The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that approximately 3.6% of US adults have experienced Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in the past year. In addition, the NIMH reported that the prevalence of PTSD was higher in women (5.2%) than men (1.8%). Trauma is a personalized experience that can result from a range of experiences, including violence, assault, natural disasters, learning about a loved one being assaulted, and repeated exposure to life-threatening experiences. Keep reading to learn 10 Somatic Therapy exercises and activities you can do in therapy with your clients.
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One thing we know as mental health professionals is that not every client we work with will experience the same clinical gains from certain counseling approaches. A number of factors influence this, including the severity of their mental health problems, the presence of co-occurring disorders, their involvement in therapy and previous counseling experiences. The effectiveness of treatment sessions is something that must be continually evaluated to ensure that clients are receiving the care they need to improve their quality of life.
Somatic Therapies are known for embracing the connection between our mind, body and spirit. These approaches use this mindset to promote health and healing. There are a number of somatic treatments that can be used, including Somatic Experiential Therapy.
Somatic Experiential Therapy is a combination of other therapeutic approaches, including Cognitive Therapies and Exposure Therapies, to all symptoms of clients living with trauma experiences (Kuhfuß, M., Maldei, T., Hetmanek, A., & Baumann, N., 2021). This has left some individuals with persistent anxiety levels from PTSD.
Clinicians using Somatic Experiential Therapy believe that the symptoms associated with PTSD are the result of a constant overreaction of the stress system caused by the client’s traumatic experiences (Kuhfuß, M., Maldei, T., Hetmanek, A., & Baumann, N., 2021) . This overreaction causes persistent dysregulation in the clients’ nervous systems, leading to an increased stress response (Kuhfuß, M., Maldei, T., Hetmanek, A., & Baumann, N., 2021).
The main goal of Somatic Experiential therapy is to change the client’s trauma-related stress response by using a bottom-up processing method that focuses the client’s attention on their inner feelings as opposed to their thoughts and emotions (Kuhfuß, M., Maldei, T. , Hetmanek, A. and Baumann, N., 2021 ).
Mental Health Concerns That Can Benefit from Somatic Therapy
Although Somatic Experiential Therapy was originally developed for clients with post-traumatic stress disorder, mental health professionals are working to find other mental health issues that can benefit from this form of therapy.
Research has found that in addition to PTSD, Somatic Therapy can be effective for people living with anxiety and depressive disorders (Kuhfuß, M., Maldei, T., Hetmanek, A., & Baumann, N., 2021).
Somatic Therapy Activities
Somatic Therapy activities can be used to introduce new concepts, strategies and skills during therapy sessions. In addition, Somatic Therapy exercises allow clients to practice using the skills and strategies they have learned with the safety that develops within the therapeutic relationship. The introduction of new skills allows clients to gain confidence in their ability to apply the skills taught to their lives outside of therapy.
Examples of Somatic Therapy Exercises that can be used include:
- TherapyByPro offers The Four Elements Tool Worksheet uses the four natural elements (earth, air, water and fire) as concepts that can be used to explore and process clients’ emotions and physical sensations. In addition to focusing on their breath, clients will be asked to use their five senses to notice the world around them. This worksheet can be an effective tool in therapy sessions to educate about reasoning and breathing strategies that can be used to manage distress, as well as a reminder of what was learned later in the session. Allow time in subsequent sessions to observe your client’s ability to re-engage in these activities outside of the session and explore the effect this has on their physical sensations and emotions.
- A simple Somatic Therapy exercise you can use in a session helps your client find ways to move their body comfortably. This will be different for each individual and based on their mobility. For example, your client might do a stretching exercise, then move on to a body scan to see how their movement makes their body feel in that moment. Once your client has an idea of the actions that feel good for them, encourage them to perform those actions regularly.
