Psychotherapy is a form of psychological treatment in which great emphasis is placed on providing a safe, non-judgmental space and relationship in which to explore issues pertaining to mental health and problems of living. The Psychotherapeutic relationship provides specific theories and techniques embedded into conditions of empathy, acceptance and mindfulness designed to facilitate the appropriate inner psychological conditions so that people can grow and develop in ways which may not have been possible earlier in their lives. Psychotherapy is a research-evaluated method of bringing lasting change to our experience of life.
Although situated in the broad family of psychotherapeutic treatments, Somatic Psychotherapy is a unique discipline. Soma is a Greek word meaning “the living body” therefore Somatic Psychotherapy adds a significant dimension to verbal psychotherapy by including bodily experience as correlative, causative and caused by psychological experience. It is grounded in the belief that not only are thought, emotion and bodily experience inextricably linked (creating a bodymind), but also that change can be brought about in one domain of experience by mindfully accessing another.
Like other contemporary psychotherapies, emphasis is placed on the uniqueness of the individual, and the qualities present in the particular therapeutic relationship formed by each therapist-client dyad. The work of somatics is guided by several philosophies and more recently by research in Infant Development, Neurobiology, and Attachment theories. All of which converge in several areas, most notably in their agreement that:
- Mind and Body are not separate entities but mutually influencing aspects of the overall organism, and
- there is an innate capacity of the human bodymind to move towards healing and growth given the appropriate therapeutic environment.
- That interpersonal interaction in the form of respectful, safe and appropriate relationships positively and directly influence and mediate/regulate the bodymind.
Somatics is an umbrella term and is used widely in the field of medicine and psychological treatment. In the arena of Somatic Psychology, of which Somatic Psychotherapy is one branch, somatics refers to a wide variety of theories and techniques.
Inclusive of verbal psychotherapy, the work of Somatics and Somatic Psychotherapy is additionally informed by engaging directly with the client’s bodily experience by utilizing a wide range of somatic techniques to facilitate:
- The recognition and engagement of non-verbal communications.
- Increased awareness, understanding and mastery of emotion, emotional energy, bodily pain and, more generally, felt experience.
- The activation of novel movement, breathing and action patterns, and their psychological correlates.
- The bodily regulation of affect (emotion and emotional energy).
- The careful and respectful surfacing of previously disavowed emotion.
- The bodily de-activation of patterns of chronic and acute tension, and the exploration of their psychological causes.
- The discovery and creation of meaningful narratives around posture and gesture.
The techniques include but are certainly not limited to; skillful mindfulness of emotion, emotional energy, bodily pain and, more generally, felt experience on the one hand, and the use of specific movement and breathing techniques on the other hand.
When touch has been explained and consented to, somatically trained therapists are well educated and experienced to use touch in order to facilitate many of the above outcomes. In some instances specific types of massage are used which can add a potent therapeutic pathway for psychological change.
What can it help with?
People work with Somatic Psychotherapists for a wide range of outcomes, which often include the development of self awareness through exploration and expression, increased self regulation, vitality and aliveness.
This approach can help deepen a sense of connection to oneself and to others and can improve body sensing, relieve stress, balance the nervous system, and by ‘mobilising’ posture, uncover the attitudes that have supported it. It also helps explore patterns of emotional and physical contraction and expansion as well as develop a sense of unfolding and development.
Like other psychodynamic treatments, somatic psychotherapy is capable of treating a broad range of issues:
From Anxiety, Depression, Relationship difficulties, Low self esteem, and Emotional instability, to Grief and loss, Childhood abuse, Sexual assault, Despair, Spiritual issues, and Eating disorders and Addictions.
Because of the specific theories and techniques relating to the process of embodiment, somatic psychotherapists are uniquely placed to assist people recovering from trauma, and this is especially so where the ordinary states of ongoing embodiment are disrupted.
To get a sense of how Somatic Psychotherapy may be of assistance for you, or someone you know, please contact a practitioner near you – see our Find a Therapist tool.