S o m a t i c   P s y c h o t h e r a p i s t
.  home  .
.  about  .
.  somatic psychology  .
.  library  .
.  articles by veronique  .
.  early life  .
.  trauma  .
.  article: somatic psych  .
.  article: origins of diabetes  .
.  theory  .
.  chronic illness  .
.  bonding & asthma  .
.  events  .
.  contact  .
b o u l d e r   |  c o
visit my blog
f a c i l i t a t i n g   m i n d   b o d y   d i a l o g u e   i n   c h r o n i c   i l l n e s s
   . somatic psychology: overview .

Article on Somatic Psychology: An Overview

Working with Mind and Body



Somatic Psychology works with the dialogue between mind and body to help healthy patterns reassert themselves. The process uses mindfulness, which invites the observing, non-judging part of ourselves to witness our patterns, perceptions, and reactions with curiosity. The process of engaging a "neutral" part of ourselves in this way uses different parts of the brain than the parts occupied by stuck patterns and faulty perceptions. In and of itself, mindfulness helps the nervous system relearn to make accurate perceptions of its environment. As perceptions change, nervous system regulation and defense responses change as well. Bringing attention to thoughts, images, sensations in the body, and impulses all facilitate this new dialogue between mind, body, and emotions.


Somatic Psychology: The Theory behind the Therapy
   Early Life and Preverbal Memories
   Trauma and Nonverbal Memories

Working with Unconscious Processes
   The Body as a Tool
   Mindfulness
   Integrating mind and body
   Repression:Need for Integration

Tools of Somatic Psychology
   Curiosity and Nonjudgment
   Psychobiological Regulation
   Somatic Resonance

Summary

References

Somatic Psychology: The Theory behind the Therapy

Somatic psychology consists of both a theory and a therapeutic approach that sees the mind (psyche) and body (soma) as interdependent rather than separate. From this perspective,

any event affects our physical structure as well as our emotions and our thoughts... Healthy functioning is a physical as well as emotional, cognitive, and behavioral experience, and dysfunction in any part of the organismic continuum will affect the whole system (Caldwell, 1997, p. 7).

Similar to other psychotherapeutic modalities, somatic psychology is aimed at working with conscious as well as unconscious processes, and provides a means for addressing issues that may be unresolved. Like many traditional approaches, somatic psychology has been influenced by Freudian theory regarding the importance of bringing unconscious processes into conscious awareness as a means of promoting health (Boadella, 1990). Somatic psychology works with thoughts and belief systems in an attempt to influence behaviors as well as bodily symptoms. Working with the mind in an attempt to influence behavior and physical symptoms is the primary method utilized by psychotherapeutic approaches today, and is described as a "top-down" approach (Minton & Ogden, 2000).


back to the top


Early Life and Preverbal Memories

The nervous system develops at a rapid rate during prenatal life and in the first years of childhood. Gene-environment interactions work together during this time, where genes controlling the timing of developmental stages and the environment influences the strength and number of synapses. The environment plays an important and long underestimated role in shaping the developing nervous system, and facilitates the learning of specific patterns of perceiving and responding to the environment as well as to stress.

These patterns are particularly affected by the early relationship between parent and child, which is, in turn, highly influenced by experiences of support and stress in early life: including prenatal life, during the transition at birth, and the first 3 years. Interactions during this period literally shape the growing nervous system and enable the infant to learn how to tolerate excitement, joy, and exploration associated, which is fostered by the sympathetic nervous system and to learn to experience states of calm, curiosity, relaxed alertness, and rest, which are regulated by the parasympathetic nervous system.

Dialogue between the left and right sides of the brain are formed during this period, as is the ability to cope with stressors in our own unique ways. The early environment thus literally shapes the developing nervous system through moment-to-moment interactions, many of which remain outside of conscious awareness but are retained as preverbal memories in the nervous system and other parts of the body.

Stressful events and disruptions in bonding influence the perception of threat in the environment, and can teach an organism to respond with survival states of defense such as fight, flight, and freeze. By working with the body through sensation, somatic psychology provides an opportunity to access early preverbal and nonverbal memories and to retrain the nervous system to perceive its environment more accurately so that it can regulate based on states of perceived safety. (See an article on APPPAH website for more on preverbal memories)


back to the top


Trauma and Nonverbal Memories

Memories are frequently stored outside of conscious awareness as a result of trauma (Scaer, 2001). Trauma is described as the experience of an event "perceived as life threatening and inescapable by a vulnerable and helpless" individual (Levine, 1997; Scaer, 2001). These types of experiences are perceived as overwhelming and prevent the organism from integrating information regarding the event . This is commonly seen following motor vehicle accidents, for example, which are a well-known cause of psychological as well as physical trauma, and which are frequently associated with dissociation and an inability to remember the details of the event.

