Therapy Without Talking Is A Real Thing — What You Need To Know About Somatic Therapy

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woman dancing with the waves

Does anxiety about telling a stranger your darkest secrets keep you from going to therapy or working with a coach?

If so, welcome to the world of somatic therapy, where you can address and resolve your issues without even talking about them!

If talk therapy isn't working for you, this could be an option. 

What you need to know about somatic therapy

"Soma" refers to the body as distinct from the mind. Therefore, this form of therapy takes a mind and body approach that doesn’t rely on talking. It sounds far-fetched and kind of "out there" but it’s a real thing and it’s deeply rooted in science. 

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In fact, somatic therapy has become the gold standard for the treatment of trauma including childhood abuse or neglect, as well as any mental condition related to stress overload.

Relationship issues and addictions are other areas that respond well to somatic therapy techniques. 

Additionally, forms of somatic techniques known as embodiment practices are quickly becoming standard in executive, health, and life coaching.

Unsurprisingly, body and eating issues are an area where embodiment practices yield success when thinking and talking don’t.

Somatic therapy utilizes psychoeducation as well as imagination or visualization, mindfulness, and emotional experiencing.

Somatic techniques can also be integrated into physical therapy, dance, singing, or massage.

In some somatic approaches, you provide a broad overview or outline of the problem you hope to address whereas in other approaches you don’t need to reveal anything.

Many traditional talk therapies now also integrate somatic techniques in order to boost effectiveness.

The root idea behind somatic therapy is that the body has its own wisdom, intelligence, and experience.

For instance, traumatic events are experienced non-verbally and may have occurred pre-verbally (before you could talk).

The resulting experience of extreme stress and overwhelm is felt and stored in body memory rather than in words. Therefore, healing requires working with the body.

By utilizing movement, including physical relaxation and focusing on felt senses, the body can lead the mind toward releasing negative emotional energy behind life events.

To understand this at a deeper level, consider that the brain has multiple systems.

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The thinking brain is built on top of an evolutionarily older system for detecting safety and danger.

These are known as brain systems one and two. System one operates quickly and unconsciously relying on instinct whereas system two, the conscious thinking brain, operates more slowly. 

Think of instinctively jumping back and shrieking when you sense danger.

This is system one in action. The jump and shriek gets your body out of danger’s way and serves as a warning to the potential predator and others. You react quickly without time to think.

Then, system two takes over, operating slower and more consciously to help you fully evaluate the danger.

Traumatic events, whether big or small, can reset system one. Therefore, after a traumatic event, your body’s fight-or-flight detection system may become overly sensitive, like a smoke alarm that goes off when there’s no danger.

Therefore, healing trauma requires the discharge of this tension in the body and the completion of the fight-or-flight to relaxation cycle.

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Rather than focusing on the specifics of what happened, somatic therapies focus on the response and the solution.

These techniques in general work on grounding, self-regulation, trust, and personal boundaries.

They are helpful in reducing negative coping strategies, reducing stress and overwhelm, increasing self-compassion and self-care, as well as addressing co-existing physical symptoms such as pain or GI distress or unwanted behaviors such as binge eating. 

Just as there are many different approaches to talk therapy, you will find multiple types of somatic therapies.

These include specific therapies such as somatic experiencing (based on the work of Peter Levine), sensorimotor psychotherapy (based on the work of Pat Ogden), and more generic types labeled as embodied psychotherapy or embodied movement therapy.

Coaches as well use somatic education and techniques like embodied leadership training or embodied self-care coaching.

Specific mind/body-based techniques include EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing), EFT (emotional freedom technique, also known as tapping), and hypnosis.

The result of somatic work can be truly transformational.

If you’ve got something bothering you that you don’t want to talk about, have found that talking doesn’t help, or feel stuck in general then somatic therapy or coaching could be just what you’re looking for.

RELATED: If Traditional Talk Therapy Isn't Working For You Anymore, Try Transpersonal Therapy

Lisa Newman, MAPP, is a positive psychology practitioner and health coach specializing in eating behavior and body acceptance. She is a certified mind-body eating coach and certified intuitive eating counselor. Visit the Women Eat website to find out more.