Somatic Psychotherapy

Somatic Psychotherapy


Like the waves in the ocean, movement is the body as we step forward, as the heart beats, as the breath flows in and out, as the muscles expand and contract and so on.

I am glad you are considering somatic psychotherapy with me. You may have many questions about therapy in general but what follows are questions specific to somatic psychotherapy.

What is somatic psychotherapy? Somatic psychotherapy is a bodymind approach to deep personal healing and transformation. It is important to incorporate the body in psychotherapy because the body and mind are inseparable. Human experience is much more than language and verbalization. In my opinion, traditional verbal/cognitive therapists are important but they may be limited. With somatic psychotherapy overall life satisfaction improves– not mere behavior change. Resiliency and self regulation in the nervous system improve as well.

Integrating the body in therapy helps to regulate the autonomic nervous system. When the autonomic nervous system functions healthily it alternates between the sympathetic and parasympathetic branches. Symptoms occur when one branch of the autonomic system dominates and people feel stuck. For example, high sympathetic arousal manifests in anxiety, agitation, restlessness, to name a few internal states. Whereas, in high parasympathetic arousal people can be shut down, numbed out, checked out, dissociated or depressed. Since the body holds situations and experiences as a felt sense, we may mainly focus on inner, somatic or visceral experience in our work together.

What is the focus in sessions? When incorporating the body in any given session, we generally focus on inner awareness. That is, your experience of what is happening in the body in the present moment. Interoceptive awareness, includes physical sensations, feelings, internal temperature, urges to move, tension in the body, aches, pain, trembling, crying, shaking, to name a few. From this attention, internal felt shifts may occur moving closer toward an experience of a sense of safety within. As we are talking, we may take an experiential pause during which I would directly ask you “what is happening in your body as you say that?” or “what are you experiencing right now in this moment?” Or, I may invite you to pay attention to your feet on the floor, as it can bring forward a sense of being grounded.

What techniques do you use? As a somatic psychotherapist, I may incorporate elements of the following modalities of body psychotherapy and theoretical underpinnings into my practice. Here are some main ones along with the workshops I attended for continuing education:

  • Somatic Experiencing®
  • Focusing
  • Attachment theory:
    • I studied Diane Poole Heller’s work on somatic attachment and attended to following trainings in New York City:
      • DARe1 Healing Attachment Wounds: Embracing the Authentic Self and Enhancing Adult Relationships (November, 2011).
      • DARe2 Creating Healthy Adult Relationships (February, 2011).
  • Interpersonal Neurobiology:
  • Mindfulness & Yoga:
    • Thich Nhat Hanh (2009). Building a Peaceful and Compassionate Society. Omega Institute. Beacon Theatre: New York City.
    • Jack Kornfield & Mark Epstein (2012). Mindfulness, Freedom & Love: The Benefits of Buddhist and Western Psychology. New York Society for Ethical Culture.

What are the effects of the process? Self regulation is a main goal in somatic psychotherapy. You may learn how to manage strong visceral reactions and trust the wisdom of the body (i.e., gut feelings), for instance. Your capacity to tolerate distress and experience the body as a resource develops, deepens and widens. You may become more aware of and live in present moment, which instills a deep sense of peace and vitality. I may provide psychoeducation to help you learn how to verbalize your emotional or visceral experience. Furthermore, I have found that people benefit from learning a little about neurobiology and the basics of how the nervous system works: they tend to feel that their symptoms are not a character flaw or something wrong with them as a person. While symptom reduction may be achieved, I often witness people grow personally, interpersonally, or spiritually anew.



© 2018 Dawn Bhat