Somatics & Somatic Therapies: Types, Examples and Techniques

By Celeste Hirschman | Updated: May 31, 2024

To better understand current trends in coaching and therapy, it’s important to be familiar with somatics and somatic therapies. They are important and growing fields, rich with career opportunities as well as options for personal growth and development.

This article gives a definition and an overview over historic and contemporary types of somatic therapy, including examples and therapy techniques. 

Client and practitioner in a somatic therapy session

What is Somatic Therapy?

Somatics and somatic therapy are terms derived from the Greek word “soma” – meaning “body.” 

All somatic approaches emphasize the profound connection between the mind and the body. They view the body not just as a physical entity – but as an integral component of our emotional, psychological, and spiritual experiences. 

Over the years, somatic practices and therapies have evolved, drawing from a variety of different disciplines and traditions. Newer somatic approaches address intimacy issues, including the Somatica Method, Sexological Bodywork, and Surrogate Partner Therapy (previously called Sex Surrogacy).

Early Foundations of Somatic Therapy

The roots of somatics can be traced back to ancient civilizations when holistic health practices were a prominent part of life.

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and Ayurveda, for instance, have long recognized the interplay between the body, mind, and spirit. These ancient practices emphasize the importance of balance and harmony within the body and the environment. In the Western world, early philosophical contributions came from figures like French scientist René Descartes, whose dualistic approach separated the mind from the body. However, later thinkers like Dutch philosopher Baruch Spinoza and Austrian psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich challenged this dualism, advocating for a more integrated perspective.

Mid-20th Century Developments

The mid-20th century saw new frontiers in somatic practices, influenced by disciplines like psychology, dance, and martial arts. Several significant contributors emerged during this period:

  • Moshe Feldenkrais: A physicist and engineer, Feldenkrais developed the Feldenkrais Method, which uses gentle movement and directed attention to improve physical and mental functioning. His approach emphasized the importance of awareness and learning through movement.
  • Ida Rolf: The founder of Rolfing Structural Integration, Rolf believed that the body’s structure affected its function. Her technique focused on manipulating the connective tissue (fascia) to realign and balance the body, promoting better posture and movement.
  • Alexander Lowen: Lowen created Bioenergetic Analysis, a form of body psychotherapy that integrates physical exercises, breathing techniques, and psychotherapy to address emotional and physical blocks.
Man and woman in a somatic embrace

The Emergence of Somatics as a Field of Study

Young woman client in a somatics session with a somatic therapist

The term “somatics” was popularized in the 1970s by Thomas Hanna, a philosopher and movement educator. Hanna used the term to describe a field of study that encompasses the body-mind connection and the embodied experience. Based on his research, he developed Hanna Somatics, a method aimed at reeducating the neuromuscular system to relieve chronic pain and improve mobility.

Soon after, the field of somatics expanded to include additional modalities, such as:

  • Body-Mind Centering (BMC): Developed by Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen, BMC integrates movement, touch, voice, and mind to explore the body’s systems and patterns.
  • Laban Movement Analysis (LMA): Created by Rudolf Laban, LMA is a method for observing, describing, and interpreting human movement, widely used in dance, acting, and somatic education.

A Guide to Contemporary Types of Somatic Therapies

Today, somatic therapy continues to evolve. It now incorporates insights from neuroscience, psychology, and other fields. It is also increasingly recognized for its effectiveness in treating trauma, chronic pain, anxiety, and other conditions. 

Somatic therapists work with their clients to develop greater body awareness, release physical and emotional tensions, and cultivate a sense of presence and embodiment.

Research in fields such as neuroplasticity and psychoneuroimmunology has provided scientific support for the principles underlying somatic practices. And studies have shown that body-based therapies can positively affect the nervous system, reduce stress, and improve overall well-being.

The following are examples of types of somatic healing therapies and coaching methods in use today: 

Somatic therapist counseling a client

PTSD and Somatics: Somatic Experiencing

Somatic Experiencing (SE) was developed by Peter Levine. Unlike traditional talk therapies, SE emphasizes body awareness and the sensations associated with trauma. This facilitates the release of pent-up energy and restoring balance to the nervous system. 

By helping clients reconnect with their bodily sensations in a safe and controlled manner, SE alleviates symptoms of trauma, anxiety, and chronic pain, promoting overall psychological and physical well-being.

Some practitioners of SE are also licensed therapists. They often use SE in combination with other therapeutic techniques to resolve a variety of emotional dysregulation. 

