Somatic Healing Therapy: How It Works, Uses, Types and Techniques
The word somatic refers to anything related to the body. Many reports feel they’ve floated away from their bodies during a traumatic experience. The out-of-body experience may occur each time they’re triggered, reducing their awareness and connection to their bodies.
Methods such as eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) and somatic experiencing therapy are popular forms of somatic psychotherapy. The latter is a body-oriented approach to trauma therapy that aims to fully reinforce the mind-body connection to process traumatic stress.
People with mental health conditions such as PTSD, anxiety disorders and depression may find somatic experiencing an excellent alternative therapy to try.
Somatic Experiencing Therapy Techniques
SIBAM is an acronym for Sensations, Images, Behavior, Affect and Meaning. During a somatic experiencing session, your therapist will guide you to filter traumatic memories through the different categories of the SIBAM model.
As you recall traumatic memories, you’ll report the bodily sensations they arouse to your therapist. The therapist may also keep track of bodily functions controlled by your autonomic nervous systems, such as breathing, heart rate and blood pressure.
You’ll then identify the images or senses the memories evoke. For example, what can you see, hear, taste, smell or taste while holding a memory at the front of your mind?
You’ll also gauge the behavior caused by the memory. Sometimes, traumatic memories can make your face or body twitch, flare your nose or cause your eyes to dart around. You may even curl into a ball to protect yourself from physical pain caused by the trauma.
Affect refers to the emotional symptoms of traumatic experiences. You’ll identify feelings such as fear, anger, impotence or disgust aroused by the traumatic memory.
The final step of the SIBAM model helps you identify the beliefs you hold about yourself and others due to the trauma. For example, do you believe you’re weak if you can’t defend yourself from past or present physical abuse? Did past trauma distort your faith in others, making you always defensive and on guard?
Identifying the meaning, you attach to the trauma lets your therapist use future sessions to help you develop self-compassion and more positive beliefs about yourself and the world.
Resourcing or grounding is a technique in which your therapist helps you identify thoughts to ease the symptoms of a traumatic stress response. Thinking of a pet, a loved one, or your favorite place can help lower your breathing rate and reduce agitation caused by a traumatic memory.
Holding these positive thoughts and memories can help you experience traumatic memories without dissociating from your body, allowing you to process the trauma event fully.
Pendulation is a trauma-processing technique in which a somatic therapist teaches you relaxation methods when you become distressed during therapy. Breathing exercises are a popular technique for reducing physical agitation when experiencing PTSD symptoms.
Pendulation is used alongside resourcing during somatic experiencing sessions. When you become agitated, your therapist will transition the session from trauma recall to relaxation exercises and resourcing until you’re calm.
Mastering how to switch between active recollection and relaxation prepares you to deal effectively with the bodily symptoms of trauma away from the therapy environment.