By Chinedu Uzorue
Sensorimotor psychotherapy is a form of somatic (body) psychotherapy. And like somatic psychotherapy, sensorimotor psychotherapy is also a body-oriented method of treating the physical symptoms of past unresolved traumas. This basically means that the therapist uses the body of the patient in conjunction with talking to help relieve the patient of the after-effects of trauma.
Sensorimotor psychotherapy is an approach developed by Dr. Pat Ogden, a technician and yoga instructor in the 1970s that depends on the somatic experiences of the patient as an entry-point to self-awareness and an improved mental health of the individual. It is a trademarked version of somatic psychotherapy incorporating somatic therapies, neuroscience, cognitive methods, attachment theory, and Hakomi therapy.
The proponents of sensorimotor psychotherapy also have the view that the past traumatic experiences can become trapped within the body; with the affected individual most times totally unaware of the trapped trauma. They hold the belied that unless the individual releases the trapped-in trauma, the symptoms would persist.
Unlike traditional talk-based therapies that focus on the use of verbal communication to resolve traumatic symptoms, sensorimotor psychotherapy uses the body in relieving stress and the effects of trauma. The idea is this: when words are not sufficient to help a patient or fails to solve the unconscious issues (of the oblivious patient), a somatic (body) approach like sensorimotor psychotherapy is to be used.
While the traditional psychotherapeutic methods consider the cognitive or emotional aspects of the patient, sensorimotor psychotherapy combines the use of cognitive and somatic techniques to completely resolve the trauma issues. This approach integrates somatic methods with the traditional psychotherapy methods to effectively enable patients cope with traumatic experiences and get back to living their normal lives.
This approach is a body-based, talk therapy, combining recent findings from the field of neuroscience to transform past traumatic experiences into strengths instead of weaknesses as seen in the patient. For effective result of this approach, the co-operation and self-awareness of the patient are used, with the therapist repeatedly requesting permission from the patient to carry out each experiment.
Who needs sensorimotor psychotherapy?
Sensorimotor psychotherapy is designed basically for people suffering from the effects of a traumatic experience. It can be used for anyone having trouble with depression, substance abuse – such as drug or alcohol abuse; those suffering from PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder); as well as those who find it difficult to maintain healthy relationships with others.
The sensorimotor psychotherapy approach involves three distinct phases; with all the phases incorporating the use of body reading to assess the state of the patient.
The three phases involved include:
Stabilization and symptom reduction phase. Here, the therapist uses body reading to assess the stable body abilities of the patient – such as breathing fully. This is carried out in a safe environment in order to help highlight the person’s response to particular memories, emotions or thoughts. The therapist takes note of the absent abilities, and then goes on to teach the patient these abilities.
Phase 2 is “working with the traumatic memory”. After the first phase and when the patient is ready to open up about the trauma, the therapist may ask the patient to recall the events prior to the actual trauma. Body reading is used here again to assess the mobile defensive responses that were absent in the individual at the time of the trauma. The patient is then guided on how to complete the defensive responses through body awareness.
The final phase involves the use of body reading to assess the beliefs of the patient which interfere with the daily functioning of the patient.
The benefits of sensorimotor psychotherapy to the patient include the following: it encourages the patient to be able to gain self-confidence in order to become self-aware; it encourages the patient to become more proactive and less reactive in his/her relationship and work. It also improves the concentration of the patient, relieves him/her of stress and pain, depression, anxiety and so on.
Sensorimotor therapists can use this approach to help individuals by making them re-experience the physical sensations that were as a result of the traumatic event, but in this case a safe environment. This is done in order to perform any previously unfulfilled actions so as to get a feeling of accomplishment, although the details of the trauma are not necessarily to be used for the effectiveness of the therapy.
Despite the numerous advantages of sensorimotor psychotherapy, its use is still limited due to some reasons. For one, the therapist needs to exercise caution when dealing with the patient and in choosing the best and effective method of treatment. Also, individuals with inner-self awareness may be required to be desensitized so as to benefit from sensorimotor psychotherapy. As previously stated, it is essential that the patient must be able to develop mindfulness and body-awareness in order for the treatment to be effective.
Read Also Somatic Psychotherapy.