How Somatic EMDR Therapy Can Help You
What is Somatic Therapy?
Somatic therapy is a type of therapy that uses a person’s awareness in the present moment to connect the body to the mind and emotions. Traditional talk therapy focuses on a discussion between the therapist and client for the purpose of figuring out and coping with what causes symptoms, such as anxiety, depression, and problematic behaviors, thoughts, and emotions. While talk therapy can be helpful, often it tends to be long-term and is effective to continue treating the symptoms, but it doesn't resolve the root of what causes the symptoms. The important difference behind using somatic therapy is that we can do more than just manage through symptoms. When we work with the symptoms to address how they are stored in the body, they get the chance to be resolved.
Bear with me as I go into some brain and body science. Our bodies are always reacting to our environment, thoughts, and emotions. This is because our central nervous system (CNS), which contains our fight/flight and shut down/collapse responses, activates different parts of our brains and bodies based on what we’re experiencing in the moment. The primary job of the CNS is to keep us safe. That’s why we get triggered into fight/flight when we sense danger or shut down/collapse when our system gets overwhelmed. These responses are important for our survival and happen automatically, usually outside of our awareness.
When we have experiences, thoughts, and emotions that we don’t know how to process, the energy that our CNS activates often gets stuck, and it gets stuck in our bodies. That’s why we can feel something in our bodies and have a memory emerge. It’s why we can be in a place that’s similar to when something bad happened and instantly feel fearful and anxious. Have you ever felt sudden anxiety or depression that you couldn’t explain; it felt like it came out of nowhere? That’s CNS survival response energy that got stuck in the body.
The most important thing I want to tell you about these survival reactions is that they aren’t good or bad. They just happen. Our anxiety, depression, and trauma responses aren’t pathological. They’re reactions that ensured our survival when we needed them during overwhelming or adverse times in our past. The problems happen when our CNS is still activating a survival response when it doesn’t need to.
If these reactions happen automatically, how can therapy help?
I have good news. We all have an invaluable tool that can help us work through and resolve these reactions on a connected mind and body level, therefore also resolving the symptoms. This tool is present-moment awareness. When we become fully aware of what’s happening in our bodies, minds, and emotions in the present moment, we can fully process through our experiences so that they don’t stay stuck and continue to get triggered.
In therapy, we’ll work together to help you learn about and build a relationship with your unique nervous system. This will allow you to bring full awareness to and work through those things that have felt like they’ve been weighing you down for so long. Here’s what we’ll work on together so that you can experience the growth and healing you deserve:
Learn how to be more present in the moment.
Learn about your nervous system and survival responses.
Build a relationship with your nervous system.
Use this relationship with your nervous system to work through the problems and issues that you want to address in therapy.
Have a new relationship to the present.
Have a new relationship with the experiences that have been weighing you down for so long.
Have a new relationship with yourself.
Read more below to learn what EMDR is and how it aids the therapy process.
What is EMDR?
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (or EMDR) is a therapy that is used to help people process and heal from situations or events that have been emotionally, mentally, or physically disturbing. The most common use for EMDR is processing through traumatic experiences.
In it's original form, EMDR helps people process through negative experiences by stimulating both sides of the brain (the left hemisphere and right hemisphere). Therapists do this by having clients follow a visual focal point from left to right very quickly while mentally and emotionally bringing up the distressing event.
In it's more modern form, this same effect is achieved through alternate tapping on the let and right sides of the body (tapping lightly on each leg in an alternating left and right pattern).
Stimulating the brain in this way mimics the same process of REM sleep, which is the primary way that we process through the day's events in our sleep. It also helps the nervous system better regulate while working through the stuck physical and emotional energy from the events that haven't been able to be fully processed. Using EMDR gives the nervous system more of an opportunity to have resolution with distressing or traumatic experiences.
When EMDR is combined with somatic therapy, people are able to fully work through and process a distressing event, feeling, thought, or sensation more manageably (working through it feels less overwhelming). As the experiences and emotions are processed, the triggers happen less often, the nervous system doesn't go into fight/flight or shut down/collapse when it doesn't need it, and people experience the ability to be more present and grounded with themselves and the world around them.
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