What is Somatic Psychotherapy?
I am often asked, what is Somatic Psychotherapy? It’s still a relatively new field that is taking off in psychotherapy practice. Here is my attempt at defining it based on my experience and study over the last 10 years.
Somatic Psychotherapy is also referred to as Body Psychotherapy. It is an interdisciplinary field of therapeutic approaches to the body, experience and the embodied self. The word somatic comes from the Greek somat meaning body. The word psychology comes from the Ancient Greek psyche meaning breath, soul, mind. The psyche lives in the whole body, not just our heads.
Somatic Psychotherapy is very different from conventional forms of “body-work” in that it is clearly psychotherapeutically based. It is psychotherapy that involves the potential for working not only verbally but also bodily.
The Somatic Psychotherapeutic approach looks at the role of the body in the development and expression of psyche. In addition to tracking and trying to understand clients’ verbally related stories, histories and difficulties, Somatic psychotherapists are attuned to their bodily enactments of feeling and meaning.
Thinking is not an abstract function. It includes physical expression and action. The brain is continually receiving information throughout all the senses of the body. Emotion, behavior, sensation, impulse, energy, action, gesture, meaning and language all originate in body experience. Therefore, it is necessary to incorporate the body within the psychotherapeutic process. Somatic Psychotherapy pays attention to all of these different levels of human experience as they emerge within the therapeutic relationship.
Understanding “why” we have certain issues or problems is important but that alone is not what creates change. Somatic Psychotherapy focuses on how these issues or problems are occurring within our embodied experience so we can learn “how” to replace the unwanted patterns with empowering embodied experiences that lead to new and more desired actions and behavior.
Somatic Psychotherapy is a good choice for problems that have not responded to talk therapy alone since the root of our experiences is deeply stored in the body.
At any point in time, the mind/body interconnection can create joy through muscle expansion or fear through muscle contraction. If we don’t like the feelings and sensations we create like stress, then we may tend to distract ourselves or protect ourselves from them. This may manifest in the form of tightening our chest, shoulders or holding our breath. It can also lead to negative behaviors like alcohol/substance abuse, anger outbursts, depression, and anxiety.
Over time, working inside the mind/body interconnection can lead to sustainable increases in wellbeing and aliveness. The reason it’s sustainable is because we are actually learning what we are doing in a situation, not just what we are thinking, feeling or experiencing. With that learning we have the opportunity to practice new actions which lead to new and exciting experiences in life.