10 Somatic Therapy Activities & Exercises to do with your Clients in Therapy

According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), around 3.6% of adults in the United States experienced Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in the past year (NIMH, date). The NIMH also noted that the prevalence of PTSD was higher among women (5.2%) compared to men (1.8%). Trauma is a highly personalized experience that can stem from various events, such as violence, assault, natural disasters, discovering a loved one’s assault, or repeated exposure to life-threatening situations. Keep reading to learn 10 Somatic Therapy activities and exercises you can do with your clients in therapy.

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As mental health professionals, we understand that not all clients will experience the same level of improvement from specific counseling approaches. Several factors influence this, including the severity of their mental health concerns, the presence of co-occurring disorders, their level of engagement in therapy, and their past counseling experiences. It is essential to continuously evaluate the effectiveness of therapy sessions to ensure that clients receive the necessary care to enhance their quality of life.

Somatic therapies recognize the interconnectedness of the mind, body, and spirit in promoting wellness and healing. Various somatic therapies, such as Somatic Experiencing Therapy, can be utilized to achieve this goal.

Somatic Experiencing Therapy was developed in response to the realization that other therapeutic approaches, like Cognitive Therapies and Exposure Therapies, may not address all the symptoms experienced by individuals living with trauma (Kuhfuß, M., Maldei, T., Hetmanek, A., & Baumann, N., 2021). Consequently, some individuals continue to experience distress from their post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Clinicians who employ Somatic Experiencing Therapy believe that the symptoms associated with PTSD stem from a constant overreaction of the client’s stress system as a result of their traumatic experiences (Kuhfuß, M., Maldei, T., Hetmanek, A., & Baumann, N., 2021). This persistent overreaction leads to dysregulation of the client’s nervous system, causing an increased stress response (Kuhfuß, M., Maldei, T., Hetmanek, A., & Baumann, N., 2021).

The primary objective of Somatic Experiencing therapy is to modify the client’s trauma-related stress response by employing a bottom-up processing method that directs their attention to internal sensations rather than thoughts and emotions (Kuhfuß, M., Maldei, T., Hetmanek, A., & Baumann, N., 2021).

Why Somatic Therapy?

Somatic therapy is chosen for several compelling reasons:

  1. Mind-Body Connection: Somatic therapy recognizes the intimate connection between the mind and body, offering a holistic approach to healing that addresses both physical sensations and emotional experiences.
  2. Trauma-Informed: Somatic therapy is highly effective for individuals who have experienced trauma. It helps them process and release trauma stored in the body, leading to healing and recovery.
  3. Stress Reduction: Somatic techniques can reduce stress and anxiety by promoting relaxation, mindfulness, and body awareness. These practices offer practical tools for managing stress and its physical manifestations.
  4. Emotional Regulation: Somatic therapy activities teach individuals how to regulate their emotions by becoming more attuned to bodily sensations. This helps them respond to emotional triggers more adaptively.
  5. Pain Management: Somatic therapy is beneficial for individuals dealing with chronic pain or tension. It offers strategies to alleviate physical discomfort and improve overall well-being.
  6. Increased Self-Awareness: Somatic practices foster greater self-awareness by encouraging individuals to pay attention to their bodily sensations, emotions, and thoughts. This self-awareness can lead to personal growth and insight.
  7. Enhanced Resilience: Somatic therapy activities build resilience by equipping individuals with skills to cope with life’s challenges and stressors in a healthier way.
  8. Customized Approach: Somatic therapy is flexible and can be tailored to meet the unique needs and preferences of each individual. Therapy can be adjusted to address specific concerns and issues.
  9. Empowerment: Somatic therapy empowers individuals by providing them with practical tools they can use independently to improve their emotional and physical well-being.
  10. Positive Therapeutic Relationship: Somatic therapists emphasize the therapeutic relationship, creating a safe and supportive space for clients to explore their physical and emotional experiences.
  11. Long-Term Benefits: Many individuals who engage in somatic therapy report long-lasting improvements in their overall well-being and emotional regulation.
  12. Complementary to Other Therapies: Somatic therapy can be used alongside other therapeutic approaches, complementing traditional talk therapy or other interventions.
  13. Holistic Healing: Somatic therapy recognizes that healing involves the whole person—body, mind, and spirit—and offers a holistic approach to well-being.
  14. Transdiagnostic Application: Somatic techniques can be applied across various mental health concerns, making them suitable for clients with diverse issues.
  15. Enhanced Mindfulness: Somatic practices promote mindfulness, helping individuals become more present and attuned to their bodily sensations and emotions.

Somatic therapy is particularly beneficial for individuals seeking a holistic approach to mental and emotional well-being, those dealing with trauma or stress-related symptoms, and those interested in exploring the mind-body connection as part of their therapeutic journey. Keep reading to learn Somatic Therapy activities you can do with your clients.

Mental Health Concerns That Can Benefit from Somatic Therapy

While Somatic Experiencing Therapy was originally designed for clients with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), mental health professionals have been exploring its potential benefits for other mental health concerns as well.

Research indicates that, alongside PTSD, Somatic Therapy can be effective in treating individuals with anxiety and depressive disorders (Kuhfuß, M., Maldei, T., Hetmanek, A., & Baumann, N., 2021).

Somatic Therapy Activities

During therapy sessions, Somatic Therapy incorporates various activities to introduce clients to new concepts, strategies, and skills. These exercises offer a valuable opportunity for clients to practice applying the learned techniques within the secure and supportive environment of the therapeutic relationship. By practicing these skills, clients can develop a sense of confidence in their ability to utilize them effectively in their everyday lives beyond therapy.

