Resources

Sensorimotor Psychotherapy Client Education

Sensorimotor Psychotherapy (SP) is a method that draws upon the natural wisdom of the body (posture, movement, and the nervous system) to tap into the innate drive in all of us to heal, adapt, and develop new capacities.

SP is for adults, children, and adolescents who suffer from unresolved trauma, relationship problems, or who want to reduce stress and improve their quality of life.

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Moving on after difficult events such as trauma or hurtful experiences with caregivers is not easy, especially when those experiences have conditioned one to view the world as threatening or ourselves as inadequate. Even with a skilled therapist, it can sometimes be challenging to find relief or resolution and the client may end up feeling discouraged or stuck in their patterns. Sensorimotor Psychotherapy focuses on the body’s movement, posture, and sensation to help tap into that innate drive in all living things to heal, adapt, and develop new capacities. By tuning into the wisdom of the body, Sensorimotor Psychotherapy teaches clients to follows the inherent intelligent processes of the body and mind to discover the habitual, automatic attitudes (both physical and psychological), by which patterns of experience are generated. This gentle and empowering therapy is particularly helpful in working with the effects of trauma, relational trauma, and difficult past attachment relationships.

Sensorimotor Psychotherapy addresses body, emotions, and thoughts to promote physical, psychological, and spiritual wellbeing. By working simultaneously with body and mind, information is revealed that often remains unconscious in conventional “talk” therapy, and physical changes are more lasting. This process can increase the integration between body and mind.

Sensorimotor Psychotherapy can be used in combination with other modalities such as EMDR, cognitive-behavioral, and psychodynamic therapies to achieve the maximum benefit for the client.

Specific benefits are as individual as each client, but can include the reduction of pain (both emotional and physical) from trauma and attachment wounds; the reduction of post-traumatic stress symptoms; the reduction of anxiety disorder symptoms; increased ability to regulate emotions like anger, fear, or sadness; physical alignment; increased capacity for intimacy and fulfilled relationships; a greater sense of and ability to set boundaries; integration of dissociative parts; and an overall feeling of being more in tune with oneself.

The success of the method depends upon a client’s ability to sustain inner attentiveness, so this method may not be as affective with client’s whose ability to be mindful is affected in some way, such as by age, disability, extreme distress, or active substance addiction. However, this method is very adaptable to the individual, and can be modified based on a client’s difficulties, strengths, capacities, and goals.

Sensorimotor Psychotherapy is a “bottom up” “phase oriented” method. This means therapy generally begins in the first phase – developing resources to regulate arousal. The second phase of therapy addresses memories and emotions, and the final phase is focused on moving forward through expressing emotions, addressing relationships, and widening the window of tolerance. The phases of therapy do not necessarily happen in order, and phases or skills learned within a phase may be revisited as needed. In a typical first session, the therapist provides psychoeducation on Sensorimotor Psychotherapy, assess the client’s abilities and goals, and evaluates which phases, if any, the client has already worked in. The therapist and client create a plan to reach the client’s goals.

During sessions in Phase 1, the client is guided to become aware of her current inner experience (such as memories, images, emotions, thoughts, and bodily patterns), and helped to access a state of consciousness called “mindfulness,” a self-reflective state, cultivated by gently focusing one’s attention inward. Using simple verbal & physical experiments, unconscious patterns are brought to consciousness where they can be examined, understood, and addressed. For example, a client may be asked to “notice what happens” as they recount a recent fight with their spouse. The client may then notice that they tighten their shoulders, furrow their brow, and feel their heart race. Using mindfulness, client and therapist explore the triggers and body signals of excessive or dysregulated arousal and work to increase awareness of how posture, movement, and gesture affect arousal and well-being. The therapist guides the client in identifying survival resources that were used to cope in the past, and helps the client to assess and develop strengths, talents, and competencies, and discover natural somatic resources. This investigative phase focuses on cultivating a connection to and understanding of the body that is used in later phases to address memories, thoughts, and beliefs.

