CTC embraces somatic therapy as an important approach to healing because we know the mind and body are connected in very important ways.  A landmark study called the Adverse childhood experiences or ACES study linked early traumatic events with the development and prevalence of a wide range of serious health and mental health difficulties throughout a person’s lifespan.  Early traumatic experiences have been linked to risky health behaviors and chronic health conditions.  We know that experiencing trauma can result both emotional and physical symptoms.  Many of our clients report physical symptoms such as pain, physical tension, digestive issues, hormonal imbalances, sexual dysfunction, immune system dysfunction, and other medical issues.

Somatic psychotherapy is one of the best ways for clients heal from trauma because it works with both the client’s biography and biology. Traditional psychotherapy tends to be solely focused on the mind, meaning making, and narratives.  Somatic therapy, in contrast, is a holistic therapy that focuses on how both the mind and body are impacted by psychological experiences. Somatic therapists work with clients on noticing how past trauma is held in the body and work with their clients to process their trauma somatically. Learn more about how somatic therapy can help clients who have experienced trauma.

This month, we asked CTC therapist, Caroline Guhde, LCSW, to share information about a form of somatic psychotherapy that she practices called Sensorimotor Psychotherapy.

What is Sensorimotor Psychotherapy?

Have you ever experienced something really overwhelming, something that threatened your sense of safety and made you feel like you may not survive the experience?

Sensorimotor Psychotherapy (SP) aims to overcome such trauma.  SP was created based on the theory that our first response to a traumatic event takes place in the body. According to SP, it is not until the body’s response to a traumatic event is processed that the experience can be completely integrated and feel resolved.  SP was developed because of the belief that we experience the world not just through our thoughts and emotions, but also through the ways in which we hold memories and information in our bodies and construct meaning from these sensations.

Other traditional models of therapy emphasize place emphasis on someone recounting their traumatic experience in detail. For some, that can be too overwhelming: Talking about the details can be re-traumatizing, and in some circumstances, the ability to put words to what happened may not be possible.  SP is a different approach in that it uses the body as the primary entry point for processing trauma. According to SP, once the body has been attended to, we can link in other ways we organize our experience around that event/memory by exploring what emotions and thoughts are related to what happened.

Trauma can threaten our ability to feel safe in the world and can interfere with our ability to feel safe in our own body.  Because of that, SP addresses the need to establish safety in the body first before recounting the narrative and attending to the thoughts and emotions that the memory elicits.
Our body is our container, and sometimes because our sense of safety has been violated, it becomes necessary to bring our awareness back to how we feel in our body.  As we develop our awareness of how we feel in our bodies, we can start to pay attention to and savor the good feelings that our body can conjure in us: the ability to feel contained, oriented, and grounded can really restore a sense of safety, capacity, and resiliency.

According to SP, we all have “resources” that we employ in our lives.  Resources are “skills, abilities, objects (things), relationships, and services that provide support for maintaining safety, a sense of self, and both connection and differentiation from others regardless of what is occurring in the environment” (Sensorimotor Psychotherapy Institute 2012).  In essence, our resources provide us relief and/or pleasure and help us maintain our sense of self despite the many stressors in our environment.  We all employ somatic resources, but sometimes we aren’t aware of what those are because they are so hardwired they become an unconscious action.

In addition to SP, CTC utilizes other somatic approaches to provide relief and healing from traumatic events such as Somatic Experiencing (SE) Psychotherapy and Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing (EMDR).  Each of these approaches brings awareness to the resources we can employ to create a sense of safety, self, connection and differentiation.  Next month we will feature common traumatic reactions and SP exercises you can practice at home to bring awareness to the abundance of somatic resources.