Somatic (Body) Psychotherapy: An Introduction

By Ofer Zur, Ph.D.

Somatic Psychotherapy: An Introduction course (7 CE Credit Hours)

35-Minute FREE Audio (MP3) Introduction to Somatic Psychotherapy (Transcript)

Somatic Psychotherapy

Somatic Psychotherapy is a growing field, a therapeutic orientation that is proving to be remarkably effective in the treatment of trauma, anxiety, depression, and many other issues. The field emerged in the 20th century due in large part to the influence of the ideas of Wilhelm Reich, a German psychiatrist who immigrated to the United States after the Nazi takeover of Austria in 1939. Like many psychiatrists of the era, Reich’s methods were unconventional and would sometimes fall below the modern day standard of care. Nonetheless, he laid the groundwork for the field of Somatic Psychotherapy with his breakthrough realization that repression and other psychological defenses happen in the body as chronic muscular tensions.

Central to Somatic Psychology is the idea that the organization of the body is the composition of the psyche. This is different from viewing the body as a metaphor. Somatic psychotherapists understand that mind and body have a continual, bi-directional feedback loop by which each informs the other. People can use their minds to affect their bodies; as well as use their bodies to affect their minds.

This branch of psychotherapy has special applications for trauma work. It assumes that people may intellectually understand that they have anxiety, depression, or trauma; however, if they continue to hold their body in a way that keeps the pain trapped, unreleased, and unhealed, they will continue to carry the damage and be unable to move through the issue.

Did you know…

  • Not all Somatic Psychotherapy involves touch
    • Some somatic psychotherapy practitioners use touch frequently and some never use it
  • Propensity to touch and comfort with touch varies by socio-economic class
    • The lower one’s socio-economic class, the more likely one is to touch
  • Attitudes toward touch and the body vary enormously from culture to culture
  • Somatic Psychotherapy is a highly eclectic field comprising many approaches, techniques, and perspectives
    • Somatic Psychotherapy approaches range from heavily movement-oriented forms, such as Authentic Movement, to simple practices of bodily awareness in which clients never leave their seats
  • Many Somatic Psychotherapy approaches and techniques can be easily incorporated into nearly any style of psychotherapy
  • Feeling and expression comprise a feedback loop
  • When children learn to control their impulses, they’re also learning to restrain the physical movements and feelings associated with those impulses
  • Dysfunctional and limiting patterns of psychological functioning are associated with corresponding patterns of chronic physical tension
  • Child psychotherapy pioneer D.W. Winicott used the term “psyche-soma” to refer to an individual’s whole self, to indicate that the psyche is embodied and inseparable from the somatic
  • Somatic Psychotherapy techniques can be as simple as asking a client to notice his or her bodily sensations for a moment
    • Sometimes the simplest somatic techniques and interventions can be the most profound
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