The Body in Recovery Part II: Somatic Interventions

Welcome back to our Body Talk. We began in our last post by touching on the consequences of long-term substance abuse and important body-oriented considerations in early recovery. Today, we’re going to take a look at how the body, and specifically bodily awareness, can help in the healing process and promote effective forward motion in recovery.

There was a time in the not-so-distant past when people – scientists, clinicians, and your every-day human – believed that the body had nothing to do with healing the mind and vice-versa. The mind and the body were considered two different things despite the fact that the brain is part of the body, and the mind is part of the brain. Fortunately for all of us, this has changed. These days, even if they don’t focus much on physical healing, most people working in the field of mental health acknowledge that the body has something to do with what’s going on. 

There are some professionals, researchers and clinicians alike, however, who do believe that the body actually holds the key to healing from emotional distress and trauma. These professionals do research and work from the premise that becoming more aware of bodily sensations in the present and working with those sensations can help heal the impact of past trauma and distress and prevent future issues. The umbrella term for these practices is somatic interventions.

Somatic interventions include:

  • Sensation tracking – noticing physical sensations and tracking them as they move and change in the body;
  • Boundary awareness – noticing sensations that rise when boundaries are pressed or threatened;
  • Self-regulation – practicing physical interventions like deep breathing or tensing/releasing to regulate the nervous system;
  • Pendulating Awareness – moving awareness between an intense sensation and a less intense sensation in the body.

Each of these are based on present-time bodily awareness. These interventions are used to help individuals process and move through emotions (relating to them as bodily sensations) and learn to regulate their own nervous system.  The underlying notion is that by practicing awareness and either deliberately working with or simply allowing current physical sensations to be felt as they are, old patterns that grew out of past distress or trauma, including behavioral reactions, relationship patterns, and even addictive behaviors can be changed. Shifting those patterns is an important step in healing and lasting recovery.  Some of the benefits of somatic interventions may include:

  • Decreased stress,
  • Decreased impulsivity and aggression,
  • Improved wellbeing,
  • Improved confidence, and
  • Improved relationships and connection.

Somatic interventions, combined with more traditional talk-therapy and education and support can go a long way toward promoting sustained sobriety and recovery. Fortunately, they are becoming more common in private therapy offices and also in outpatient and residential treatment facilities. If you are interested in working with somatic interventions in your own healing journey, be sure to ask about clinician training in somatic interventions when calling for treatment and therapy information.