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Somatic psychotherapy and the role of Breathwork in it

#April 5, 2022

Somatic psychology emphasises the somatic experience embracing therapeutic and holistic approaches to the body, aiming to recover the mind-body connection. It studies the link between physical matter and energy, the association of bodily structures and mental processes. Pierre Janet is accepted as the first somatic psychologist because of his psychotherapeutic studies with a significant relation to the body. Soma comes from the Greek word meaning “the living body”. According to somatic psychotherapists, external forces promote splitting of the mind-body unity and this fragmentation harms the person’s health in a mental, physiological and relational level. Somatic psychotherapy adds the ‘body’ dimension to the conventional verbal psychotherapy. Emotional and bodily experiences are linked together and operating on one dimension can help us access the others and create a change together. According to somatic psychotherapy, “there is an innate capacity of the human bodymind to move towards healing and growth given the appropriate therapeutic environment.” Bodymind can be influenced and mediated by respectful, mindful and safe interpersonal interactions. 

Our body stores experiences and emotions on a cellular level, therefore some people experience body anxiety even when there are no anxious thoughts or apparent anxiety-provoking situations to follow. You may feel uncertain or unsafe in your own body or in some places and events, even without any reason. Usually that means your body is reminded of something and is triggered. 

Somatic Psychotherapy integrates several other approaches, including “neuroscience, body awareness practices from both Eastern and Western cultures, and aspects of Gestalt, Psychodynamic, Relational, and Humanistic therapy traditions.” It aims to guide the clients to become aware of their bodies and adapt to methods to release their tension. These methods can be ‘breathing exercises, sensation awareness, physical exercise, massage, grounding exercises’ and others. This therapy uses the fundamental functions of the nervous system.

In the beginning, somatic therapy mainly focused on trauma survivors with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) symptoms, but in the last couple of years, helping clients find release through all kinds of stress-related issues has been in the picture.

Body psychotherapy applies the principles of somatic psychology to therapy. 

It is considered a general branch of the somatic psychology field, some of the more specific branches include breathwork, somatherapy, eco-somatics and dance therapy.

The tension our bodies hold eventually manifests itself through symptoms such as depression, anger and panic attacks. This storing pattern causes instability and stress in the autonomic nervous system (ANS), resulting in the person living in a continuous state of fight or flight. 

An important branch of body psychotherapy is breathwork. Different breathwork approaches are used as a transformational tool to release the past and rebalance the ANS. Breathwork can clear the blockages in the body and facilitate healing. What has been stored at a cellular level can be processed and released using breathwork techniques. Breathwork practitioners, such as the holotropic approach don’t diagnose problems using the body, unlike some other body psychotherapy approaches. They generally work in a group, use a specific form of breathing and use music and affirmations. According to research, breathwork can be helpful for mental health issues such as PTSD, anxiety and depression.

Some of the somatic psychotherapy interventions include:

– Developing Somatic Awareness: In this therapy form, clients are educated about body awareness and how they can cultivate it and its importance in change on a cellular level. Areas of tension and constriction in the body are identified; cognitions, feelings, and behaviours that facilitate calm are aimed to bring into conscious awareness. Becoming aware of the sensations in your body and consciously working towards body alignment makes people deeply heal and they can feel the change in their skin.

– Using Descriptive Language: Being descriptive makes you stay close and connected to the experience of your body. As we describe and track the experience, emotion-loaded memories get processed.

– Boundary Setting: Verbal and nonverbal boundaries are heavily emphasised in the process of healing. Actively working on learning how to properly set boundaries increases the feelings of safety and protection. 

– Act of Triumph: In traumas and situations where the body was required to protect itself and could not, this method is used. This act of triumph can be pushing against a wall or a pillow, setting boundaries, saying no and many other things. The situation where you couldn’t get away is slowly re-experienced on a bodily level with the therapist’s help and perform an act of triumph ‘where the body does what it needs to do’. Cells in our body still have connections to the situation or trauma and they reveal themselves in the form of ‘intrusive images, thoughts, tension, a feeling of sadness or despair’. An act of triumph can help you experience calmness and relief on a cellular level.

– Grounding: “Grounding is a body-based technique that refers to a person’s ability to experience themselves as embodied in the moment.” People sense their bodily form, experience and get in tune with their senses, feel how their feet stand on the earth and calm their nervous system. This concept is foundational for mind-body-emphasised intervention techniques. With grounding, we can calm down and regulate the nervous systems.

– Movement: Somatic psychotherapy works on activating the person’s capacity to heal via listening to their bodies. Movement is a natural tool to move on with our lives after traumas and other negative life events and emotions. Postures, gestures, space and all types of bodily cues give us information about a person, their experience and how to resolve their issues.

– Resourcing: This is how clients strengthen the feelings of stability and safety in the world by identifying already established resources and coming up with new ones to promote feelings of peace and ease.

– Sequencing: It is the way body-based tension is released. Normally experienced with a first movement moving up or down through the body. When the first movement is experienced, the rest of the sequence comes for the entire body. The release of the tension causes the emotions to move throughout the body freely. It might bring release in the form of emotions as well, for example, some clients cry. Generally, they feel a lot lighter after the sequence.

– Co-Regulation and Self-Regulation: Co-regulation is calming down through connecting with someone. Warmth, compassion, and stability of others can help us regulate our emotions. Self-regulation, on the other hand, is developing tools of our own to calm down. With these tools, you can freely move through emotions and stay connected to your body throughout big experiences. Self-regulation aims to facilitate mindfulness of bodily sensations to regulate emotional experiences.

– Titration and Pendulation: Both Titration and Pendulation are important to work on trauma and other heavy experiences and emotions with the right pace.“ Titration refers to a process of experiencing small amounts of distress to relieve pain”. While revisiting past experiences and traumas, the therapist tracks the bodily responses and how they are experienced. “Pendulation is what is used to achieve titration, as pendulation is when you pendulate your focus between stressful content and something completely non-stress related.”

Tap into the incredible power of breath, and join our InnerCamp Breathwork Method Teacher Training. Learn how supportive breathing techniques can assist your clients experiencing trauma, anxiety, and other conditions.


DuBois-Maahs, J. (2020, October 16). What Is Somatic Therapy and How Can It Benefit You? Talkspace. 

Goldstein, E. (2021, April 19). 10 Somatic Interventions Explained – Integrative Psychotherapy Mental Health Blog. Integrative Psychotherapy & Trauma Treatment.

Welch, A. (2018, October 21). A Look At Core Energetics and other Somatic Therapy Approaches – Seattle School of Body. Psychotherapy. 

What is Somatic Psychotherapy? Somatic Psychotherapy Australia. (n.d.).

What is Somatic Psychotherapy? Well Clinic San Francisco. (2019, July 30). 

Wikimedia Foundation. (2021, February 4). Somatic psychology. Wikipedia. 

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