What is Somatic Therapy & How It Helps in Addiction Recovery

Addiction treatment is finally embracing the practice of adopting holistic therapies. While an evidence-based approach remains the heart and center of addiction recovery, alternative solutions like somatic therapy can supplement the treatment. Proponents of this form of psychotherapy believe a body-centered approach that looks at the connection of mind and body is key to addiction recovery. 

What is Somatic Therapy?

Somatic psychotherapy focuses mainly on the mind-body connection. Practitioners of this form of therapy believe the mind and body as one entity—somatic therapy associates past trauma with physical reflections like muscular pain, body language, and even posture. Also known as body-oriented psychotherapy, this style focuses on self-awareness, incorporates therapeutic massages and even cosmetic skin treatments to reduce stress and increase long-term health. 

What Can Somatic Therapy Treat?

As a holistic therapy, somatic psychotherapy can help people suffering from various mental health issues, including trauma and abuse. Many have even found somatic treatment to treat chronic pain, digestive disorders, and other medical conditions. Some issues somatic therapy can help with include:

  • Stress
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Grief
  • Substance use disorders
  • Relationship problems
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Trauma
  • Abuse
  • Chronic pain 

How is Somatic Therapy Different?

Somatic psychology views the mind-body connection very differently. Practitioners believe it is that connection that’s essential to therapeutic progress. Instead of working with the thinking brain to make progress, somatic therapists start with minimal changes involving the central nervous system. They follow a “bottom-up” approach that reduces stress and anxiety by changing the nervous system and healing trauma. 

The idea is that by focusing on the physical aspects of mental health burdens, individuals can use physical pressure to achieve emotional release fully. This is why beyond the talk therapy portion of it, a somatic approach uses physical exercise, massage therapy, and other physical therapies to help with the process. 

How Does Somatic Therapy Work?

Somatic psychotherapists believe some people may address emotional issues by paying attention to their body language. Thinking that past trauma and other psychological concerns can harm someone’s autonomic nervous system, people may also be affected by physical issues.

For example, someone with mental health burdens can also struggle with sexual dysfunction, hormonal issues, or tension in the body. 

Through somatic therapy, practitioners help patients become more aware of these physical triggers and learn to use different therapeutic techniques to release this pressure. Some of these techniques include physical sensation awareness, breathing exercises, physical exercise, voice work, and grounding exercises. 

What to Expect

In a somatic therapy session, you can expect a combination of talk therapy with some physical therapy. Usually, therapists guide patients through traumatic experiences while they analyze physical symptoms. Then, they walk patients through different physical techniques like deep breathing, relaxation exercises, and meditation to relieve the symptoms. 

After each session, patients are encouraged to continue tying somatic therapy activities like exercise, yoga, dancing, and other physical activity types, including vocal work or massages. 

During a somatic therapy session, patients are encouraged to reflect on their behavior patterns and identify how they may affect new emotions or concerns. 

How Effective Is It?

There are some limitations to somatic therapy. Since this form of body psychotherapy is relatively new, there isn’t much research about it. In 2017, a controlled study evaluated the use of somatic therapy to help with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). After the survey, results proved it can have positive benefits. Still, there needs to be more research to understand its effects fully. 

The other concern has to deal with the ethical issue of the use of touch during therapy. While some may find that physical contact during treatment helps reduce pain and tension, others — particularly those affected by sexual abuse or trauma — may be triggered or feel uncomfortable. 

It’s also essential to find a therapist that’s familiar with somatic techniques. Finding a connection with your therapist is critical to the rate of success. Patients need to understand the process and trust their therapists to make any positive progress. So, make sure you find a licensed therapist with the right educational background to help with your concerns.

How Can It Help With Addiction?

Overall, somatic therapy isn’t a dedicated treatment for addiction. However, it can be part of a comprehensive approach to treatment for a substance use disorder. Since addiction is often linked to trauma, relationship problems, and other behavioral issues, somatic therapy can offer relief. 

Still, most addiction specialists see the value of somatic therapy as part of aftercare recovery. As you probably know, addiction is a life-long battle that comes with many triggers after someone leaves recovery. Somatic therapy can provide people the tools they need to manage cravings, recognize triggers, and prevent relapse. 

Since somatic therapy focuses on the mind-body connection, it can give people the tools they need to focus on their overall wellness. The importance of a healthy diet, exercise, and mental health are all critical for long-term addiction recovery.

If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, consider talking to a mental health specialist today. At Lighthouse Recovery Institute, we can help you find the right treatment to win the battle against addiction. Let us be the light on your recovery journey. We’ll be by your side every step of the way. 

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