How to do light somatic processing at home
Updated: Dec 22, 2020
By Andrés Zambrano, therapist at Innate Path
How to do Somatic Processing at Home
Our clients know that after doing enough somatic processing work, life becomes more awesome. There’s a safe protocol you can follow in the comfort of your own home, which will support the work that you do with your therapist in the office. In this article, I will review our do-it-yourself protocol and discuss some necessary precautions to ensure you have a safe and rewarding experience.
Resourcing! Resourcing! Resourcing!
Many people don’t realize that the foundation of our work, both inside and outside the therapist’s office, is resourcing. Generally speaking, resourcing is the ability to regulate our nervous system. If we can resource ourselves, we develop an inherent sense of safety that then allows us to touch into the more frightening and painful parts of our experience. It’s important to find the balance between poking at our wounds and leaning into the support, safety and nourishment around us. Build up your tool kit of coping skills: strengthen relationships with friends and family, practice healthy eating, engage in exercise, get enough sleep, and cultivate spirituality (if that’s your thing). Remember that this is your foundation: adequate resourcing will enable you to face your inner demons and come out stronger on the other side.
With this in mind, we recommend you start and end with a resourcing ritual. There are endless ways to do this, so be curious and find what works for you. At the clinic, simply scheduling a 2-hour session sets up a ritual. You have a set space that is supportive, there is a clear beginning, middle and end, and your therapist might even encourage you to light a candle or burn some incense. This setup creates a special mood that your mind recognizes as, “Time to do deep work.”
At home, intentionally set up your space, beautify it and add anything that feels supportive. For example, grab your favorite blanket and pillow, use ambient music, or bring pictures and objects that offer you that extra bit of inner strength. When you feel ready, take some time to settle in and make yourself comfortable. You can do a short body scan, meditation, breathing practice, safe place visualization, or call in your allies before you get started. Similarly, at the end of somatic processing, you can again engage in one of these practices. Make sure to take your time, be GENTLE, and transition with intention.
Once you feel comfortable, it’s time make yourself a little uncomfortable. Many of our clients will remember their therapist coaching them in containment, a counter-intuitive skill that brings up uncomfortable feelings. In our daily lives, humans have become experts in managing excess charge in their nervous systems. When things feel uncomfortable, we might take a deep breath, bite our nails, or fidget to help let out the excess energy. We might redirect the discomfort by lashing out at someone, or we could distract ourselves by watching a movie or binge-eating. While these strategies help us manage this energy, they don’t resolve it, and the nervous system activation continues to reappear. It’s similar to holding a beach ball under water: it takes energy to make it look like the beach ball isn’t there, but it’s going to pop back up at some point.
Containment is a process in which we notice the nervous system charge and choose to contain the impulse to manage it. We slow down or even stop the fidgeting; we allow our breath to become short, our shoulder muscles to get tight, our difficult feelings to arise. We welcome in the discomfort and refrain from finding ways to tune out or feel better or “think positive.”
When we are able to allow this discomfort to build, the energy can process through and release in a variety of ways. It might get released through a burst of tears as you get in touch with your underlying sadness. It could also get released physically, sometimes through physical shaking or other movements that are initiated unconsciously from the body instead of deliberately from the mind.
Some Helpful Tips
• Working with hot symptoms (anxiety, anger, panic, etc.) is easier than working with cold symptoms (lethargy, numbness, hopelessness). It can be very easy to get lost in the void of dissociation instead of actively working to process it, and so we recommend you resource yourself instead of going into deeper emotional processing when cold symptoms arise. If you do want to pursue cold symptoms, we recommend naming what you’re feeling aloud in order to stay present with the sensations. You may also find it helpful to stop, move a little bit, and then drop back in.
• Solo work tends to be less deep than working with your therapist. This is normal and appropriate - people oftentimes need someone they know and trust to be with them before they can take a deep dive into processing their traumas. Don’t force it - it’s important for your nervous system to take a break and resource instead of being forced into uncomfortable areas. Resourcing is especially important in these difficult times, so listen when your body would rather resource than process.
• Find a healthy balance between observing and directing. Innate Path therapists lean toward observing the process, allowing your nervous system to act organically, instead of pushing an agenda. Have curiosity toward what shows up in the moment, and take your time to let it express itself. Directing has a place, too, and can be implemented by thinking about a difficult situation or memory and staying aware of your body response to it.
All of our clients have been told that this work can temporarily increase or create difficult symptoms such as anxiety, depression, or suicidal ideation. We strongly recommend that you communicate with your therapist: let them know when you are engaging in your own work and check in with them before and after. We cannot offer 24/7 crisis support, but we can be available for a short phone call or text message, and we can certainly schedule a telehealth integration session to process whatever is arising for you.
While this article points to a planned solo processing session, it can also be beneficial to do spontaneous somatic processing work. If you’re feeling anxious, restless, fearful, or any other hot symptoms, it can be beneficial to pay attention in the moment and allow the sensations to process through your body. Of course, make sure you are in a safe place and let your therapist know about it after the fact.
Some of you might be tempted to use medicine in your at-home sessions. I want to gently remind you that your ketamine prescription does not allow for this, and we will have to let our provider know if you do. Since cannabis is not regulated in the same way, the lawful restriction does not apply to it. However, I find that many clients have an ingrained belief that they need the medicine to do somatic processing, a belief to which I do not ascribe. You and your nervous system are doing the hard work - not the cannabis. I strongly encourage you to try somatic processing without medicine - you might surprise yourself! And if you do decide to use cannabis, I caution you to be conservative in your approach. I have seen plenty of sessions rendered useless because the client took too much medicine, but none in which the client took too little. Taking too much can be very detrimental, leading you to places you’re not ready to go or distracting you from doing the processing you desire.
With that, I’ll leave you to explore on your own, and I’ll wish you good and fruitful journeys. May all those parts in you that are wounded find the sense of safety and love that they have been needing for so long.