum of psychiatric disorders.⁴
  3. Sensorimotor psychotherapy. This form of therapy helps clients distinguish between emotional and physical sensations resulting from a traumatic experience and normal sensory perceptions. The heightened awareness of the differences between sensory perceptions allows for the effective integration of unprocessed sensorimotor reactions to trauma, reducing their impact on cognitive and emotional experiences. Sensorimotor psychotherapy is especially useful for those suffering from dissociation, frozen states, hyperarousal, and other post-traumatic stress symptoms (PTSD).⁵

What are somatic techniques in therapy?

Somatic techniques in therapy refer to various methods that use the body and its sensations as a way to encourage psychological and emotional healing. Here are some examples of different types of somatic therapies:

  1. Breathwork: This somatic therapy technique involves a series of breathing sequences that help release tension and increase awareness of physical sensations in the body. Studies show that slow breathing helps synchronize brain waves, enabling diverse brain regions to communicate effectively.² A meta-analysis showed that breathwork could be especially helpful for individuals who experience anxiety and stress.³
  2. Grounding: This technique can help those who have experienced a traumatic event reconnect with the present moment and escape the cycle of negative thoughts and emotions. It involves removing shoes and socks, sitting on the ground, preferably outside, focusing on the breath, engaging the senses, feeling the connection with the earth, staying present for a few minutes, and ending by standing up slowly. Studies show that grounding can be highly beneficial for those suffering from chronic pain, inflammation, and autoimmune diseases.⁷
  3. Mindfulness. This somatic technique involves being fully present in the current moment and being aware of all the fleeting thoughts, emotions, and sensations from one’s field of perception. In order to practice mindfulness, the perception of the sensory input should be done without judgment. Mindfulness can help people observe their thoughts and emotions without feeling overwhelmed and can remove mental and emotional blockages they might suffer from. It can be especially helpful for people suffering from PTSD-related symptoms but also for anxiety and depression.

Somatic therapy may be provided to a patient for whom traditional treatment methods were not effective, but the somatic approaches to therapy are considered complementary techniques and should not replace talk therapy.

Working with a Mental Health Professional

In order to determine the best somatic therapy for a specific person, it is essential to consult with a mental health professional knowledgeable in somatic psychology. A somatic therapist will know which therapy works best based on a person's symptoms and will provide guidance and support to the client throughout the healing process.

Somatic therapy can address a wide range of mental health issues, including:

  • Chronic stress
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Grief
  • Addiction
  • PTSD
  • Addiction

What happens in a somatic therapy session?

During a somatic therapy session, a therapist will guide the client to focus on physical sensations and bodily experiences. The somatic therapist might use a wide range of techniques such as movement, touch, and breathwork to help clients connect with their body and release the tension it might hold. The psychotherapist might also use a technique such as mindfulness to help the client become more aware of their thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations.

Somatic therapy is especially useful for people suffering from PTSD or PTSD-related symptoms as it can help them process and integrate their traumatic experiences. However, it’s important to note that somatic therapy might not be suitable for everyone, and individuals should always consult with their healthcare provider about whether somatic therapy would be a good fit for them. The therapeutic process requires time and consistent effort to achieve desired results.

Can I do somatic therapy on myself?

It is possible to practice somatic therapy techniques on your own, but it is best to work with a trained therapist. A somatic therapist will help you understand the connection between physical sensations and emotional experiences to guide you through the process of releasing tension and traumatic memories stored within your body. They can also help you identify and work through any underlying issues contributing to your symptoms.

Self-practice can be useful as long as you are cautious not to harm yourself. Some somatic techniques, such as breathwork, mindfulness, and grounding, can be practiced on your own. However, a therapist can help you build the foundations of the work required for your healing process and provide feedback to ensure the best results for you.

A Holistic Path to Healing

A traveler wearing a backpack walks along a road surrounded by water to get to the mountains.

Somatic therapy includes a wide range of therapeutic methods and techniques to provide a holistic path toward healing.

One of the first somatic psychologists, Pierre Janet, suggested that traumatic experiences that are not fully processed by the conscious mind might lead to internalized but unrecognized memories that manifest as psychosomatic symptoms.

Somatic therapy provides a holistic approach toward addressing a person's psychosomatic symptoms by incorporating a person’s mind, body, and emotions into the healing process. It is based on the idea that there is a strong mind-body connection, and a person’s thoughts, feelings, attitudes, and beliefs can impact physical functioning.

Somatic psychotherapy approaches and techniques such as breathwork, body-oriented psychotherapy, and mindfulness help people release somatic tension and improve bodily awareness by addressing the physical, emotional, and mental aspects of the trauma.

It is recommended to work with a mental health professional to determine the best approach for a person's specific condition and to guide them toward uncovering the trauma’s root causes.

If you are interested in learning more about somatic therapy, you can check out our Psychology Program Overview or speak with an Admission Advisor to learn more about our programs.


  1. Shubina, I. (2015). Cognitive-behavioral therapy of patients with ptsd: literature review. Procedia-Social and Behavioral Sciences, 165, 208-216.
  2. Hsu, S. M., Tseng, C. H., Hsieh, C. H., & Hsieh, C. W. (2020). Slow-paced inspiration regularizes alpha phase dynamics in the human brain. Journal of Neurophysiology, 123(1), 289-299.
  3. Fincham, G. W., Strauss, C., Montero-Marin, J., & Cavanagh, K. (2023). Effect of breathwork on stress and mental health: A meta-analysis of randomised-controlled trials. Scientific Reports, 13(1), 1-14.
  4. Rosendahl, S., Sattel, H., & Lahmann, C. (2021). Effectiveness of Body Psychotherapy. A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Frontiers in psychiatry, 1486.
  5. Phase, H., & Valentine, N. (2000). One Method for Processing Traumatic Memory. Traumatology, 6(3).
  6. Kuhfuß, M., Maldei, T., Hetmanek, A., & Baumann, N. (2021). Somatic experiencing–effectiveness and key factors of a body-oriented trauma therapy: a scoping literature review. European journal of psychotraumatology, 12(1), 1929023.
  7. Oschman, J. L., Chevalier, G., & Brown, R. (2015). The effects of grounding (earthing) on inflammation, the immune response, wound healing, and prevention and treatment of chronic inflammatory and autoimmune diseases. Journal of Inflammation Research, 8, 83.

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