There are many challenges we encounter during the different stages of our lives. Major life events can leave lasting effects on our physical and mental welfare. Whether it’s a traumatic life event like abuse or assault, a tragic life event such as the death of a loved one or an emotional issue, for example, dysfunctional relationship or emotional neglect – these life events can leave life-long effects on individual’s overall well-being.
Highly stressful or traumatic life events trigger negative emotions and thoughts. People that went through a particularly stressful or traumatic life event usually develop feelings of desperation, worthlessness, sadness, and shame. They may be unable to enjoy life, to focus, solve problems and make decisions. Powerless to process the experience and cope with its effects in a constructive way, some people are likely to develop unhealthy coping strategies such as anxiety, depression or substance abuse.
Both science and experience proved that our mind and body are connected in a powerful way. Every feeling or thought has a power to provoke a somatic reaction in our body. Therefore, an experience of trauma generates not only emotional but physical symptoms as well.
Unlike psychotherapy that is focused on treating the individual’s mental state, somatic therapy concentrates on restoring both mental and physical well-being.
What is Somatic Therapy?
Somatic therapy or somatic experiencing therapy (SE) is a holistic, body-oriented approach that focuses on recognizing and releasing stuck energy or trauma in the body. Developed by Dr. Peter A. Levine, somatic therapy is intended to relieve symptoms of unresolved or incomplete trauma responses through body sensations.
The theory behind somatic therapy is that trauma symptoms are the effects of instability of a person’s autonomic nervous system (ANS). So, the main aim of SE is to release buried energy caused by trauma, providing healing from inside out. In addition, it can also be used to help people coping with other trauma-related symptoms and mental conditions.
After a traumatic event, people are usually unable to fully process what happened both on a conscious and subconscious level. To put it in other words, they find themselves trapped in the aftershock of a traumatic event. Unfortunately, instead of working through the events and their consequences in a healthy and positive way, many people turn to addiction as a coping method.
Somatic therapy helps people work through a traumatic event by developing their self-awareness. Through different techniques like mindfulness exercise, breathing, sound, and embodiment exercises, a therapist guides the client through the slow release of energy, evolving consciousness of the trauma sensations.
Throughout the therapy process, the client learns to develop an increasing tolerance to challenging somatic sensations and repressed emotions. During this process, people restore their self-esteem, energy and resilience. In addition, many people reported feeling deeply connected with themselves and other people again.
Somatic Therapy and Addiction Recovery
Somatic experiencing techniques focus on the sensory experiences of the present moment. Somatic therapy proved to be an effective treatment option for people who experienced trauma. However, it can also be used to relieve symptoms of substance abuse, stress, anxiety, depression, and chronic pain.
Most people struggling with addiction have a history of emotional loss, neglect or early childhood trauma. These life experiences usually operate on a subconscious level. However, a person may feel them as constant uneasiness, anxiety, and tension. It is a natural impulse to try to find a way to ease these feelings. Addictive behavior is actually an attempt to find balance and healing.
Somatic therapy helps people recovering from addiction focus on the present moment and begin paying attention to their innermost thoughts and feelings.
How it Works
During the somatic therapy, the client is asked to focus his or her memory on the images and feelings that arise. Through the body-oriented approach, the therapist helps the clients become aware of their emotional and physical response to a trauma and recognize their usual fight, flight, or freeze response.
According to Dr. Levine, the fight or flight reaction has multiple stages. However, the trauma does not allow a person to complete all those stages. Somatic experiencing therapy focuses on helping the client to complete that process.
This can help them renegotiate the painful memories and experiences they got “stuck” into, interrupting the cycle of negative, dysfunctional thoughts that induce the feelings of shame, guilt, sadness and worthlessness. Negotiating the overwhelming experiences that are at the core of trauma, people develop kindness and compassion towards themselves and their inner experiences.
Helping create greater relaxation of the mind and body, somatic therapy helps people recovering from addiction regain the ability to self-regulate and gain distance from their own behavior patterns under stress. In other words, somatic therapy resolves addiction by discovering constructive ways of coping with a person’s internal stress.
Focusing on the somatic experience of their current surroundings, people are able to evaluate the current safety. Developing the capacity to assess current safety protects a person from the cycle of traumatic experience triggers like flashbacks. By increasing a sense of balance in effectively managing everyday stress without the triggers of repeating flashbacks, a person recovering from addiction is empowered to find a clearheaded relaxation available in the present moment and life- affirming ways of having their needs met.