Somatic Therapy Exercises for Mental Health and Addiction
There are a number of different kinds of therapy that can help with mental health and addiction. Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), for example, is commonly used to treat both substance misuse disorder and mental health conditions. But, there’s another popular approach that’s less well known – and it’s called somatic therapy.
Discover more about why somatic therapy exercises are being used to treat conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and addiction in this article.
What is Somatic Therapy?
Somatic therapy is sometimes also known as somatic experiencing therapy. The word ‘Somatic’ comes from a Greek word meaning ‘of the body’ and refers to things that pertain to the physical body as distinct from the soul, spirit, or mind.
Somatic therapy exercises focus on the body and physiological reactions. But, another key focus is on the complex relationship between mind and body. It’s widely accepted that psychological trauma and some mental health issues, such as anxiety, can trigger physical symptoms. For example, this can include headaches, stomach aches and chronic fatigue, which is why somatic therapy exercises can be particularly useful.
Amanda Baker, director of the Center for Anxiety and Traumatic Stress Disorders and a clinical psychologist in the Department of Psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital, explains: “It’s a treatment focusing on the body and how emotions appear within the body. Somatic therapies posit that our body holds and expresses experiences and emotions, and traumatic events or unresolved emotional issues can become ‘trapped’ inside.“
The Role of Somatic Exercises in Healing
The somatic theory holds that the effects of trauma can live on, interconnectedly, in both the mind and body. Working on releasing these holds may help you to heal from a traumatic event or episode.
Healing through somatic therapy involves developing an awareness of these connections and carrying out different exercises. Somatic exercises are body-focused, meaning they are focused on physical sensations rather than thoughts and emotions, as is the case in talk therapies. They can be particularly useful for people displaying symptoms of PTSD or chronic stress but can also be used in the field of addiction recovery. There’s also a link between addiction and developing PTSD, as many who have experienced dependency are likely to also suffer from some form of trauma.
Somatic therapies can also be combined with talking therapies, such as CBT, in a holistic therapeutic programme.
Somatic grounding techniques can help you to focus on the here and now. In a similar way to mindfulness, anchoring yourself in the present can help you to move away from past events that are causing you distress. This could involve flashbacks or symptoms of anxiety and dissociation linked to past events or behaviours. In terms of addiction recovery, these techniques can help the person in recovery deal with cravings or anxiety, which can be very valuable in relapse prevention.
There are a number of different somatic therapy exercises based on grounding techniques, whether you are undertaking guided therapy or practising at home. You could, for example, spend some time tensing and relaxing different parts of your body. Pay attention to the feelings and sensations as you do so, and you should feel yourself become anchored in the present.
Breathwork for Regulation
Breathwork is one of a number of body-mind connection exercises, as it involves breathing intentionally to boost awareness of your own body and the physical processes that are occurring. It has some similarities to meditative breathing exercises but is more concerned with regulating your mood and physiological reactions rather than entering a meditative state.
Charlotte Mulloy, a Colorado-based psychotherapist and somatic coach, told Forbes Health that breathwork boosts awareness of the body, helping it become “an intentional tool for self-regulation”.
Self-regulation, whether achieved through breathwork or other somatic techniques, can help you to calm or navigate your emotions. This might help you to get over distress or relax when your body feels on ‘high alert’ or overreacts to everyday stresses and challenges.
Body Awareness Practices
Body awareness can help people to recognise tension spots in the body. An increased awareness can help you release that tension and relax, potentially helping with physical symptoms such as pain as well as stress and anxiety.
Body scanning is a common somatic body awareness practice. There are a number of ways to carry out body scanning. But it can be described as a sort of active meditation. One way is to adopt a seated or other comfortable position and mentally travel through your body from feet to head, concentrating on temperature, pressure, tension and other sensations. Relax each area before you move on to the next.
Gentle movements and stretches can aid in releasing tension and trauma stored in the body. Somatic movement-based exercises differ from regular physical exercise in that focusing on the internal experience and feeling of the movement is just as important as the movement itself. Theoretically, you should be able to use this internal experience to guide the movement, producing beneficial effects without causing undue strain.
There is often overlap between different somatic practices. For example, focusing on the way you feel when you move in a familiar and comfortable way can be grounding and help improve your body awareness.
Incorporating Somatic Exercises into Recovery
Somatic practices for recovery can be helpful if you are currently recovering from PTSD related to past traumas, addiction or certain other conditions. As mentioned above, some somatic practices can be valuable for resisting cravings, calming anxiety and preventing relapse.
It’s also worth noting that conditions such as PTSD and addiction are often interlinked. People may try to self-medicate or drown out memories with drugs or alcohol, while addiction, substance misuse and an associated chaotic lifestyle sometimes result in their own traumatic events.
Find help today
You should always consult with a professional therapist before starting any new therapeutic exercise regimen. This is especially true if you are in recovery or have underlying health issues. There are a number of resources that can help you find somatic therapists in the UK, including the Somatic Experiencing Association (SEAUK) and the Counselling Directory.
If you are suffering from addiction and related issues, reach out to our team. Ocean Recovery offers a comprehensive, holistic treatment programme that incorporates a wide range of therapies. Get in touch today to take the first steps towards a full and long-lasting recovery.
John Gillen - Author - Last updated: November 17, 2023
John is one UK’s leading professionals in the addiction recovery industry. Pioneering new treatment techniques such as NAD+ and ongoing research into new therapy techniques such as systematic laser therapy, John is committed to providing the very best treatment for people throughout the UK and Europe. During his extremely busy schedule, John likes to regularly update our blog section with the latest news and trends in the industry to keep visitors to our site as well informed as possible on everything related to addiction treatment.
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