Mindfulness and Somatics: The Hakomi Method

The Hakomi Method is a mindfulness-centered somatic psychotherapy, developed by Ron Kurtz in the late 20th century. It is a somatic healing therapy that integrates principles from Eastern philosophies, body-centered therapies, and modern psychology.

The approach encourages people to access and explore their inner experiences through mindful awareness, focusing on present-moment bodily sensations, emotions, and memories. By creating a compassionate and non-judgmental environment, the Hakomi Method helps clients uncover unconscious patterns and beliefs, fostering profound personal growth and transformation. 

Sex and Intimacy Issues and Somatics: The Somatica Method

This method is a contemporary, science-based approach to sex and relationship coaching that emphasizes experiential practices and emotional connection. Realizing that body-based interventions were the most effective approach to intimacy issues, Celeste Hirschman and Danielle Harel created the Somatica Method

It integrates elements of somatic awareness, communication skills, and intimacy practices to help individuals and couples enhance their sexual and emotional lives. The method also fosters greater overall satisfaction in relationships by addressing both physical and emotional aspects of connection. Using guided exercises and somatic awareness practices in session, clients can explore their desires, boundaries, and relational dynamics with their coach in a safe and supportive environment. 

As with Somatic Experiencing or Hakomi, some Somatica coaches also have a license to practice psychotherapy and can use some of the Somatica tools in their practice. Otherwise, they are considered Somatica practitioners, Somatica coaches, or somatic sexologists.

Man doing a somatic awareness practice as a somatic therapy example

Sexual Dysfunction and Somatics: Sexological Bodywork and Surrogate Partner Therapy

Young woman practicing somatic mindfulness

Sexological Bodywork is a therapeutic practice that uses somatic techniques to enhance sexual health, awareness, and intimacy. Developed by Joseph Kramer, this method combines breathwork, movement, touch, and education to help people deepen their connection with their bodies and their sexuality. 

Practitioners of sexological bodywork guide their clients in experiential sessions through issues like sexual dysfunction, trauma, and intimacy challenges. The aim is to empower people to achieve greater sexual well-being, self-awareness, and fulfillment.

Surrogate Partner Therapy (SPT) – previously known as sex surrogacy – is another therapy designed to help people overcome intimacy and sexual issues. 

Originating from the work of Masters and Johnson, this method involves a triadic relationship between the client, a surrogate partner, and a licensed therapist. The surrogate partner provides hands-on, guided exercises that focus on communication, touch, and emotional connection. The goal is helping clients build confidence, develop healthy relationships, and achieve greater comfort and satisfaction in their intimate lives.

Somatic Therapy Techniques

Different kinds of somatic therapy techniques can be employed towards healing. Here is a selection:

Somatic Movement Therapy: This technique is used in many different somatic coaching and therapy approaches. 

For example, in the Hakomi Method, clients may be asked to make a habitual movement over and over again. This allows them to study their inner experience while making that movement to see what it represents for them in their history or psyche. In dance therapy, clients are asked to move their body freely to help them express a current emotion. 

Somatic Movement Therapy (SMT) utilizes body awareness and movement practices to encourage people to reconnect with their bodies. Through guided exercises and mindful attention to bodily sensations, clients learn to release tension, improve mobility, and enhance their overall sense of embodiment.

Proprioception: Another somatic therapy technique is proprioception – defined as the body’s sense of itself in space. When a person is guided to notice their location in space, and aspects of their body like posture and movement, they feel more self-aware. This technique can be helpful for recovering from trauma and stress.

Self-touch: Touching one’s own body can have a number of therapeutic benefits and is used in approaches such as SE and Somatica. Self-touch can be a way of reclaiming the body after trauma, and also teaches about pleasure and arousal in the body.

Somatics – The Therapy of the Future

Based on current trends, it appears somatic approaches are the wave of the future. If you are someone who believes in the importance of the connection between the mind and body, you may be interested in a career in Somatic Sexology or Somatic Therapy. 

Somatic approaches can be helpful to everything from trauma to sexual and emotional intimacy, so studying somatic therapy techniques may be able to help you decide where you can be the most helpful. 

Are you someone who is deeply interested in how people tick in their romantic relationships or with each other sexually? If so, you may want to study the Somatica Method, which includes techniques to work with sex, intimacy, and includes trauma empowerment tools. If you are much more interested in a longer program focused solely on trauma, you may want to look into Somatic Experiencing.

Woman practicing somatic movement on a beach