Mind-BodyTherapy (also known as "Somatic" Therapy) is a relatively new and very effective, but, as yet, not commonly practiced form of therapeutic work. It was brought to light several years ago and has been steadily gaining credibility in a field that is sometimes resistant to significant change. The foundational principle is simple: The mind and the body cannot exist without each other, and they are inextricably linked and always interactive. This means that any thought will have a physical influence, if only minor, and each physical state will somehow register in our mind; if only subconsciously. Since body and mind are continuously in subtle communication, the somatic techniques can use those well-developed pathways in therapy. Somatic Therapy often reverses the usual roles. It will sometimes speak first to the body which then, in turn, communicates (subconsciously) with the mind. This bypasses many of the barriers that we have established for mental self-preservation and normal social interaction. And, it allows access to more of what’s in our mind, not just on it.
A skillful practitioner can establish a two-way dialogue between the subconscious and our physical self, thus uncovering and often resolving issues that may have plagued us for years. The ‘language’ is different, yet inherently more honest than the common verbal chatter that most of us are used to. It is this honesty and simplicity that can be our greatest allies in the process. Few of us ever wish to harm ourselves - in fact, quite the opposite. And, most of our behaviors and thought patterns are geared toward self-preservation. Unfortunately, later in life some of these patterns don’t work as well as we had hoped. And then, because they have become habitual, we don’t know what to do instead.
So Then What?
The techniques of Somatic work are relatively simple. In essence, we just need to establish a dialogue with the mind through its long-time partner, the body. In general there are two basic areas where somatic processing is very useful: developmental and traumatic issues. Developmental pertains to how we grew up as children – during that time when we didn’t have any ideas about the ‘right’ way to do things, and so took all of our clues from the people around us. Of course, most of those clues were of a ‘feeling’ (somatic) nature. Since we probably couldn’t talk, there wasn’t much else to work with anyway. During this time, a multitude of impressions, whether accurate or flawed, made their way into our subconscious minds and, thus, began to form our own personal view of reality. Then, one of several basic ‘strategies,’ or patterns for survival evolved as our template and eventually became our “personality.” In the somatic model eight or so of these definable strategies help to characterize the majority of people in our society. They are, of course, not fixed and there is often some blending. But, at least they offer the practitioner a rough ‘map’ of otherwise unfamiliar territory - until they get to better know that individual.
Many people will rebel at such seemingly generic characterizations. Yet, they easily accept that everyone has the same two eyes, nose and set of internal organs, and that no one they know of has, as yet, developed wings. They are also fine with a doctor looking for a limited set of symptoms of a specific disease as just an expected part of any diagnosis and treatment. Such personality patterns are little different when it comes to helping a therapist initially diagnose mental/emotional imbalances and determining how to proceed in doing something about them. Using these overlays doesn’t lessen anyone’s freedom of choice, but they can greatly facilitate attaining an understanding of a person’s basic thoughts and beliefs.
Remember that as small children we all make simple choices, with virtually no ability to comprehend the long-term consequences. Unfortunately, such choices quickly become habits and accepted elements of our developing personalities and behaviors, even if they don’t always work well. By the time we reach adulthood, those choices have long since been forgotten and we simply wonder why we keep facing the same problems or discomforts over and over again. It seldom occurs to us that it might be traceable to our choices as a child, made so long ago. Properly accessing our subconscious memories of those old choices, and then consciously making new ones, can change our life forever.
Why Does Mind-Body Therapy Work?
After early childhood came the rest of life. We began to speak, wander around and, occasionally, fall down. If the falls weren’t severe, or we weren’t mistreated too frequently, we probably survived and ended up as adults who now function fairly well. Of course, if we fell out of a window and just barely survived, some sort of unpleasant memory is likely to have remained. Perhaps we just thought that our irrational fear of windows was something we had to learn to live with. Or, if we physically shook when looking out of a skyscraper window, we’d just rationalize and forcibly turn our attention elsewhere. But, our subconscious mind as well as our body still kept the memory intact. That is an example of the symptomology of trauma. Whether it’s a fall, car crash, or rape, our physiology and our innermost brain remember many things we’d rather forget. We’re just built that way. This is where Somatic Therapy and its more technical relative, EMDR, can help. Used in combination, especially for treating trauma, they are almost always far more effective than anything else yet developed. It used to be, and still is, believed that the mind by itself can overcome our emotions, if just properly applied. This is simply not true, biologically or otherwise. There are organic mechanisms imbedded in the brains of even the most rational people which, if properly triggered, will effectively disable them. This is not inherently bad; it’s just the way we are made.
To fully understand and effectively clear many “mental” problems, the chemistry and physiological interactions of body and mind must be taken into account. So, this style of therapy treats the wholeperson, and does so using powerful and well understood techniques for accessing and reorganizing troublesome physical/emotional memories. It uses the same mind-body pathways and mechanisms that initially caused the problem to seek and implement its cure. In addition, the process is always intended to be gentle, as well as respectful of the person’s outer and innermost needs.
To date, many practitioners of traditional psychology have at least heard of Somatic Therapy. Unfortunately, relatively few are as yet ready to acknowledge its demonstrated effectiveness, and fewer still are trained to work with it. Hopefully, this will soon change.
Paul Solari, MA, LPC Licensed Professional Counselor
Somatic, EMDR, Trauma Holistic Approach Individuals and Couples