Somatic Therapy vs EMDR Therapy

Learn about the similarities and differences between EMDR and somatic experiencing therapy and how to apply these strategies in clinical work.

By Gale Alagos on Apr 25, 2024.

Fact Checked by Nate Lacson.

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What is somatic therapy?

Somatic therapy is a mind-body approach to healing that emphasizes the connection between our thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations. It operates under the principle that unprocessed experiences, especially traumatic memories, can leave imprints not just in our minds but also in our bodies and our nervous system. These imprints can manifest as chronic pain, tension, or difficulty regulating emotions (Payne et al., 2015).

Somatic therapists aim to help individuals develop awareness of these physical sensations and how they relate to their emotional state and mental health. Through this mind-body connection, somatic therapy can help people release pent-up tension, process difficult emotions, and cultivate a sense of safety in their healing process.

Here are some key aspects of somatic therapy to consider:

  • Focus on body awareness: Somatic therapists use different techniques to be in tune with bodily sensations and how our autonomic nervous system can function in different states. This might involve gentle movement exercises, breathwork, or guided meditations that help individuals pay attention to body sensations like tightness, temperature changes, or posture.
  • Integration of talk therapy: Somatic therapies typically incorporate elements of traditional talk therapy. This allows individuals to explore the thoughts and emotions that arise alongside the physical sensations. It weaves together body awareness and verbal processing to create a more holistic understanding of emotional experiences.
  • Variety of techniques: Somatic experiencing therapy draws on a wide range of techniques, including body scan meditations, movement exercises, and breathwork.

Applications of somatic experiencing and therapy

Somatic therapy as a body-oriented therapy has been shown to be effective in treating a variety of conditions (Brom et al., 2017), including:

  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other stress-related disorders
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Chronic pain
  • Somatic symptom disorders (physical symptoms without a clear medical cause)

This therapy is particularly beneficial for individuals with the goal of healing trauma, as it helps in reducing muscle tension, negative emotions, and post-traumatic stress by tapping into the body-mind connection in a safe and controlled environment.

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What is EMDR therapy?

Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy is a unique evidence-based treatment that has gained significant traction in recent years. It's specifically designed to address the emotional distress associated with traumatic memories and experiences.

Developed in the late 1980s by Francine Shapiro, EMDR therapy is based on the principle that the brain has a natural tendency to process and integrate traumatic memories but that this process can sometimes become disrupted or "stuck" (Shapiro, 2018).

Here's a breakdown of EMDR therapy to understand its core principles:

  • Targeted memory processing: EMDR focuses on a specific traumatic memory during each session. This targeted approach allows for deeper processing and emotional release of unresolved trauma compared to talk therapy, which might explore experiences more broadly.
  • Dual attention stimulation:  A key feature of EMDR is the use of bilateral stimulation while recalling the traumatic memory. This stimulation can involve rhythmic eye movements (the therapist guides your eye movements back and forth), tapping sounds, or handheld vibrating devices.
  • Reprocessing and integration: Focusing on the memory while engaging in bilateral stimulation facilitates the brain's natural ability to reprocess and integrate the traumatic experience. This can lead to a decrease in emotional distress and a shift in how the memory is stored.

Applications of EMDR therapy

EMDR therapy can be a valuable therapeutic approach  for treating a variety of conditions (American Psychological Association, 2017) and is included in the treatment plan for the following:

  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Phobias

By helping clients to reprocess and integrate their memories of traumatic events, EMDR can enable them to experience a greater sense of control and well-being in their lives.

Somatic Therapy vs EMDR Therapy

Choosing the most effective therapy approach for a client can feel overwhelming. While distinct in their methods, somatic experiencing and EMDR therapy are well-recognized trauma-focused therapies. Let's delve into their similarities and differences to guide your informed decision-making.


Both somatic therapy and EMDR are similar in the following ways:

  • Target trauma: Both somatic therapy and EMDR therapy can be highly effective in treating post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other trauma-related conditions. They aim to address the emotional distress and negative beliefs associated with traumatic experiences.
  • Focus on processing: Both approaches emphasize processing past experiences, even in different ways. Somatic therapy encourages awareness of physical sensations to understand and release pent-up emotions, while EMDR uses bilateral stimulation to facilitate emotional processing and memory desensitization.
  • Client-centered: Both somatic therapy and EMDR therapy are collaborative processes. The therapist works alongside the client to identify their goals and create a safe space for exploration and healing.


