What is Sensorimotor Psychotherapy?
Updated: Jul 31, 2019
When you think about going to see a therapist, the image that may come to mind is sitting in a room across from a therapist and talking about your problems for 50 minutes. Talk therapy is a wonderful tool and is extremely helpful for many people, but it’s not for everyone. Some would like the benefits of therapy but don’t know what they would talk about, and may even view the process of therapy itself as an anxiety provoking experience. Others who suffer from the effects of severe trauma may not want to talk about the incident. Research shows that talking about a traumatic experience can even re-traumatize a client! With Sensorimotor Psychotherapy, it is not necessary to go into the story of the trauma or even talk about what you are feeling. Using sensorimotor allows you to process the effects of the trauma physically rather than verbally.
Many symptoms of trauma and PTSD affect the body, causing everything from dissociation to extreme emotional reactivity. Intrusive images, nightmares, startle responses, flat affect and even physical pain can be responses to severe trauma. Not being able to regulate physical reactions and emotions generally makes the traumatized person feel even more out of control.
Sensorimotor Psychotherapy was founded by Pat Ogden, PhD., and uses techniques that work directly with the physiological symptoms of trauma in the body. Working with the body does not mean that the therapist will touch your body in any way! Sensorimotor therapists are trained in observing the symptoms your body may be communicating, and then assisting you with completing the actions you were unable to complete during the original trauma. This works because sensorimotor uses a primitive form of information processing based on autonomic nervous system activation.
Working with the body can help the client regulate emotions while at the same time reducing symptoms in the body. Once a client learns how to self-regulate their arousal, they are then able to shift the reactions they have to the arousal. When this happens, they are better able to process cognitive and emotional methods of therapy that can accompany the sensorimotor work.
So what actually happens in a sensorimotor session? The client will start off just thinking of a triggering experience, and will then pay attention to the physical sensations and impulses that arise in their body. Emotions and thoughts will be disregarded as the client is guided through the physical sensations. As the client learns to observe the sensations in the body, they are then able to track their experience and engage their cognitive functioning. The therapist helps guide and regulate the client’s emotional state, which allows the client to fully process the trauma and learn self-regulation.
It may sound strange and even scary, but Sensorimotor Psychotherapy is a gentle alternative to talk therapy, and allows the client to get in touch with how their body has adapted to trauma. As the client and therapist use curiosity and observation to discover how the body has assimilated to trauma, clients are generally able to feel an enormous sense of relief and enjoy positive changes in their everyday lives.