What Is Somatic Therapy? Benefits, Types And Efficacy (2024)

If you’ve ever heard the phrase “the body keeps the score,” you may be familiar with somatic therapy already. Somatic therapy operates under the belief that emotions become trapped in the body when not processed. This approach is often used to help survivors of trauma, but certain techniques can also be useful as a treatment for an array of mental health diagnoses.

Learn more about who can benefit from somatic therapy, what the practice entails and how to find a somatic therapist.

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What Is Somatic Therapy?

Somatic therapy, sometimes known as body psychotherapy, is a therapeutic approach that places importance on what we experience in the mind and the body as well as the connection between the two. “Somatic” itself means “of or relating to the body.”

“[Somatic therapy] requires an awareness of what is going on inside the body, meaning the physiological cues in response to a trigger or the physiological reactions we have throughout the day, such as headaches or stomach aches,” says Elizabeth Fedrick, Ph.D., a licensed professional counselor at Evolve Counseling in Arizona.

Those that practice somatic therapy believe that when we have a traumatic experience, “it gets stored on a cellular level,” says Dr. Fedrick, likening it to the common phrase (as well as the title of a bestselling book by post-traumatic stress pioneer Bessel van der Kolk), “the body keeps the score.”

What Does a Somatic Therapist Do?

A somatic therapist helps an individual develop an awareness of their bodily sensations, teaching them to feel safe in their bodies while recalling certain thoughts, experiences and emotions. Somatic therapists help individuals release certain emotions that are built up within the body using a variety of techniques including breathwork, hypnosis or acupressure, among others.

Some of the techniques somatic therapists often use include:

  • Body awareness: This technique teaches an individual to recognize tension within the body and to evoke calming thoughts.
  • Titration: A therapist guides an individual through a traumatic memory while noting and addressing physical sensations.
  • Pendulation: This approach guides an individual from a relaxed state to emotions associated with trauma and back to relaxation.
  • Resourcing: A therapist helps an individual recall people and places associated with feelings of safety.

Somatic Therapy vs. Talk Therapy

Somatic therapy equally emphasizes and treats both the body and mind, while talk therapy (psychotherapy) traditionally focuses more on thought processes, perceptions and behaviors.

Charlotte Mulloy, a Colorado-based psychotherapist and somatic coach at Freespira, a digital therapy company, describes talk therapy as a “top-down” process, bringing awareness to thoughts and perceptions to modify behavior, while somatic therapy adds a “bottom-up” process “to engage the body’s movement patterns to alter behavior and facilitate change.”

Some practitioners, such as Dr. Fedrick, practice both talk therapy and somatic therapy in the same session to provide a more holistic-type of treatment. “As the client is talking, [the therapist] might stop them and ask, ‘What’s going on in your body? What are you experiencing right now physically?’” she explains.

Types of Somatic Therapy Practices

Somatic therapy typically encompasses multiple practices that focus on both mind and body.

Breathwork involves breathing intentionally to boost awareness of your body and help it “become an intentional tool for self-regulation,” says Mulloy, who prefers this tactic in her practice. Because breathwork involves the physical act of breathing and the mental act of focusing on the breath, it effectively links the mind and body, aiming to provide awareness and insights into your nervous system and emotions.

Eye-Movement Desensitization Reprocessing (EMDR) uses bilateral (left-right) physical stimulation to reduce the vividness and emotion of a traumatic memory. During an EMDR session, a patient recalls a traumatic memory while experiencing rhythmic bilateral stimulation, often eye movements, audio tones or physical taps, with the intention of altering the way the memory is stored in the brain. The patient may also be prompted to check in with their body to see what sensations they are experiencing, and what emotions may be trapped in those sensations.

EMDR may not be suitable for individuals with serious medical conditions, people who are pregnant or those who frequently dissociate, advises Dr. Fedrick.

Brainspotting identifies points in your field of vision, or brainspots, that are associated with trauma stored deep in the brain and aims to desensitize you to those associations. Brainspots may be identified by the therapist watching the patient’s eyes (known as “the outside window”), the patient themselves (“the inside window”) or by acknowledging a spot the patient already fixates on (“gazespotting”).

Once a brainspot is identified, an individual focuses on that location while reliving or recalling a traumatic memory to the therapist. The goal is to allow the person to properly process the traumatic event, through identifying sensations and emotions, now that they are in a safe environment and to lessen the traumatic association to that brainspot.

Hakomi, which means “Where do I stand in relation to the many realms?” in Hopi, emphasizes mindfulness (being aware of your internal state, your surroundings and their interaction), nonviolence and the body as an indicator of your psyche, according to the Hakomi Institute.

In a Hakomi therapy session, an individual spends most of the time in mindfulness to more deeply understand their emotions. In turn, Hakomi practitioners pay attention to the patient’s physicality, such as gestures and posture, which is believed to reveal unconscious memories and associations. Hakomi practitioners also focus on their own consciousness, mindfulness and loving energy to better facilitate the therapy.

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The Pros and Cons of Somatic Therapy

While somatic therapy can be beneficial for individuals with certain mental health care concerns, it may not be suitable for everyone. Consider the following benefits and drawbacks of somatic therapy.


  • Research suggests that somatic therapy may help to reduce symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression and anxiety.
  • Somatic therapy may increase an individual’s resilience in social, physical and psychological domains.
  • In addition to improved symptoms of PTSD, depression and anxiety, somatic therapy may improve an individual’s overall sense of well-being, according to research.


  • Some research suggests that somatic therapy may not benefit all individuals with symptoms specific to anxiety.
  • Some experts suggest that certain somatic therapy techniques require more research to verify their effectiveness.
  • Finding a therapist who is trained in somatic therapy techniques may be challenging.

