What is a Somatic Approach to Therapy? Why Include the Body?
Everything we experience involves our bodies. Our thoughts, emotions, memories, meaning makings, behaviors are all experienced through the body. For example, when we think about something stressful, our bodies release stress hormones. When we feel afraid, our bodies contract, draw in, tense up. When we feel happy, our bodies smile, lift, open, lighten. When we worry, our brow furrows. When we remember a moment of joy, we may feel warm and relaxed in our bodies. When we criticize ourselves as not good enough we may slump down, collapse our spines, and draw in. When we lash out verbally in anger our fist may clench, or our jaw may tighten.
Including the body in psychotherapy, working with breath patterns, body posture, gestures, movements, sensations, and 5 sense perception creates a wider lens for studying experience and shifting patterns of response. Through including the body in psychotherapy, clients find relief from constriction, hyper-vigilance, disconnection, isolation, anxiety, depression, and shame. Through including the body in psychotherapy we create a present moment workshop for developing relaxation, the capacity to set clear boundaries, an integrated felt-sense of empowerment, and supple and engaged presence in relationships.
Some additional, specific examples of how and why I include the body in psychotherapy:
• What we believe about ourselves impacts our body's tension holding patterns; these patters then support, communicate, and sustain those beliefs, constraining our experience of ourselves and our possibilities.
◦ For example, perhaps when we feel sad, our throat habitually tightens, or our chest collapses, or our breath holds on, and we are not able to release and move through the emotion. Helping the body relax can help the sadness move through and resolve.
• When we judge ourselves as not good enough and our shoulders slump forward and down, others are less likely to take us seriously or respect our boundaries.
◦ Working experientially with aligning and anchoring body posture, while listening to subtle sensation, can help clients rediscover their innate capacity for knowing where their boundaries need to be set, and help them learn how to articulate their boundaries in a clear, effective way.
• Our bodies also consistently offer suggestions for how to find relief from constricting patterns and tension, through spontaneous somatic resources.
◦ In therapy, clients learn how to notice and amplify these resources and to make use of them in daily life.
• When we hold our breath, we are more likely to feel anxious.
◦ When we exhale deeply, our sympathetic nervous system activation calms down. Then our mind can stop spinning, and we can respond the situation in a more relaxed manner. This is simple but profound when practiced consistently.
• Experiencing grounding or centering through the body helps us feel less scattered and anxious.
◦ Learning specifics of how to do this in session, in mindfulness, helps this resource become an integrated, viable tool in our daily life. Clients learn how to reliably release anxiety, supporting a more consistent experience of relaxed ease.
• Moving our bodies in simple ways that create a felt sense of presence, volume, boundaries, occupying our physical space - these body-based experiences actually shift deeply held limiting perceptions about ourselves, about who we are and what's possible for us.
◦ Clients come to actually experience themselves differently in the world, not as an idea, but as a felt experience of change.
In addition to working through Sensorimotor Psychotherapy (SP) methodology, my practice is informed by training in Hakomi - a form of body centered psychotherapy rooted in Buddhist principles of mindfulness, non-violence, unity, organicity, and mind-body holism - as well as training as a yoga and dance-movement teacher, and training in movement-based expressive arts in therapy. I weave a rich and diverse knowledge of the body and movement into the Somatic Psychotherapy I offer to clients.
Together, working somatically, we can clear out the legacy of past painful experience, shift your self-perceptions and deepen your experience of connection to source, self, and others in relationships.
“You do not have to be good. You do not have to walk on your knees for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting. You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves. -Mary Oliver