What is sensorimotor therapy?
Sensorimotor therapy is a body-centered talk therapy designed to address cognitive, emotional, and physical symptoms of trauma-related disorders. This therapy aims to help the client feel a sense of safety in their body when faced with reminders of past trauma.
Sensorimotor therapy emphasizes mindfulness and awareness of the connection between the client’s mind and body.
What sensorimotor therapy can help with
Effectiveness of sensorimotor therapy
Many clients recovering from traumatic events have found relief in sensorimotor techniques. Clients who have difficulty processing their trauma could benefit from body-centered approaches, which treat the physical responses to trauma and in turn alleviate cognitive and emotional challenges.
In order for sensorimotor therapy to be effective, the client must develop awareness and mindfulness of their body.
How sensorimotor therapy works
During traumatic events, the body reacts with a survival response of fight, flight, or freeze. Often times an individual’s response may have not been completed or attempted; for example, a survivor of sexual assault may not have attempted to fight off their attacker.
These unfulfilled responses may become stuck in an individual’s nervous system, and result in the individual experiencing somatic (or physical) symptoms, such as shaking, sweating, or nervous tics.
Sensorimotor therapy helps the client revisit the traumatic event in a safe environment and take part in any previously unfulfilled actions in order to gain closure. The therapy can still be effective whether or not the client recalls all details of the traumatic event.
The goals of sensorimotor therapy are for the client to:
- Understand the impact that trauma has on their mind and body
- Acknowledge physical symptoms and how they are related to the trauma
- Differentiate between past and present
- Gain a greater sense of control over their trauma responses
Frequency of sensorimotor therapy sessions
Due to the intensity of sensorimotor therapy, the therapist and client can work together to decide how often to incorporate it into sessions.
Length of sensorimotor therapy treatment
Sensorimotor therapy can be integrated into other types of therapy such as, trauma-informed cognitive behavioral therapy, narrative therapy, mindfulness practices, and breathwork. These therapy types can be both time-limited and long-term.
How sensorimotor therapy sessions are structured
The structure of sensorimotor therapy sessions depends on the client’s capacity to reprocess the trauma; however, they are typically structured as follows:
- The therapist establishes a safe environment where the client can focus on physical sensations.
- Once the client is ready, the therapist will ask them to recall the traumatic event and any bodily sensations that the client is currently experiencing.
- The client then completes any desired movement or action in an effort to resolve the trauma.
What happens in a typical sensorimotor therapy session
The therapist establishes a safe therapeutic environment where the client can become aware of physical responses to traumatic memories, such as, increased breathing and heart rate. If the client reports feeling a specific emotion, such as anger, while recalling the event, the therapist may ask, “Where in your body do you feel the anger?” This type of question aims to help the client make a connection between the event and their physical symptoms.
Rapport-building is especially crucial in body-center therapies. The therapist must make the client feel safe in order for them to be able to recount traumatic experiences and physical sensations, as well as engage in physicality within the therapeutic setting. This could look like shouting “No!” or enacting striking their attacker. These exercises can help the client to gain closure regarding the traumatic event.
What to look for in a sensorimotor therapist?
Supportive therapy can be provided by mental health counselors, social workers, psychologists, and psychiatrists. Regardless of credentials, therapists who provide supportive therapy should possess:
- A safe, comfortable, and private office space
- Knowledge of trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy, narrative therapy, mindfulness practices, and breathwork
New to therapy? Learn about how to find a therapist here.