Somatic therapy can be a strong component of trauma healing. However, those with gender dysphoria—or those who typically feel distress or discomfort around their assigned gender assigned at birth—may struggle to access their body. Likewise, they may find it difficult to identify and understand emotional sensations within their body, making somatic therapy inaccessible.
What then? Can somatic therapy still be a helpful approach for transgender, nonbinary, and other gender-nonconforming people? This article will help answer that question and expand.
What is somatic therapy?
Somatic therapy, also referred to as somatic healing or somatic experiencing, focuses on how emotions show up in the body. Particularly, it can look like paying attention to how feelings provoke bodily sensations. For instance, when someone experiences anxiety, they might feel tightness in their chest. Conversely, when another person feels anxious, they might feel queasiness in their stomach.
This type of therapy recognizes that emotional experiences are not solely confined to the mind but are also stored and expressed within the body. Somatic therapy delves into the mind-body connection, acknowledging that our physical sensations, movements, and gestures are manifestations of our emotional and psychological states. For trans, nonbinary, and GNC people, somatic therapy can help process feelings related to gender identity, transition, and/or gender-affirming medical care.
Somatic practices include mindfulness, breathwork, body-focused techniques, and guided movement. These practices invite you to explore your own bodily sensations in order to trace emotional imprints and release stored tensions. Ultimately, through cultivating more self-awareness of bodily sensations, you can uncover and process deep-seated emotions, traumas, and patterns.
Can somatic therapy help those with gender dysphoria?
Somatic practices can offer a unique healing path for those with gender dysphoria. Exploring your relationship with the soma—embodying sensations, movements, and emotions—can help you learn more about your body’s physical responses to feelings. With a more in-depth understanding of how your body responds to emotions, you can also better alleviate distress and heal from trauma.
If you experience gender dysphoria, somatic therapy can help you reintegrate with your body. It can be an avenue for reestablishing an entirely new connection to your body. This can especially be helpful if your body has changed, or is changing, from undergoing gender-affirming surgery and/or hormone therapy. It can also be helpful earlier in your gender transition if you’re experimenting with different gender presentations and want to see what presentation feels authentic to you.
While somatic therapy can help manage dysphoria, exploring bodily sensations doesn’t just potentially help manage dysphoria. Rather, somatic therapy presents a bigger, expansive opportunity for self-discovery and empowerment. By fostering a deeper understanding of one’s body beyond societal constructs, you can also cultivate a stronger sense of self-acceptance and resilience of your gender.
Potential challenges to somatic therapy for those with gender dysphoria
If you experience gender dysphoria, tuning into your body might be a distressing and/or inaccessible experience. If so, trying to access your body might not be safe. Accessing your body may also be entirely inaccessible. Some people who experience gender dysphoria can be entirely tuned out from listening to their body because it’s so distressing to live inside their body.
If gender-affirming care isn’t accessible to you, you may find connecting with your body that much more difficult. In that case, we hear you. Here’s the reality: somatic therapy cannot be a substitute for gender-affirming medical care. At Kip, we advocate for the recognition and accessibility of gender-affirming care to those with gender dysphoria; while we don’t offer gender-affirming medical care, including surgery and hormone therapy, we do provide gender-affirming mental health care with a staff of transgender-competent therapists.
With that said, somatic therapy can help supplement gender-affirming medical care if you have access to it. Additionally, if you’re unsure whether you’re interested in pursuing gender-affirming care, somatic therapy can be an approach to help you explore that question.
Additionally, we recognize not all nonbinary and gender-nonconforming people experience gender dysphoria. If this is you, we still extend our invitation of somatic therapy to you. We also acknowledge it still may be difficult to access your body for different reasons. Even for people without gender dysphoria, listening to your body’s emotional responses can be uncomfortable and distressing, but with the right support, it can be extremely rewarding and healing.
How to find a trans-competent somatic therapy provider
Not all therapists trained in somatic therapy fully grasp gender dysphoria or gender-diverse identities. Gender dysphoria requires sensitivity and empathy from gender-competent therapists who understand, respect, and validate diverse gender identities. Without a transgender-competent therapist, you might feel further alienated or misunderstood, hindering your ability to engage fully in the therapeutic process.
At Kip Therapy, our entire staff of therapists are gender competent. Many identify as trans and nonbinary themselves. If you’re interested in somatic therapy, book a free discovery call to be matched with a trans-competent therapist.