In Phase 2 sessions, the client and therapist begin to identify the effects and signs of implicit memories (such as sensations, sensory intrusions, emotions, movements, and thoughts) and the client develops new resources to help integrate the painful events of the past. The therapist instructs the client in the use of “dual awareness” to address slivers (or small pieces) of state specific memories without having to reliving the past. The client participates actively, verbalizing their inner experience; painful hidden memories and beliefs may be revealed, and strong emotions expressed. Simultaneously, the dual-focus on the present moment experience and therapist’s prompts to use resources keep the client from becoming too dysregulated during this memory work. The client gets a sense of completion as they practice empowering actions that couldn’t be used in the past, and addresses dysregulating arousal and emotions that are related to animal defenses. This phase focuses on repairing the lasting effects of past trauma and attachment inadequacies in a way that is manageable, integrative, and confidence-building.

Phase 3 sessions continue to call upon the skills learned in phases one and two to address the legacy of a client’s relationship history, including early attachment relationships with caregivers. The client is guided in discovering limiting beliefs, such as, “I will never be good enough,” and their effect on the body. The client begins to explore connecting with and expressing emotions that have been missing or suppressed. By practicing movements and physical actions, the client can increase connections and intimacy, explore boundary setting, and assess her gait and explore new ways of walking. The therapist helps the client to increase positive emotions and pleasurable activities, and increase their capacity to play. Through guided, healthy risk-taking, the client is challenged to tend to previously neglected areas of life and widen their window of tolerance. The final stage of therapy helps the client to cultivate a sense of self, improve relationships, and achieve a sense of contentment and well-being in life.

No licensing for this method exists at this point. However, SPI recognizes those who successfully complete the Certification Training and who demonstrate the highest level of proficiency in Sensorimotor Psychotherapy skills as “Certified Advanced Practitioners.”  Use our Therapist Directory  to search for a therapist trained in Sensorimotor Psychotherapy. The therapist directory is organized by geographical location and practitioners are listed according to the highest level of training completed. Please contact each therapist directly for more information regarding their practice. The directory is not inclusive, as it is an opt-in benefit available to those who wish to publish their contact information. SPI cannot recommend individual practitioners, cannot guarantee treatment outcomes, and is not liable for the actions of those listed in the directory.

The specific results of treatment depend on the therapist’s skill, experience, and previous somatic training, and on the client’s readiness, needs and goals.  We suggest that clients and practitioners interview one another, seeking a good “fit”, before committing to a course of therapy.  Clients should ask important questions like:

  1. What level of training have you completed in Sensorimotor Psychotherapy?
  2. What licensures do you hold?
  3. How long have you worked in this field?
  4. How will we assess my progress?
  5. What should I do if I don’t feel better?
  6. How much will treatment cost?

Healing requires a delicate balance of safety and risk, and Sensorimotor Psychotherapy will inevitably evoke memories, strong emotions, body responses, and survival defenses that can temporarily exacerbate symptoms, discomfort, feelings of distress, and even prompt states of hypo- or hyper-arousal. Clients will be challenged to take risks that explore uncomfortable territory and try new things that expand the boundaries of what feels comfortable, easy, or familiar. While working with a therapist, is important to be attentive to the internal signals that dictate how fast or slow to go. As in any relationship, difficulties can occur between client and therapist. These misunderstandings and mis-attunements can be uncomfortable and challenging, but often offer an opportunity to address a difficulty related to an old pattern by addressing the conflict together and making a new ending to an old story.

Sensorimotor Psychotherapy Literature for Therapists

Books

Sensorimotor Psychotherapy: Interventions for Trauma and Attachment

The body’s innate intelligence is largely an untapped resource in psychotherapy. This book, designed for therapists and clients to explore together, is both psychoeducational and practical. It will help therapists and clients alike use their own somatic intelligence to reclaim the body and engage it in the therapy process.

