Somatic Psychology (body-mind psychotherapy, body-centered psychotherapy, etc.) is a holistic form of therapy that respects and utilizes the powerful connection between body, mind, and spirit. Our experience of ourselves and how we relate to others is not solely about our mind or our thoughts, but is also deeply rooted in, and influenced by, our body. The mind and body are one interconnected system, with each significantly impacting the other. Movement, deep breathing, somatic awareness, and body-centered emotional expression enhance the well-being of both body and mind. Such body centered practices impact neuronal (brain cell) functioning, improve neurotransmitter imbalances underlying depression and anxitety, and calm the nervous system.
Somatic Psychology has a long and rich history originating from the theories and practices of Wilhelm Reich, a psychoanalyst and student of Sigmund Freud. Since that time, it has been influenced by existential, humanistic and gestalt psychology, dance, movement and art therapy, neuroscience, and attachment theory.
Individuals seek this form of treatment for similar reasons they might look to more traditional talk therapy–to address stress, anxiety, depression, relationship issues, grief and loss, addictions, trauma recovery, as well as more purely medical reasons including pain, headaches, and chronic fatigue syndrome.
An attuned, non-judgmental client-therapist relationship is foundational because the client’s sense of feeling safe and supported allows him or her to shift from “storytelling” to body-centered feeling and healing. This is often described as transitioning from being “up in the head” in explicit (verbal/conscious) memory to “down in the body” where we are able to access implicit (sensorial/deeply rooted/unconscious) memory, thus bridging the non-conscious into consciousness, where it can be healed.
Relational Somatic Psychotherapy includes many different practices, originating always from the present moment experience of each client, while held in the supportive presence of the client-therapist relationship. Examples include: body scanning and breathing to enhance centeredness and awareness of sensations, observation of tension and holding areas within the body, interactive movements to help access stuffed or stored implicit memories and emotion, which can then be expressed and released. Each of these practices facilitate more peaceful and less reactive states.
Finally, the role of relationship in somatic work is essential because in the midst of therapy the client receives new information that brings positive affect and presence to potentially painful implicit imprints. The therapist offers connection, compassion, and care so the body can say, “I can rest now” — and then, the memory system is updated. This is the essence of the restorative process.