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How Somatic Experiencing Can Supplement Talk Therapy

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In the world of addiction treatment and mental health treatment, there are many different treatment modalities that can be used to assist patients in dealing with a substance use disorder or mental health condition. The basis of most therapeutic treatment modalities—whether for a mental health condition or a substance use problem, is talk therapy. However, what happens when psychotherapy falls short when trying to treat mental trauma?

What is Talk Therapy?

Talk therapy is exactly as it sounds. When people discuss therapy, they are most often referring to talk therapy—which is a laymans term of what we know as psychotherapy. Talk therapy seeks to help people through a broad spectrum of problems ranging from day to day difficulties to deep-rooted traumas that are unconsciously impacting an individual’s life in a negative manner.

Psychotherapy is the starting point of most therapeutic modalities because of its proven impact in being able to help individuals identify and work through their issues. At the very least, it can help a practitioner understand where a patient is at in their journey to plan out a means of treatment that will be effective for them. In the realm of addiction treatment, talk therapy is used not just on a one-on-one basis but also in group settings to foster a sense of community and solidarity.

A seminal study published in 1986 discussed the effectiveness of psychotherapy and came to the conclusion that psychotherapy patients improved after roughly 8 sessions. 75% of patients experienced improvements after 6 months of treatment. In other words, talk therapy works, but where does it fall short?

Talk therapy can fall short in the case of individual traumas that are weighing heavy on a person’s psyche. Talking these issues out can be illuminating for many people, but there are instances in which no matter how much awareness of a problem is attained, it cannot release the impact of that trauma on the body. The key to understanding this phenomenon lies in what is known as somatic experiencing.

What is Somatic Experiencing and How Can it Help?

Encore’s very own Sarah Levant (LGSW) wrote up a wonderful post about somatic experiencing this time around last year. It discusses the burgeoning field of somatic experiencing. Somatic experiencing is a process of healing trauma through allowing the body to go through its natural trauma processing.

To understand what this means, we must examine what happens during moments of intense stress. The concept was coined by a Dr. Peter Levine, who posed the question as to why animals that experience traumatic events do not emerge with trauma itself. Whereas people who have experienced difficult things in life may suffer from PTSD, trauma, or other forms of accumulated stress.

He found that animals exhibit behaviors after undergoing a stressful event such as shaking and trembling. Animals discharge the mass of emotional energy that is built up in the nervous system this way. However, as the theory goes, what if one were to clamp down on this process and stifle it? Human beings are the only creatures with full metacognition—which means thinking about thinking. This allows us to actively observe the course of our own mind and then intervene to clamp down on our worst instincts.

While useful, this eventually becomes maladapted to suppressing emotional responses. This causes a build up of that energy which is a continual drain on the nervous system to keep suppressed—a topic that Dr. Baly discussed at length in this post. In other words, it becomes stuck.

Somatic Experiencing and Addiction Treatment

Understanding the root cause of a person’s addiction is key to treating them. After all, most if not all substance use disorders and their comorbid conditions are a product of maladaptive coping mechanisms in response to stressors. These stressors—otherwise known as relapse triggers in recovery, are responsible for keeping someone stuck in a cycle of abuse.

Talk therapy is extraordinarily useful in identifying a person’s unique triggers for addiction and making them aware of patterns in their life that may have gone unnoticed for them. However, in the case of traumatic feelings, being able to release those trapped emotions can ease the intensity of emotional episodes, which can directly reduce the likelihood of turning to alcohol or drugs.

Trauma Informed Care with Encore Recovery

At Encore Recovery, we look at addiction as a problem that must be treated holistically. Traditional methods of addiction treatment are needed, but using the latest research to address untreated trauma is an important aspect of providing the world-class care we are proud of.

One of those methods providing for in-depth trauma therapy is somatic experiencing, which is part of a field body-oriented approaches for trauma therapy. Somatic resilience and regulation (SRR), Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), and Brainspotting are a few of the other approaches we have to supplement the range of traditional treatments which are time-tested to treat addiction.

For more information about our programs, contact us at 703-594-7418.

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