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What is Sensorimotor Therapy?

Updated: May 5, 2023

What is Sensorimotor Therapy?

Sensorimotor Therapy and Mental Health

There are several different techniques and therapies that psychologists utilize to help clients, particularly if they are working through issues related to attachment and trauma. Sensorimotor therapy is one example and it is a form of therapy that I use consistently in my practice.

In this article, I will discuss this therapy, my practice, and how sensorimotor therapy could be a part of your healing.

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Starting is the Most Important Step

Taking the step to see a therapist can be a daunting decision for many people. It can feel overwhelming to open up about personal struggles and be vulnerable with a stranger.

However, seeking help from a therapist is a courageous act that can lead to significant improvements in mental health, well-being, and relationships. Therapy offers a safe and confidential space for individuals to explore their thoughts and emotions, gain insight into their behaviours and patterns, and be better equipped for dealing with life's challenges.

If you are considering therapy, it's important to know that seeking help is a sign of strength and can be a transformative experience.

My Approach to Therapy and Psychology

When it comes to mental health, I like to take a holistic and experiential approach. I believe in working from a perspective that takes into account the biology of the brain and the effects of trauma and attachment.

In my sessions, I like to incorporate different techniques, such as body-centred approaches, emotion-focused approaches, and mindfulness practices to help clients better understand their unconscious feelings and beliefs that may be influencing their thoughts and behaviors.

By doing this, we can access wisdom and insight beyond cognitive understanding. This way of working allows us to address the root cause of the problem and create lasting changes. I'm also interested in ecopsychology, which explores the impact that our relationship with nature has on our mental health. This relationship can be viewed as a reflection of our attachment patterns and ways of relating to ourselves and others.

What is Sensorimotor Therapy?

Sensorimotor therapy is a form of psychotherapy that helps resolve and recover from stress and trauma stored in the body. It recognizes that visible nonverbal behaviours can express the emotional states and underlying thoughts and beliefs left behind from inadequate attachment or traumatic experiences. Working with physical experiences can help individuals overcome chronic emotional dysregulation and difficulties connecting with ourselves and others.

Sensorimotor therapy is a collaborative process providing gentle guidance and support as we learn to re-wire our reactionary experiences from the past.

Sensorimotor therapy works to resolve stress and trauma stored in the body. We can get stuck in fight, flight, and freeze physiological states. Sensorimotor therapy supports the completion of these survival responses in the body to turn off our threat alarm.

Many clients come to me after nonsomatic approaches have either not worked or have not created the lasting change they are seeking.

Sensorimotor therapy can be particularly useful for individuals who have experienced trauma or other forms of emotional distress, as it provides a safe and non-judgmental space to explore and process difficult emotions and sensations. It can also be helpful for individuals struggling with anxiety, depression, or other mental health concerns.

Sensorimotor therapy is typically provided by a registered psychologist and may be used as a standalone therapy or in combination with other forms of treatment to provide a comprehensive approach to care.

How Does Sensorimotor Therapy Help Clients?

Sensorimotor therapy helps clients by supporting emotional regulation and balancing the nervous system. Using this therapy, we aim to change the effects of the past on the present. I often use mindfulness to build greater self-awareness of visible nonverbal behaviours such as posture, movement, and facial expression to support increased regulation of the nervous system.

This therapy helps establish a mindful connection to the wisdom of the body beyond our cognitive understanding. Sensorimotor therapy helps develop internal resources, address implicit memories that cause clients to be stuck in fight, flight, and freeze, and increase tolerance of difficult emotions allowing for greater regulation. Ultimately, sensorimotor therapy helps clients develop a greater sense of safety.

Through sensorimotor therapy, patients can learn to identify and regulate their emotional responses, manage symptoms of anxiety and depression, and improve their overall well-being. This therapy can be particularly beneficial for individuals who have experienced trauma and attachment wounding, as it helps them develop a greater sense of control over their bodily responses and can facilitate the healing process.

Sensorimotor therapy can also help clients improve their relationships and communication skills. By learning to better understand their own bodily sensations and emotional responses, individuals can develop greater compassion for themselves and deepen empathy for others, leading to more meaningful and fulfilling connections with those around them.

Overall, sensorimotor therapy is a powerful tool for promoting self-awareness, emotional regulation, and personal growth, helping clients to live happier, healthier, and more fulfilling lives.

What would a typical sensorimotor therapy session look like?

I use sensorimotor therapy in combination with other approaches. Some sessions are more heavily reliant on sensorimotor therapy while other sessions are less so. The approach and direction of sessions depend on client goals and concerns.

A typical session will begin with me checking in to see if the client has any issues or concerns that they would like to address during the session. I often then integrate and guide the client through exercises and activities designed to help clients become more aware of their bodily sensations, movements, and posture.

These exercises may include mindfulness meditation, breathing techniques, body awareness exercises, and movement practices. This work increases self-awareness while also resourcing the client, supporting grounding, and helps to balance and regulate the nervous system.

Throughout the session, I will encourage the client to bring their focus back to their bodily sensations or present-moment experience and to notice any thoughts or feelings that arise. I may ask questions or offer guidance to help the client deepen their awareness and understanding of their physical and emotional experiences.

Some sessions are focussed on orientating to safety and discovering what boundaries, body positions, or stimuli in the environment promote a sense of safety. Other sessions may focus more on the completion of a survival response in the body to turn off our threat alarm showing up in the form of hypervigilance or anxiety, for example. All sessions typically centre around increasing self-awareness.

As the session comes to a close, I often review with the client what was discovered and learned during the session and discuss any homework or follow-up exercises that the client can practice between sessions.

Overall, sessions utilizing sensorimotor therapy are designed to be experiential and interactive, allowing clients to explore their physical and emotional experiences in a safe and supportive environment. Sessions vary depending on the needs and goals of the individual client and where they are at on a given day.

Sensorimotor Therapy FAQ

What is the Goal of Sensorimotor Therapy?

The goal of sensorimotor therapy is to help individuals develop a greater awareness of their bodily sensations, movements, and postures, and to use this awareness to promote healing and growth.

  1. Understand the connection between the mind and body in an experiential way.

  2. Create a deeper awareness of how emotional responses and traumatic experiences can cause physical symptoms and sensations which influence behaviour.

  3. Use self-awareness to enhance our control over our physiological states and support the resolution of survival responses to increase regulation and sense of safety.

  4. Support the differentiation between the past and the present in the body and mind so that we can respond more appropriately. We want to respond to the present and not react to our past trauma.

What Can Sensorimotor Therapy Help With?

Sensorimotor therapy is a type of therapy that aims to heal the connections between emotions, thoughts, and the physical body. Childhood maltreatment, such as unhealthy attachment or trauma, can negatively impact the proper development and functioning of the nervous system and emotional centres in the brain. This can result in affect dysregulation, which refers to difficulty regulating emotions or tolerating negative emotions. Sensorimotor therapy aims to address these concerns.

Sensorimotor Therapy has shown to be useful in therapy working with these concerns:

  1. Trauma/Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

  2. Inadequate attachment

  3. Relationship difficulty

  4. Anxiety

  5. Depression

  6. Substance use/Addictive behaviours

  7. Self-harm

  8. Suicidal thoughts and behaviours

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