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Somatic Therapy: Using the Mind-Body Connection to Get Results
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Dear Colleague,

A brilliant, 30-something architect named Frank went to see Minnesota psychologist Patrick Dougherty because he’d never been able to sustain a successful, lasting relationship. Charming and voluble, Frank talked nonstop about his work; his social life; his multiple affairs; his views on art, architecture, music, politics, and the general state of the world.

Several times during the first sessions, Dougherty asked Frank to slow down and focus on his breath. In response, Frank would groan melodramatically; roll his eyes; take a couple of loud, stagey mock-breaths; and then skip right back to his monologue. Finally, a bit exasperated himself, Dougherty insisted, “Frank! Can’t you just stop talking for a minute, relax, and breathe deeply?”

Frank stopped, shrugged, took one deep breath, and then screamed at Dougherty, “I don’t want to breathe! Don’t you get it? I don’t want to breathe because I hate my life!”

To pause, breathe deeply, and pay attention to how it felt was enough to make Frank feel at the core of his being the extent of his anguish and loneliness. Even such a presumably innocuous bit of somatic therapy can have surprising power and make people aware of hidden emotional pain that weeks of talk therapy might not uncover.

Getting Past Our Culture’s Ignorance of the Body

What Dougherty and thousands of other therapists have been discovering—or rediscovering—in the past few years, is that enlisting the body’s resources in psychotherapy, even in the gentlest, most decorous, and least intimidating way possible, can have a dramatic impact on the therapeutic experience.

In fact, many therapists are claiming that when approached skillfully and judiciously, somatic therapy, which is centered on the body, can be a way to bring forth and immediately engage deep emotional issues that might never fully surface in ordinary talk therapy.

In our image-obsessed, body-conscious society, we often don’t have a clue about what’s going on inside our bodies, how we really feel beneath the surface of our skin. Given our cultural climate, it’s hardly surprising that the body has always had a kind of shadow presence in therapy.

We’re aware of what we think and feel about the way our bodies look in a bathing suit, about our sexual inadequacies, about the nausea we get before a work deadline. But few therapists ever ask their clients to report directly on their somatic experience—“What do you feel in your body and where do you feel it?” —much less encourage them to express physically what they might be feeling.

Most people are at least a little frightened of their bodies and the untoward feelings that well up from their depths, frightened of what happens beneath the veneer of reason and civilized behavior. According to Susan Aposhyan, author of Natural Intelligence: Body-Mind Integration and Human Development, therapists share our culture’s general phobia of the body. “Like everybody else, we therapists are afraid to attune ourselves to our own body sensations because we’re afraid of losing control of ourselves, that we’ll get too angry or become sexual.”

But this is changing, and this change was prompted in large part by developments in the headiest, most rarefied of scientific research domains. Brain science and the advent of imaging technology have made it clear just how “embodied” the mind is.

But what does it take for a therapist to move past the various obstacles to bringing mind and body together for somatic therapy?


Therapists who want to bring an element of somatic therapy to their work, but who aren’t inclined to retool themselves and their techniques completely, can enrich their therapy by learning how to better read their own bodies and those of their clients while never budging from their seats.

Somatic therapy can’t be remotely effective if therapists haven’t walked the walk themselves. Somatic therapy requires, perhaps even more than talk therapy, a high degree of therapeutic consciousness and caution to control what’s happening in the client.

A therapist listening to a client, particularly if the material is intense, can ground herself through mindful body awareness. These “body scans” on herself will not only ground her, but help her tune into the client. They also allow her to become more aware of transference and countertransference reactions while they’re still small clouds on the horizon, long before they have a chance to become violent thunderstorms.

If you want to learn more about somatic therapy and the techniques therapists are using to treat clients by working with the body, download this FREE special report.

Add Your Comments

5 Comments

  1. Harriet Katz
    Posted October 21, 2013 at 6:26 pm | Permalink

    I find it interesting to say the least that mainstream therapists are discovering now the link between the mind and the body and wanting to incorporate body oriented therapy techniques. I find it interesting because Somatic Therapy has been around for as long as Freud through the founding father of Reich, and many others who followed. Those who followed incorporated Depth therapy into the Somatic Model including Object Relations and attachments models which is much more effective when using a somatic approach. That is because the mind body soul integrates the understanding in a way that just talk oriented therapy no matter how good can not.
    the Danger however is just incorporating somatic “techniques” into one’s practice without the in depth understanding from those who have gone before this fashionable upgrade. While you can effect better results seemingly you can also injure more deeply as well. To really incorporate the understanding from somatic therapy means to be actually be trained in Somatic therapy. Not picking and choosing one technique or breathing method over the other.. In attending workshops in attachment work and emotionally focused work and being asked toprivately demonstrate a few “somatic techniques” . Without the appreciation of from a well grounding body oriented training I could not ethically offer any techniques. I did however feel that these new current approaches were introducing somatic field to therapists who might never have appreciated the this. But it is a new addition and without the understanding it could be misused, misunderstood, and not beneficial in the longrun. Furthermore, what is absolutely essential in somatic work is the somatic field if you will of the therapist and her or his countertransference which affects the somatic depth work immensely. So picking a smorgasbord of somatic techniques without both the understanding of somatic therapy which is a broad based treatment models in and of itself and not having the understanding and integration in your own bodysoul as the treating therapist can have some effectiveness but missing the holy grail and can be dangerous in how it is used and even more misunderstood in it’s impact and effects on the bodymindsoul. In other words you can open up the client to experiences that you yourself as a therapist are very uncomfortable with and would not know how to effectively deal with that. And the client could feel misattuned in a way that would injure and if you did this sort of work with a client who this type of work would not be used because of their structure you could create some serious consequences which I won’t go into here. So while I think it useful and good to incorporate some somatic techniques, the therapist should be wise to get the appropriate training in somatic work before experimenting on her or his own. It is very effective therapy on all levels of integration when done with integrity.

  2. Posted November 11, 2013 at 7:26 pm | Permalink

    I have been trained in a somatic-based modality, Somatic Experiencing, since the year 2000. I have completed multiple trainings, workshops, conferences, and classes that loudly speak to how compassionately a somatic-based treatment addresses the emotional needs of the individuals who have experienced the healing powers of the body. Much of who we are is so connected to the experiences we have been exposed. Before having a language to speak of our experiences, the body captures the full essence of our daily interactions with other human beings; as such, these experiences are coded in our incipient and developing nervous system. It is much later that we can verbalize our emotions. But one may wonder what an early non-verbal development has to do with my latest episode of anxiety or depression. A lot more than what you think. Although verbal therapeutic approaches can be of real benefit, the deep core of the individual’s emotions rests on how the body is holding such experiences; Do you remember feeling anxious and noticing how your body response? What about when you feel down? Just notice your body language. Rather than assuming that it is just a body response, a somtic-based treatment modality addresses those responses and uses the guidance of your own body to overcome those unpleasant sensations. I have completed a doctorate in Clinical Psychology with a specialization in Somatic Psychology. For me, healing is about integrating the experience of the entire human being, rather than just part of it. If you are in need of a therapeutic treatment, consider this option from a well trained therapist. You may learn about you much more than what you have thought.

  3. lesleyt
    Posted March 1, 2014 at 3:39 am | Permalink

    Thank you. I really appreciate the free report. The caution that body work does not suit all clients is, I feel, very significant. This has encouraged me again to further my training.

  4. Posted August 13, 2014 at 5:19 pm | Permalink

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