A companion to the bestselling Trauma and the Body: A Sensorimotor Approach to Psychotherapy, the book is not intended to teach the practice of Sensorimotor Psychotherapy. Rather, it is meant to act as a guide for helping clients draw on the wisdom of their bodies. Following an initial introductory section, the book consists of relatively short chapters designed to educate therapists and clients about a particular topic. Worksheets are provided for each chapter designed to be used either in therapy or between sessions to help clients integrate the material. The book will be useful for psychotherapists of a variety of persuasions: psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers, counselors, and marriage and family therapists. Some of the material may also be valuable for psychiatric nurses, occupational therapists, rehabilitation workers, crisis workers, victim advocates, disaster workers, and body therapists, as well as for graduate students and interns entering the field of mental health. Over 100 illustrations

“Sensorimotor Psychotherapy is a landmark book in the history of body psychotherapy and effectively provides the bridge between traditional psychotherapy and body-oriented therapies. In this discipline-changing volume, Pat Ogden brilliantly decodes the crucial role that the body plays in regulating physiological, behavioral, and mental states.”
– Stephen Porges, PhD

“Sensorimotor Psychotherapy is a must-read for psychoanalysts interested in nonverbal communication, dissociation, and trauma. This sophisticated book provides a remarkable integration of theory and clinical practice, informed by research in trauma, attachment, infancy, and neurobiology, as well as by psychoanalysis.”
– Beatrice Beebe, PhD


 

Trauma and the Body: A Sensorimotor Approach to Psychotherapy

“The body, for a host of reasons, has been left out of the ‘talking cure.’” With these opening words, the authors announce the expansion of traditional talk-therapy—building on skills ingrained after4 decades of accepted mental health practice—and identify a unique approach to the treatment of trauma.

Conventional models of therapy, while fundamentally helpful, excludes discussion of the body, focusing predominantly on the idea that change occurs through narrative expression. No one has yet to combine our understanding of trauma and its effects with somatically-driven treatment to deliver a sound, comprehensive theory and treatment model.

Trauma and the Body: A Sensorimotor Approach to Psychotherapy does just that. By incorporating theory and technique from traditional talk-therapy methods with body-oriented—or sensorimotor—psychotherapy, somatic psychology pioneer Pat Ogden and her colleagues present a breakthrough in trauma treatment, and expertly explain how using body sensation and movement can help heal the wounds of trauma.

“This is the book the field of psychotraumatology has been waiting for! Clinicians at last have a major practical and theoretical source for more fully understanding the central role of fixed sensorimotor patterns in survivors . . . Ogden and her colleagues masterfully demonstrate how to use the survivor’s physical fixation in traumatic experiences as an essential avenue to effective trauma treatment.”
– Onno van der Hart, PhD

“Ogden’s outstanding work in sensorimotor psychotherapy focuses not just on the devastating effects of trauma-induced alterations on mind, but also on body and brain. Asserting that the body has been left out of the “talking cure,” she offers a scholarly review of very recent advances in the trauma, neurobiology, developmental, and psychodynamic literatures that strongly suggests that bodily-based behaviors, affects, and cognitions must be brought to the forefront of the clinical encounter.”
– Allan N. Schore, PhD

Research

“A Pilot RCT of A Body-Oriented Group Therapy For Complex Trauma Survivors: An Adaptation of Sensorimotor Psychotherapy”

Authors: Catherine C. Classen, PhD, Lesley Hughes, MSW, Carrie Clark , PsyD, Bonilyn Hill Mohammed, MEd, Patricia Woods, RN & Brendan Beckett, BA
Published online in Journal of Trauma & Dissociation, 18 May 2020, https://doi.org/10.1080/15299732.2020.1760173

Abstract: This study is a pilot randomized controlled trial that examined the efficacy of a body-oriented group therapy designed to address chronic fear states in the body due to complex trauma. The Trauma and the Body Group (TBG) is a 20-session group psychotherapy that draws upon the principles and techniques of sensorimotor psychotherapy. Thirty-two women with a history of childhood trauma were randomized to immediate treatment or a waitlist control condition. Assessments were conducted one month prior to treatment, immediately after treatment, and six months post-treatment. Significant improvements were found in body awareness, anxiety, and soothing receptivity when comparing treatment to no treatment. The TBG appears to be a valuable tool for helping clients acquire mindfulness and self soothing skills that they can use to reduce posttraumatic symptoms. This study provides preliminary evidence that the TBG provides complex trauma survivors an opportunity to challenge their avoidance of two prominent trauma-related triggers – their bodies and interpersonal relationships – and in so doing may help survivors develop greater body awareness, increase their capacity for self and relational soothing, and reduce their anxiety symptoms.


