You may have many questions about therapy in general but what follows is specific to my approach 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 therapies 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 various modalities of body psychotherapy and theoretical underpinnings into my practice. Here are some main ones:
Focusing, as developed by Eugene Gendlin, involves the body and a new kind of experience, the felt sense. The felt sense is a freshly forming whole bodily knowing of some life situation, which has great transformative power For many years, I have had Focusing partnerships through the International Focusing Institute. My review of Focusing in Clinical Practice: The Essence of Change was published by the International Journal of Psychotherapy.
Dynamic Attachment Repatterning Experience (DARe) Diane Poole Heller’s work on somatic attachment, which I 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).
Since moving to the Pacific Northwest, I have been studying with Bonnie Badenoch in Vancouver, Washington through her non-profit, Nurturing the Heart with the Brain in Mind. I have had an opportunity to study in her intimate immersions to advanced study groups .
- Heart of Trauma: Healing Our Embodied Brains in the Context of Relationships (2017).
- A Year-Long, Experience-Rich Training in the Application of Interpersonal Neurobiology (2018).
- Advanced Interpersonal Neurobiology Monthly Study Group (2018- present).
- Tender Encounters with the Inner Community: An Advanced Sand Tray Training (to be in 2020).
Mindfulness, Buddhist Psychology & Traditional Yoga
- Jack Kornfield & Mark Epstein (2012). Mindfulness, Freedom & Love: The Benefits of Buddhist and Western Psychology. New York Society for Ethical Culture.
- Thich Nhat Hanh (2009). Building a Peaceful and Compassionate Society. Omega Institute. Beacon Theatre: New York City.
- Georg Feuerstein (2006-2009). The History, Literature, and Philosophy of Yoga (800-Hour Course).
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.
© Dawn Bhat 2019