- Many clients struggling with mental health issues find themselves on “automatic pilot.” This means that they are often unaware of their emotions, thoughts and physical sensations as they focus on doing what they need to do and getting where they need to go. Helpful Somatic Therapy training helps our clients learn how to check in with their bodies so they can recognize signs when they are triggered. As a new skill, clients may benefit from having a worksheet, e.g 6 Step Somatic Therapy Worksheet Offered by TherapyByPro as an out-of-session resource. The steps included are warning, safety, pinpoint, replay, adjustment and recovery hands. Allow time to monitor your client’s ability to use these steps in their daily life.
- Breathing exercises are another Somatic Therapy activity that can help clients recognize the mind-body connection. While in session, walk your client through a breathing exercise where he/she controls the time devoted to inhaling and exhaling. After a few breaths, observe the changes in your client’s body. To reinforce breathing exercises, clients can add a word they identify as positive to their breath. Encourage your client to use breathing exercises outside of the session and process their experience while doing so.
- The Somatic Therapy Movement Worksheet Provided by TherapyByPro can be used to help clients understand how their body responds to movement. This includes exploring how their movement affects their mood, their ability to sense anxiety and tension in their bodies, how they feel when they move, and what movements make their bodies feel good. Understanding how our client’s movement affects them allows them to better understand their own mind-body connection. Additionally, it can be used to explore changes they can make in their daily activities that may promote overall health and well-being.
- Meditation can be a helpful skill for clients living with a range of mental health issues. Take the time to familiarize your client with the concept of meditation and commonly used forms of meditation. Allow time in session to practice several forms of meditation and process your client’s experience. You can then talk to your client about what forms of meditation they can use at home and encourage them to bring their own practices to your next session.
- When working with clients to learn more about their mind-body connection, some clients may need to spend time learning and using imagery language. With Somatic Therapies, it is important that we are able to communicate our feelings and sensations exactly where we feel them in our body. TherapyByPro Descriptive Language Worksheet can be used as a tool to help clients use descriptive language in sessions.
- Another tool that can be helpful for clients learning to describe their emotions and physical sensations is drawing. Asking your client to draw how they feel can give them a different outlet to describe their experience, as well as provide a different perspective on their feelings. You can then ask the client to describe their drawings and share what made them draw their work the way they did. It can also be used to introduce new skills to communicate how they feel emotionally and physically.
- Although therapy sessions often focus on exploring the client’s difficulties and problems, it can also be helpful to explore positive experiences. Remembering kindness worksheet can be used to examine a customer’s experience when someone does them a favor. More specifically, exploring how their bodies feel after an experience of kindness. Your client will be asked to use descriptive language to describe the event, as well as how they felt after thinking about the experience.
- using Feeling Yourself Worksheet Available at TherapyByPro, you can help your client discover the moment they love themselves the most. This involves them examining what they feel in that moment, their feelings for that moment, and noticing their thoughts in those moments. This sheet can help keep your client grounded by working to regulate their emotional and autonomic nervous systems.
Final Thoughts on Selecting Activities for Somatic Therapy
Thanks for reading this resource on 10 Somatic Therapy Exercises and Activities You Can Do in Therapy with Your Clients. Somatic Therapy activities and exercises can be an excellent tool for reinforcing the skills, strategies and approaches discussed in therapeutic sessions. Somatic Therapy can be effective for clients living with a variety of mental health issues and can be tailored to meet the needs of our clients. This holistic approach can be used to help our clients become more in tune with their physical sensations and understand how their bodies and movements are connected to their mental health.
If you are interested in learning more about Somatic Therapies, we encourage you to look for training opportunities and continuing education courses that can help you develop the skills you need to effectively use these activities and exercises in your clinical work.
TherapyByPro is a program online mental health directory connecting mental health professionals with clients in need. If you are a mental health professional, you can Join our community and add your experience listing here. We have templates for assessments, practice forms, and worksheets that mental health professionals can use to facilitate their practice. Look at all of us mental health worksheets here.
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