“Sensorimotor Psychotherapy Group Therapy in the Treatment of Complex PTSD”

Authors: Gene-Cos, Nuri; Fisher, Janina; Ogden, Pat; Cantrel, Andy
Located in SciMedCentral: Annals of Psychiatry and Mental Health, 11 September 2016, ISSN: 2374-0124

Abstract: In this article we evaluate a new modality of treatment for a very severe and chronically ill population at a National Trauma Centre. We describe the service with its current treatment options and the type of patients selected for this new intervention. PTSD is presented as a biphasic syndrome, necessitating treatment approaches that address both physiological arousal and alexithymia and numbing. Each Sensorimotor Psychotherapy session addresses a different set of symptoms sequenced in order of importance from a trauma-treatment perspective, including: autonomic arousal, implicit memory, basic techniques for regulating arousal, directing focused attention, boundaries and skills practice. We describe methodology issues, aims of the treatment and statistical results as well as qualitative aspects of the outcome. Statistically significant changes in pre-treatment scores on measures of PTSD symptoms, depression, overall health, and work and social functioning were observed. This study has important implications for stabilization phase one treatment in the management of individuals with complex trauma presentations.


“A Pilot Study of Body-oriented Group Psychotherapy: Adapting Sensorimotor Psychotherapy for the Group Treatment of Trauma.”

Authors: Langmuir, Judith I.; Kirsh, Shari G.; Classen, Catherine C.
Located in: Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy, Vol 4(2), Mar 2012, 214-220.

Abstract: Research suggests that trauma has a profound effect on the body by disrupting normal physiologic responses leading to a broad range of trauma-related symptoms. In this paper, we describe a stage-one trauma group based on the clinical rationale and techniques of Pat Ogden’s (2006) sensorimotor psychotherapy (SP). To date, there has been no empirical research to support the efficacy of this treatment approach. Ten women with a history of childhood abuse participated in 20 weekly sessions of SP informed group therapy and were assessed at pretreatment, posttreatment, and at 6-month follow-up. Participants demonstrated significant improvement in body awareness, dissociation, and receptivity to soothing. This study of an SP-informed group therapy for women provides preliminary evidence of the effectiveness of SP in reducing trauma-related symptoms.

Book Chapters

“Beyond Words: A Sensorimotor Psychotherapy Perspective on Trauma Treatment”
Authors: Ogden, P.
Located in: Psychological Trauma: Theory, Clinical and Treatment (in press)

“’I Can See Clearly Now the Rain is Gone’: The Role of the Body in Forecasting the Future”
Authors: Ogden, P.
Located in: Body-States: Interpersonal and Relational Perspectives on the Treatment of Eating Disorders, (2014)

“Wisdom of the Body, Lost and Found: The Nineteenth John Bowlby Memorial Lecture”
Authors: Ogden, P.
Located in: Talking Bodies: How Do We Integrate Working with the Body in Psychotherapy from an Attachment and Relational Perspective?, (2014)

“Integrating Body and Mind: Sensorimotor Psychotherapy and Treatment of Dissociation, Defense, and Dysregulation”
Authors: Ogden, P. & Fisher, J.
Located in: Neurobiology and Treatment of Traumatic Dissociation: Towards an Embodied Self, (2014)

“Technique and Beyond: Therapeutic Enactments, Mindfulness, and the Role of the Body”
Authors: Ogden, P.
Located in: Healing Moments in Psychotherapy, (2013)

“Sensorimotor Psychotherapy as a Foundation of Group Therapy with Younger Clients”
Authors: Ogden, P. & Mark-Goldstein, B.
Located in: The Interpersonal Neurobiology of Group Psychotherapy and Group Process, (2013)

