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Understanding Sensorimotor Psychotherapy

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Sensorimotor Psychotherapy was developed by Pat Ogden, Ph.D., in the early 1970s. According to the Sensorimotor Psychotherapy Institute (SPI), which she herself founded in 1981, Ogden’s interest was first sparked via the “correlation between her client’s disconnection from their bodies, their physical patterns, and their psychological issues.” Since its start, the organization has dedicated itself to providing the highest-level of training and services for a global network of mental health practitioners. This article will discuss the definition of Sensorimotor Psychotherapy, its history, its structure, and its application.

What is Sensorimotor Psychotherapy (SP)?

The definition of Sensorimotor Psychotherapy according to SPI is a “complete therapeutic modality for trauma and attachment issues.” The focus of SP is using the body to treat somatic symptoms of unresolved or active trauma. Ogden developed Sensorimotor Psychotherapy when she noticed that the treatments being applied to trauma during that time were often triggering and harmful to the patient overall.

This differs from traditional talk-therapy methods due to the fact that rather than using words to access trauma, SP uses a body-centered approach. Essentially, therapists that are trained in SP aid an individual in their overcoming of trauma through safe and guided re-experiences and psychical sensations.

History of Sensorimotor Psychotherapy

Pat Ogden was working as a technician and yoga teacher at a short-term psychiatric hospital in the early 70s. During her time in this position is when she first started to notice the correlation between body and mind. At this time in history, the term PTSD had yet to be included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or the DSM.

After noticing that the individuals she worked with were suffering from trauma and that current treatments were failing them, she began to develop the Sensorimotor Psychotherapy technique.

Today, this technique is widely accepted in the mental health community as an effective and impactful way to treat Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Ogden continues to partner with others in the professional community to determine how this treatment could be applied to a number of different populations.

When is it Used?

Sensorimotor Psychotherapy is most often applied after traditional talk-therapy has failed to help the client. This approach to treatment can help with trauma and attachment issues related to:

Anxiety

Difficulty concentrating due to fear, upsetting thoughts, or unwelcomed physical sensations.

Intense and disturbing emotional reactions that seem out of place with the present situation

Post-traumatic stress: abuse attack, accidents, flashbacks, nightmares. Feeling frozen or stuck in a familiar circumstance without understanding why.

Difficulty enjoying life, feeling hopeful, and experiencing pleasure

Relationship-related wounds: neglect, harsh parenting during childhood, divorce, child-parent separations

Persistent and regular negative thoughts about one’s ability to achieve, be successful, and deserving

Difficulty maintaining a job, a family, friendships, and other relationships

Feeling detached from one’s self and the world.

The Three Phases of Sensorimotor Psychotherapy:

Symptom Reduction and Stabilization

The first phase of Sensorimotor Psychotherapy is to identify the physical and mental connections which are blocked or “frozen.” For some clients, this might include the inability to be touched certain places of their body, the inability to function in certain settings, or any other identifiable moment or symptom in a client’s life.

This step is vital to the progression of SP because it acts as the starting point for the rest of the sessions. Once the symptoms have been identified, reduction and stabilization can proceed. The therapist then utilizes SP techniques to help reduce the physical reactions and responses the patient depends on to hide cope with their experience.

Processing Traumatic Memories

The second phase in Sensorimotor Psychotherapy is the processing of traumatic memories. Using SP techniques, the therapist walks the client through the traumatic experiences that have led them to respond the way they do, today. In this phase, the defensive responses are resolved.

Reintegration

The third and the last phase is reintegration. Once a client and therapist have successfully restored connections that were once damaged, the individual can safely reinter those scenarios. Through SP training and application, a client uses mental, physical, and mindful tools to overcome the once troubling situations.

For a therapist that completes training in Sensorimotor Psychotherapy, each one of these phases will involve a long list of techniques and applications to help the client heal from trauma. The combination of mind and body to conquer triggers is what makes SP so unique.

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