Examples of Somatic Therapy activities that can be used include:

  1. TherapyPatron.com offers a  Four Element Tool Worksheet that 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.  Clients will be asked to use their five senses to notice the world around them in addition to focusing on their breath. This worksheet can be an effective tool in therapy sessions to provide education about grounding and breathing strategies that can be used to manage distress, as well as act as a reminder of what was learned in the session at a later time. Allow for time in later sessions to follow up about your client’s ability to re-engage in these activities outside of the session and explore the effect that it had on their physical sensations and emotions.
  2. When we are working with clients to become more aware of their mind-body connection, some clients may need to spend time learning and practicing the use of descriptive language. With Somatic Therapies, it is important that we are able to communicate exactly how we are feeling, and where within our bodies we feel sensations. TherapyPatron.com’s Descriptive Language Worksheet can be used as a tool to help clients practice using descriptive language in sessions.
  3. A simple Somatic Therapy exercise that you can use in session is helping your client find ways to move their body that are comfortable. This will be different for each individual and based on their mobility. As an example, your client can practice stretching, then engage in a body scan to notice how their movement changed how their body feels in that moment. Once your client has insight into the movements that feel good for them, encourage them to begin practicing these movements regularly.
  4. Many clients who are struggling with mental health concerns find themselves on “auto-pilot”. Meaning that they are often unaware of their emotions, thoughts, and physical sensations because they are focused on doing what they need to do, and going where they need to go. A helpful Somatic Therapy exercise is helping our clients learn how to check in with their bodies so they can recognize the signs of when they are being triggered. As a new skill, clients can benefit from having a worksheet, like the 6-Step Somatic Therapy Worksheet provided by TherapyPatron.com, as a resource outside of the session. The steps included are notice, safety, pinpoint, replay, tune-in, and healing hands. Allow for time to follow up regarding your client’s ability to use these steps in their day-to-day life.
  5. For clients who are learning how to describe their emotions and physical sensations, another tool that can be useful is drawing. Asking your client to draw how they feel can provide them with a different outlet to describe their experience, as well as provide you with a different perspective on their feelings. You can then ask the client to describe their drawing and share what led to them drawing their work as they did. This can also be used to introduce new skills for communicating how they are feeling emotionally and within their body.
  6. The Somatic Therapy Movement Worksheet provided by TherapyPatron.com can be used to help clients understand how their body responds to movements.  This includes exploring how their movement impacts their mood, their ability to notice discomfort and tension within their body, how they feel when they’re moving, and what movements help their body feel good. Developing an understanding of how our client’s movement affects them allows them to better understand their mind-body connection. Additionally, this can be used to explore changes that they can make to their daily movements that can promote overall health and wellness.
  7. While therapy sessions can often focus on exploring a client’s difficulties and challenges, it can also be beneficial to explore positive experiences. Recalling a Kindness Worksheet can be used to explore a client’s experience when someone was kind to them. More specifically, exploring how their body felt after their experience with kindness. Your client will be asked to use descriptive language to describe the event, as well as how they feel after thinking about this experience.
  8. Meditation can be a beneficial skill for clients who are living with an array of mental health concerns. Spend time introducing your client to the concept of meditation, and the commonly used forms of meditation. Allow for time to practice a few forms of meditation in session, and process your client’s experience. You can then talk to your client about what forms of meditation they can try using at home, and encourage them to bring their experience into your next session.
  9. Breathing exercises are another Somatic Therapy activity that can help clients recognize their mind-body connection. While in session, walk your client through a breathing exercise where they are controlling the time devoted to their inhale and exhale. After a few breaths, explore any changes that your client experienced within their body. To enhance breathing exercises, clients can attach a word that they identify as positive to their inhale. Encourage your client to utilize breathing exercises outside of the session and process their experience doing so.
  10. By using the Feeling Like Yourself Worksheet available at TherapyPatron.com, you can help your client explore a recent moment when they felt most like themselves. This includes how they felt in that moment, exploring their senses for that time, and noticing their thoughts in those moments. This sheet can help keep your client grounded by working to regulate their emotional and autonomic nervous system.

Final Thoughts on Choosing Activities for Somatic Therapy

Thank you for reading this resource on 10 Somatic Therapy activities and exercises you can do with your clients in therapy. Somatic Therapy activities and exercises serve as valuable tools for reinforcing the skills, strategies, and approaches discussed in therapeutic sessions. This approach can have a profound impact on clients dealing with various mental health concerns, as it can be customized to suit their individual needs. By adopting a holistic perspective, Somatic Therapy helps clients develop a heightened awareness of their physical sensations and recognizes the interconnectedness between their body, movement, and mental well-being.

If you’re interested in delving deeper into Somatic Therapies, we recommend seeking out training opportunities and continuing education courses that can equip you with the necessary skills to effectively incorporate these activities and exercises into your clinical practice.

TherapyPatron.com helps mental health professionals better serve their clients. Our (editable, fillable, printable PDF) therapy worksheets can help you streamline your practice, effectively deliver different types of therapy, and support your clients be the best version of themselves.

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Kayla VanGuilder, MA, LCMHC
Author: Kayla VanGuilder, MA, LCMHC

Kayla is a Mental Health Counselor who earned her degree from Niagara University in Lewiston, New York. She has provided psychotherapy in a residential treatment program and an outpatient addiction treatment facility in New York as well as an inpatient addiction rehab in Ontario, Canada. She has experience working with individuals living with a variety of mental health concerns including depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, and trauma.

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