“Brain-to-Brain, Body-to-body: A Sensorimotor Psychotherapy Approach for the Treatment of Children and Adolescents”
Authors: Ogden, P., Goldstein, B, & Fisher, J.
Located in: Current Perspectives and Applications in Neurobiology; Working with Young Persons who are Victims and Perpetrators of Sexual Abuse, (2012)

“Psychodynamic Psychotherapy: Adaptions for the Treatment of Patients with Chronic Complex PTSD”
Authors: Lanius, R., Pain, C., Ogden, P., & Vermitten, E.
Located in: The Impact of Early Life and Trauma on Health and Disease: The Hidden Epidemic, (2010)

“Modulation, Mindfulness, and Movement in the Treatment of Trauma-related Depression”
Authors: Ogden, P.
Located in: Clinical Pearls of Wisdom: 21 Leading Therapists Offer their Key Insights, (2009)

“Sensorimotor Psychotherapy”
Authors: Ogden, P. & Fisher, J.
Located in: Treating Complex Traumatic Stress Disorders: An Evidence Based Guide, (2009)

“Emotion, Mindfulness and Movement: Expanding the Regulatory Boundaries of the Window of Tolerance”
Authors: Ogden, P.
Located in: The Healing Power of Emotion: Affective Neuroscience, Development & Clinical Practice, (2009)

“Sensorimotor Approach to Processing Traumatic Memory”
Authors: Ogden, P. & Minton, K.
Located in: Brief Treatments for the Traumatized: A Project of the Green Cross Foundation, (2002)

“Hakomi Integrative Somatics”
Authors: Ogden, P.
Located in: The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Body/Mind Disciplines, (1999)

“Hands-on Psychotherapy: Hakomi Integrative Somatics”
Authors: Ogden, P.
Located in: Getting in Touch, (1997)

Journal Articles

“Commentary on Paper by Ellen F. Fries”
Authors: Ogden, P.
Keywords: implicit self, proximity-seeking actions, attachment, body-oriented interventions
Located in: Psychoanalytic Dialogues: The International Journal of Relational Perspectives, 22(5), 606-615 (2012)

“Understanding Dissociation and the Body – Then and Now”
Authors: Ogden, P.
Keywords: trauma treatment, PTSD, dissociative disorders, history of sensorimotor psychotherapy
Located in: Interact, 12(2), (2012)

“The Movements of Play: Restoring Spontaneity and Flexibility in Traumatized Individuals”
Authors: Ogden, P. & Fisher, J.
Keywords: play, pleasure, attachment, trauma, window of tolerance, safety, arousal, social engagement
Located in: GAINS Quarterly(2014)

“A Sensorimotor Approach to the Treatment of Trauma and Dissociation”
Authors: Ogden, P., Pain, C. & Fisher, J.
Located in: Dissociative Disorders: An Expanding Window into the Psychobiology of the Mind, 263-279, (2006)

“Including the Body in Mainstream Psychotherapy with Chronically Traumatized Patients”
Authors: Ogden, P., Pain, C., Minton, K., & Fisher, J.
Located in: Psychologist-Psychoanalyst, 25(4), 19-23, (Fall 2005)

“The Integration of Somatic Approaches and Traditional Psychotherapy with Chronically Traumatized Patients”
Authors: Ogden, P., Steele, K., & Pain, C.
Located in: The International Society for the Study of Dissociation News, 22(1), (2004), Membership required

“Sensorimotor Psychotherapy: One Method for Processing Trauma”
Authors: Ogden, P. & Minton, K.
Located in: Traumatology,6(3), 149-173, (2000)

“Inner Body Sensation. Part Two.”
Authors: Ogden, P.
Located in: Somatics, 11(3), 42-49, (1998)

“Inner Body Sensation. Part One.”
Authors: Ogden, P.
Located in: Somatics, 11(2), 40-43, (1997)

“Translating the Body’s Language”
Authors: Ogden, P. & Peters, A.
Located in: Hakomi Forum,8, 31-34, (1990)