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Somatic Experiencing: How It Can Help You
by Dr. Kasey Huff, LCSW
somatic experiencing

Those of us who live or work in urban areas such as Chicago, Aurora, Naperville and Bloomington (IL) are aware of what stress can do to us in the moment, as well as how it can affect us when it continues.

Stress creates a mental chain reaction that begins in the amygdala, where our brain regulates emotional processing by sending distress signals to the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus then sends us commands through the nervous system to fight, flee or freeze in a stressful situation.

These commands produce reactions such as heightened adrenaline, increased heart rate, quicker breathing and hyper-alertness. While they are designed for our protection and survival, such responses also draw energy from us.

To restore that energy, our body releases the hormone cortisol. When the stressor is gone, the cortisol level drops and the body returns to its normal state.

This built-in system means to serve us in times of real or possible danger. However, it becomes problematic when stress is chronic or when someone has experienced trauma, which can push our stress-response system into overdrive by activating it with what we refer to as triggers.

Sometimes these triggers can continue warning us even when there is no imminent danger. This increases the size of the amygdala and often predisposes it to keep us in a constant state of fight, flee or freeze. Our cortisol can continue to stockpile and produce long-term effects that influence our mental and physical health.

What Is Neuroplasticity and Somatic Therapy?

Neuroplasticity is the brain’s ability to re-form synaptic connections, particularly as it concerns brain function affected by intense chronic stress and trauma.

Although trauma can forge neural pathways that lead to distressing thought patterns, the problems between the amygdala and the hippocampus are not necessarily permanent, even in cases of severe trauma. The brain and the body can often recover and establish new and repaired neural pathways.

Somatic therapy looks to join the mind, body and spirit through body-based pyschotherapy. It blends talk therapy with activities such as dancing, breathing and meditating to train the body to release the stress and tension it stores. With more awareness of inner sensations, people can move toward mindfulness in the moment and away from the nonstop loop of anxiety and hypervigilance.

What Are the Types of Somatic Therapy?

A few specific examples of psychotherapy modalities to treat trauma might include:

  • brainspotting: positioning the eyes to re-train emotional reactions
  • bioenergetic analysis: bodily, analytic and relational focus on understanding mental and spiritual energy
  • sensorimotor psychotherapy: using the body as a source of both information and intervention targets
  • biodynamic psychotherapy: combination of allopathic (medical) and holistic therapy, including physical massage
  • The Hakomi Method: integration of scientific, psychological and spiritual sources to center on mindfulness, compassion, nonviolence and gentleness

Somatic therapy techniques and exercises aim to:

  • draw from emotional resources in positive, constructive ways
  • encourage detailed descriptions and awareness of thoughts and feelings
  • express physical feelings through movement
  • provide personal tools for achieving self-calm
  • alternate attention between stressors and non-stressors to help release tension and emotions
  • define and strengthen boundaries
  • develop grounding, a form of connection with the earth and Mother Nature
  • nurture self-worth by giving freedom and voice to your true self and inherent wisdom

Psychotherapy can be applied for a range of mental health conditions such as PTSD, depression, anxiety, chronic stress, grief and addiction. It also often assists with physical ailments such as chronic pain, sexual dysfunction and digestive disorders.

Understanding Neuroplasticity: Seeking a Return to the Real You

Trauma and chronic stress can have devastating effects on one’s quality of life for those who are living or working in fast-paced environments such as Chicago, Aurora, Naperville and Bloomington. The wonderful thing about being human is that we have within us the ability to re-route our neural pathways in directions that contribute to our peace, contentment and quality of life.

Stressful events and situations can write their own narratives in our minds, but they don’t have to be the whole story. We can diffuse their power. By better understanding our bodily sensations and suppressed emotions, we can learn to relax and self-regulate in ways that free our inner beauty and resilience while making us feel more alive.

Healing Grief, Anxiety, Depression, Trauma: Contact Us Today

Empowered Life Therapy offers support for personal healing through the individually centered therapeutic process, including for people from Chicago, Aurora, Naperville and Bloomington (IL).

Together, we create a safe space in which you can explore thoughts, techniques and exercises for soothing the self, improving relationships, increasing self-trust and tapping into your inner wisdom and light to fulfill your purpose.

To find out more about how we can contribute to your healing and growth, including through somatic therapy techniques, contact us today at (630) 842-6585 or visit our website at We welcome teens, young adults, adults and older adults from all backgrounds.

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