Why all therapists should have an understanding of somatic therapy

When we hear about somatic therapy, or working with the body, we can assume this is a niche way of working focused on physical movement. While it’s true that therapists can focus their practice around this model, it’s something that all of us can easily integrate into our client work, regardless of our modality.

working with the body

Working with the body can simultaneously allow us to connect better with our clients, whilst enabling breakthroughs for them.

You can learn more about working with the body at our online Somatic Masterclass on 19th September but in the meantime here are five huge benefits of somatic therapy for all counsellors.

1. Deeper empathy

While somatic therapy can involve movement, at the heart of it is connecting with all of our client’s experience – including their body sensations. Tuning into this can give a greater depth of understanding and being “with them” – what Mick Cooper would refer to as “embodied empathy“.

Our capacity to become switched onto this can facilitate a deep connection, including relational depth. It is also permission-giving and habit-forming with clients learning to be more in touch with their bodily feelings.

“While mental exploration may enhance our understanding, opening to our embodied experience is the gateway to healing and freedom.”
– Tara Brach, author of Radical Compassion.

2. Countertransference awareness

As well as a deeper understanding of how our client feels, we can also use our own body sensations to become clued into what is going on beneath the surface for the client. We can learn to become intuitive, using our physical feelings as potential information on our client’s unconscious processes – to work through with them.

Perhaps there’s a feeling of wanting to flee the therapy room, or a feeling of being drained: we can become curious as to whether this is how the client might feel – or perhaps what they may have experienced in other relationships.

3. Safety and stabilisation

Stabilisation is an important first step in trauma work which involves establishing ways of physiologically grounding the client, both within the session and in their day-to-day life. This makes trauma work possible and also safer.

By checking in with the body and utilising grounding techniques we can try to ensure the the client is staying within their window of tolerance, not veering into hyper- or hypo- arousal.

4. Effective trauma work

“Physical self-awareness is the first step in releasing the tyranny of the past.”
– Bessel van der Kolk

Clients may also lack articulate memories of their experiences, but their bodies may hold the stories for them – and we can work with this. Body sensations and impulses can act as the entry point to trauma memories, leading to processing and recovery which may not occur if the work stays with purely verbal processing.

>> Read more about working this way in our blogpost on Sensorimotor Psychotherapist Tony Buckley’s practice

Movement can also be an important part of recovery – whether outside of sessions or as part of them. For those who become stuck in the “freeze” responses of trauma, the act of physically moving forward can counteract that frozen, powerless state. Movements that were stopped during a traumatic event, such as not being able to push away an attacker, can also be enacted within therapy giving a feeling of completion and triumph.

5. Self care

For clients, being able to check in on their body sensations can make them more in tune with their emotional experiencing, making them better able to understand and meet their own needs. This is also true for therapists.

Whether wanting to maintain our wellbeing through personal stressors or ensuring we don’t reach burn out through client work, mindfully checking in with the body can help us keep on top of self-care. We might realise we need a restful night (or a weekend!) with a soft blanket on the sofa, or we might recognise a need to move our bodies in whatever way that is possible for us – even just “shaking off” or stretching at the end of a day of sessions.

While hugs from others can be comforting, we can also provide ourselves with this kind of soothing.

Body-based self-care can also be incredibly soothing, nurturing the needs of our inner child. Self-hugs and arm stroking, with validating and calming words, can be emotionally regulating. This kind of physical self-soothing can be seen as self-parenting and alongside somatic techniques such as breathwork and grounding methods, provides a healthy way for clients to cope with challenging emotions.

“When you learn how to re-parent yourself, you will stop attempting to complete the past by setting up others to be your parents.”
– John Bradshaw

Want to learn more about somatic therapy? Get 30% off Tony Buckley’s online training Keeping the Body in Mind with the code POLYVAGAL until Saturday 10th October. If purchased you have 6 months to watch the video in your own time.

You can also learn more from Tony on working with the body at his CPD day on Polyvagal Theory: Therapeutic Presence and The Relational Space Between Us on:

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