While they are both helpful in treating trauma, these two therapies also differ in:

  • Focus: Somatic therapy has a strong body-centered focus. It helps individuals develop awareness of physical effects and their connection to emotions. EMDR therapy, on the other hand, primarily targets the cognitive aspects of trauma, focusing on thoughts, beliefs, and memories associated with the traumatic experience.
  • Technique: Somatic therapy utilizes a variety of techniques, such as breathwork, gentle movement exercises, and guided meditations, to cultivate body awareness and self-regulation. EMDR therapy uses a more structured approach, incorporating bilateral stimulation (eye movements, tapping, etc.) while recalling the traumatic memory.
  • Pace: Somatic therapy often works at a slower pace, allowing for gradual exploration and integration. EMDR therapy can sometimes achieve results in fewer sessions due to its targeted approach.

How do I know which one to use?

Deciding whether to incorporate Somatic Therapy or EMDR into treatment plans depends on several factors:

Client's needs and preferences

Understanding the client's specific needs and preferences is essential. Some clients may be more inclined toward the body-centered approach of somatic therapy, while others might feel more comfortable with the structured protocol of EMDR. Remember, therapy's effectiveness greatly depends on the client's willingness and comfort with the treatment modality.

Presenting concerns

While both techniques can effectively treat trauma, the nature of the client's distress may guide the choice. EMDR's success is recognized in treating PTSD and related conditions (American Psychological Association, 2017). In contrast, somatic therapy could be more appropriate if physiological symptoms associated with stress or emotional distress are present alongside trauma symptoms as it focuses on fostering a holistic mind-body connection and emotional regulation (Van der Kolk, 2014).

Previous therapeutic experiences

If a client has not benefited from other forms of therapy, either somatic therapy or EMDR could be considered. Both offer a different approach to healing focused on the mind-body connection and could be particularly beneficial for those who have found traditional talk therapies lacking.

Practitioner's training and comfort

The therapist's training and comfort level with each approach is a crucial aspect. Competency in delivery is paramount to ensure the therapy is effective and ethical in promoting lasting healing.

In conclusion, determining the potential fit for somatic therapy or EMDR requires a clear understanding of the client's needs, the specific therapeutic strengths of each modality, and the therapist's expertise. Clinical judgment, along with an understanding of the latest research and treatment guidelines, will guide the ultimate decision.

Why use Carepatron as your therapy software?

Delivering care and therapeutic services also rely on how well practitioners manage their practice. With this, Carepatron stands out as an all-in-one therapy practice management software. Here are some reasons why Carepatron might be a good fit for your therapy practice:

  • Comprehensive tool: Carepatron is a comprehensive tool designed to streamline practice management tasks such as appointment scheduling, therapy notes documentation, billing, and client communication.
  • Intuitive use & compliance: Carepatron is considered super intuitive to use and can enhance practice efficiency, organization, and client care. This allows healthcare practitioners to focus more on delivering quality services. Moreover, it is compliant with global practice management standards.
  • Comprehensive documentation: Our designed clinical documentation software allows you to efficiently create, store, and manage therapy notes, treatment plans, and client records in compliance with health regulations.
  • Integrated payment processing: We simplify the billing process by integrating payment processing, helping to manage client invoices and payments efficiently.

Ready to transform how you operate your therapy practice? Join thousands of practitioners who already trust Carepatron. Sign up today for a free trial!

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American Psychological Association. (2017). Clinical practice guideline for the treatment of PTSD. American Psychological Association.

Brom, D., Stokar, Y., Lawi, C., Nuriel-Porat, V., Ziv, Y., Lerner, K., & Ross, G. (2017). Somatic experiencing for posttraumatic stress disorder: A randomized controlled outcome study. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 30(3), 304–312.

Payne, P., Levine, P. A., & Crane-Godreau, M. A. (2015). Somatic experiencing: Using interoception and proprioception as core elements of trauma therapy. Frontiers in Psychology, 6(93), 1–18.

Shapiro, F. (2018). Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy: Basic principles, protocols, and procedures (3rd ed.). The Guilford Press.

Van der Kolk, B. (2014). The body keeps the score: Brain, mind, and body in the healing of trauma. Penguin Books.

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