What is Somatic Psychotherapy?
Changes occur for individuals in psychotherapy because they are having new experiences. Psychotherapy promotes these new experiences as it explores cognitive, imaginative, emotional and interactive processes within the safety of the therapeutic relationship.
Somatic Psychotherapy extends this exploration to physical sensations, motor impulses and movement. It pays attention and attends to the non-verbal and embodied dimensions of a human being. It is this scope, attention and attentiveness that makes Somatic Psychotherapy holistic.
Somatic Psychotherapy looks at how we relate to our bodies and our attitudes towards them; how we can start to work with them; the subtle energy systems within them and the restrictions or tensions to those energies; the character structures in both body and mind that develop from our childhoods; how we can both use (and abuse) these body-mind systems; how this affects our functioning, both day-to-day and also long-term, of our body-mind structure; and how we can tap into the wisdom held within our bodies and help to heal, not just aspects of our bodies, but also aspects of our psyches for they are all part of the whole person.
Our bodies are our true homes: that within which we live, the source of joy or pain, and the expression of our inner selves.
The Embodied Somatic Psychotherapist
Psychotherapists don’t just “treat” symptoms (like anxiety or depression), they attend to people’s needs and to their internal emotional and psychic processes. Psychotherapists engage with the subjectivity of other people: their clients. To do so effectively (and arguably, ethically), they need to be aware of their own subjectivity – and that subjectivity is essentially embodied!
Approaches to standard mental health trainings tend to be overly cognitive, overly structured, overly technical, or can be somewhat lopsided towards medical and/or ‘natural scientific’ approaches. Such trainings can then pay insufficient attention to ‘subjectivity’: both to the subjectivity of the client/patient and also, significantly, to that of the practitioner. These sorts of therapeutic approaches and trainings, in effect, perpetuate the prevalent forms of ‘dis-embodiment’.
A Somatic Psychotherapy training therefore requires a profound awareness of one’s own internal processes in order to be able to resonate with the client’s internal processes: own therapy is thus a significant component of any Somatic Psychotherapy training.
The aim of our training in Somatic Psychotherapy?
Our ambition is to establish a training program in psychotherapy that is holistic and puts the relationship between client/patient and practitioner at the centre of attention. The training intends to address those aspects of human experience that are currently either not paid sufficient attention, or even ignored, including:
- Awareness of the practitioner’s embodiment addresses the practitioner’s blind spots. Psychotherapist don’t “treat” symptoms, they attend to people.
- The exploration of physical sensations, motor impulses and movement within the safety of the therapeutic relationship. Somatic Psychotherapy pays attention, and attends, to the non-verbal and embodied dimensions of a human being.
Despite the differences, the various schools of somatic psychotherapy share the following common ground:
1) A person is seen as an inseparable unit of body, mind, and psyche.
2) Formative experiences in human development have lasting effects on the somatic and psychic dimensions of a person.
3) The psychic dimension can be accessed, touched and affected via the bodily dimension (bottom up), and vice versa (top down).
4) A trust in the inherent potential for human development.
We would like to add (in our view) two important elements to this list:
5) Instead of body-mind, we consider the concept of Self at the centre of our clinical work. Self, as we understand it, is the organisation of subjective emotional experience – and it is embodied within our nervous system, and at the very centre of who we are as a person.
6) We believe and practice that somatic psychotherapy is relational. How we are with people in our consulting rooms, how we relate to each other, and the meaning that we make of it is at the heart of somatic psychotherapy practice. This is very different to adding somatic or mindfulness exercises to cognition-based approaches.