Somatic (Body) Psychotherapy

Embodied Change You Can Feel (Instead of Just Think About!)

Somatic (Body) Psychotherapy Definition:

Somatic (Body) Psychotherapy treats the whole person, integrating body, mind, emotions, and spirit, enabling you to do deeper more meaningful work in less time with more lasting results. (http://www.ibponline.org/ – Integrative Body Psychotherapy)

Why It Works:

Because so much of the input to the central nervous system is somatic (registered through our sensory receptors associated with our five senses) and most emotions are accompanied by or preceded by body sensations (Ellis, 2014), involving the experience of the body in psychotherapy can be an essential aspect in addressing a client’s holistic experience.

Why Cognitions/Logical Thought (Talk Therapy) are Only Part of the Picture of Healing:

The human brain develops in 3 parts sequentially: the Reptilian Brain (instinct/survival), the Mammal Brain (Limbic System: emotions and memories), and the Human Brain (Pre-Frontal Cortex: abstract thought).

Tauan-Triune

Because trauma and/or emotional wounds have been or felt like real threats at one time, the body and brain remember them. When we get triggered (by a situation, one of the 5 senses, an emotion etc.) the body may react as if it is still in danger. Because we are wired to survive, the Reptilian Brain acts as an instinctual protection by utilizing the defensive responses (fight/flight/freeze/collapse). Because taking time to think in dangerous situations would slow down our ability to act, the body diverts all energy to our defensive responses, which mean we are not able to effectively communicate or problem solve in these moments (the higher parts of our brain go “off-line”). So using logic when we are scared doesn’t help us much. Logic also doesn’t seem to touch our deep-seeded emotional responses (we may know logically we are worthy of love, but not feel it).

For this reason, we must work on all three levels of the brain (along with the body) to heal and re-pattern defensive responses, negative cognitions, and limiting beliefs and behaviors. When each part of the brain is included in therapy, lasting change can occur.

Therapy for Each Part of the Brain

Note: There are many modalities of Body Psychotherapy, many of which access several part of the brain. I draw on Hakomi, Sensorimotor Processing, Gestalt, Integrative Body Psychotherapy, Core Energetics, and Focusing.

Lizard/Reptilian Brain Mammal Brain/Limbic System Human Brain/ Neo Cortex
Body (Somatic) Psychotherapy (BP) Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT); BP; Art Therapy; Gestalt Therapy Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy; Solution-Focused Therapy; DBT
Regulating the body through breath and movement to calm anxiety/panic, prevent overwhelm, and invigorate depression/numbness Acknowledge and express emotions (verbally, physically, through art, writing, tears, sounds, or movement) Become aware of our limiting beliefs about ourselves and the world and create healthier beliefs.
Empower/enact defensive responses that we couldn’t at the time of the trauma/emotional wound (that when left unexpressed can lead to PTSD) Utilize right brain creativity to access the emotional mind through visualization, 5 senses description, and empower our subconscious to guide our healing. Understand where limiting beliefs came from and that they are not the truth about who we are, and build our own healthy self-esteem.
Become aware of body sensations and give them attention/support without analyzing them, and allow them to inform our movement to bring change [protection, empowerment, wisdom] our cognitive mind has not thought of. Practice awareness of how emotions feel in the body and give them loving attention and permission to exist that they may never have gotten (self-parenting). Practice effective communication, boundaries, problem-solving, and support ourselves through planning and structure.
Orient to the present moment and pair safety with traumatic memories. Give the body a visceral feeling of support through self-touch. Let different parts of ourselves dialogue to be acknowledged /understood (ex: our critical self and our confident self) Follow through with actions that reinforce healthy beliefs about ourselves and the world.