Who May Benefit From Somatic Therapy?

Recent research has pointed to somatic therapy as being effective when used as a treatment for trauma and/or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)[1]Kuhfuß M, Maldei T, Hetmanek A, Baumann N. Somatic experiencing - effectiveness and key factors of a body-oriented trauma therapy: a scoping literature review. Eur J Psychotraumatol. 2021;12(1):1929023. [2]Brom D, Stokar Y, Lawi C, et al. Somatic Experiencing for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder: A Randomized Controlled Outcome Study. J Trauma Stress. 2017;30(3):304-312. . “Traumatic memories are stored as sensory perceptions, obsessive thoughts and behavioral reenactments,” explains Mulloy, which can make talk therapy alone a painful and ineffective approach, in her opinion. “Survivors can easily be triggered by stimuli that seize control of the limbic system—the part of our brain that’s involved in emotional and behavioral responses—to create a trauma response.” Somatic therapy engages the limbic system and the autonomic nervous system “to aid in self-regulation,” Mulloy says.

Individuals living with other mental health conditions may also benefit from certain somatic therapy treatments. EMDR, a practice often utilized in somatic therapy, was found to positively affect individuals with anxiety, addictions, somatoform disorders (where physical symptoms seem to have no explanation), sexual dysfunction, eating disorders, mood disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and pain, according to a 2021 review in Frontiers in Psychology[3]Scelles C, Bulnes LC. EMDR as Treatment Option for Conditions Other Than PTSD: A Systematic Review. Front Psychol. 2021;12:644369. .

The Hakomi method has also been used as a holistic and non-judgmental approach to addressing compulsive sexual behaviors[4]Blycker GR, Potenza MN. A mindful model of sexual health: A review and implications of the model for the treatment of individuals with compulsive sexual behavior disorder. J Behav Addict. 2018;7(4):917-929. .

Outside of diagnosed mental health conditions, just about anyone can benefit from somatic therapy, since we all experience stress but may tend to operate on autopilot, ignoring how that stress affects our minds and bodies, says Dr. Fedrick.

She recommends asking yourself the three “Ws”—What’s going on? Where is it coming from? What do I need?—to assess what your body is telling you, figure out what is causing that sensation and finally, determine what coping or support mechanism is needed to put your body and mind to rest.

Who Should Avoid Somatic Therapy?

While somatic therapy can be a useful tool in alleviating symptoms of conditions like PTSD, depression and anxiety, it may not be right for everyone. Specifically, Dr. Fedrick advises those who are pregnant, have serious medical conditions or frequently dissociate to avoid EMDR. Speak with a mental health care profession to determine the right form of therapy for you.

Is Somatic Therapy Effective?

Somatic therapy is considered a successful and mainstream branch of psychotherapy by the European Association for Psychotherapy.

“Through my work in substance use recovery and private practice, I have seen the benefit of adding somatic interventions into individual and group work,” Mulloy shares. “There are some memories and behaviors that we just can’t out-think, and this is where adding somatic awareness can be beneficial.”

Dr. Fedrick hopes that the term somatic therapy will become normalized among the general population so there can be more awareness around its effectiveness.

How Long Does Somatic Therapy Take to Work?

How long it takes for somatic therapy to work depends on factors like an individual’s symptoms and hours of therapy, among others. However, one 2021 meta analysis found that individuals who participated in somatic therapy experienced improvements in PTSD and depression symptoms within five to 12 weeks of starting treatment[5]Rosendahl S, Sattel H, Lahmann C. Effectiveness of Body Psychotherapy. A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Front Psychiatry. 2021;12:709798. .

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What to Look for in a Somatic Therapist

To find the best somatic therapist for you, determine what you’re aiming to treat and the kind of approach you might be interested in. For example, if you are living with PTSD, you’ll want to find a mental health practitioner who not only specializes in somatic therapy, but also specializes in PTSD and trauma. Other individuals might seek somatic therapy to work on general stress and being more mindful; in that case, a practitioner who focuses on mindfulness exercises would be a better fit, says Dr. Fedrick.

The United States Association for Body Psychotherapy also provides a therapist finder on its website.

While somatic therapy may not be the most well known modality out there, its benefits are well studied, and may prove helpful for a wide variety of people—especially when it comes to understanding how our emotions may effect the rest of our body.

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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Is somatic therapy legit?

While some research has found that somatic therapy is an effective treatment for certain mental health diagnoses like PTSD, more research is needed to verify the efficacy of this type of therapy, according to experts at Harvard Health Publishing.

What are examples of somatic therapy?

Examples of somatic therapy include breathwork (breathing intentionally to increase awareness of your body), EMDR (recalling a traumatic memory while experiencing bilateral stimulation to alter the way the memory is stored in the brain) and brainspotting (identifying points in your field of vision associated with trauma in the brain).

What conditions can somatic therapy treat?

Research suggests that somatic therapy is an effective treatment for mental health conditions like PTSD, depression and anxiety, among others.

How do you feel after a somatic experience?

There is no way to predict how an individual will feel after a somatic experience, as results may differ depending on the individual and technique being practiced, according to the United States Association for Body Psychotherapy (USABP).

Is EMDR the same as somatic therapy?

Eye-movement desensitization reprocessing (EMDR) is a type of somatic therapy that uses physical stimulation to reduce the vividness of a traumatic memory. During an EMDR session, an individual recalls a traumatic memory while experiencing rhythmic bilateral stimulation (eye movements, audio tones or physical taps) with the goal of changing how the memory is stored in the brain.

What Is Somatic Therapy? Benefits, Types And Efficacy (2024)
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