The inability to recall an event following trauma occurs because information regarding the incident is stored in unconscious procedural memory in the right side of the brain (Schore, 1994). Conscious awareness of traumatic events is painful. As a consequence, the left hemisphere of the brain, which is dominant for conscious awareness, actively avoids accessing such memories (Schore, 1994). The result is dissociation between the right and left hemispheres, and the "repression" of memories for traumatic events (Schore, 1994). Somatic psychology works with trauma related dissociation by gently reestablishing the dialogue between the two parts of the brain. It does so by engaging mindfulness, which operates from the left side of the brain, to gradually observe unconscious processes and patterns in the body, which are regulated by the right side of the brain.


back to the top


The Body is a Tool for Accessing and Working with the Unconscious

Most bodily processes are involuntary and instinctive and are regulated by the right side of the brain, which also regulates physiology in the context of social and emotional functioning including the experience of trauma (Schore, 1994). Somatic psychology differs from the primarily verbal approaches to psychotherapy by studying how thoughts, beliefs and emotions are experienced, and by examining how these experiences translate into behavior, sensation (Aposhyan, 1999; Caldwell, 1997; Frank, 2002; Smith, 1985), and movement in the body (Boadella, 1990; Brook, 2001; Caldwell, 1996).



back to the top

Mindfulness

A common approach for working with unconscious processes is to study the "organization of experience", in which physical and psychological processes are explored in sometimes minute detail to gather information regarding associated perceptions, beliefs, sensations, emotions, and impulses. The ability to study one's experience to this degree is facilitated by paying attention to present-moment experience through the use of mindfulness, which is an important tool in the Hakomi Method (Kurtz, 1990) as well as in Sensorimotor Psychotherapy (Ogden & Minton, 1998).

Mindful study of a bodily experience such as physical sensation utilizes the functions of the left hemisphere to study unconscious processes regulated by the right hemisphere, and promotes the establishment of a dialogue between the left and right sides of the brain (Schore, 1994). According to an in-depth work by Allan Schore (1994), this process allows for the integration of previously repressed memories and is an important psychotherapeutic tool. The study of the bodily experience as a means of influencing cognitive processes, behaviors and emotions is described as a "bottom-up" approach (Minton & Ogden, 2000).


back to the top


Integrating the mind and body, the left and right brain

Somatic psychology focuses attention on the experience of processes such as sensation to facilitate the ability to literally "be moved" by unconscious processes (Caldwell, 1999). Movement occurs on a continuum from the subtle experience of sensation (Aposhyan, 1999; Caldwell, 1999; Cohen, 1993) such as tingling and warmth, to visible motor movement (Caldwell 1996, 1997, 2001; Levine, 1997), which might be expressed as a slow cautious walk and verbalization of one's experience. Many approaches exist for working with the mind/body continuum and it is the process by which integration between the left and right hemispheres occurs that promotes health, rather than a particular technique. Somatic psychology theory states that body awareness is inherent in health (Boadella, 1990; Caldwell, 1996; Krueger, 1989; Kurtz, 1990) and represents a dialogue between the parts of the bodymind (Aposhyan, 1999; Pert, 1997). Dissociation between the hemispheres of the brain is an example of a breach in the dialogue that normally occurs between parts of the body.



back to the top


Repression: The Need for Integration
Truncation of Sequences Needing to Complete

According to theorists in somatic psychology, repressed memories are formed as the result of a truncation (Caldwell, 1996, 1999; Levine, 1997; Minton & Ogden, 2000; Ogden, 2001) of movement sequences by an overwhelming experience such as trauma (Caldwell, 1996, 2001a; Scaer, 2001). In this context, somatic psychology helps individuals sequence and complete unfinished experiences (Aposhyan, 1999; Brook, 2001; Caldwell, 1999) through the use of awareness that facilitates movement at a subtle or largely visible level. According to practitioners of somatic psychology (Aposhyan, 1999; Brook, 2001; Caldwell, 1999; Levine, 1997) and psychoanalysis (Schore, 1994), physician scientists (Scaer, 2001; van der Kolk, McFarlane, & Weisaeth, 1996) and developmental neuroscientific researchers (Schore, 1994), the body-oriented approaches of somatic psychology are believed to literally rewire the nervous system in order to enable new and more adaptive neural circuits and behaviors to develop (Boadella, 1990; Brook, 2001; Schore, 2001).


back to the top


Tools of Somatic Psychology

Curiosity and Nonjudgment

Somatic Psychology is felt to be most effective when curiosity is cultivated (Kurtz, 1990; Minton, 2002; Minton & Ogden, 2000). This is fostered by non-judgment, which invites people to show up as they are (Ogden & Minton, 1998). Curiosity enables one to view current behavior and experience as the result of adaptive responses made by the whole organism in response to its environment (Kurtz, 1990) and are seen as intelligent choices made by an organism that had no other options if it wanted to survive.


back to the top


Psychobiological Regulation

Working from a somatic psychology perspective begins first and foremost with the therapist's own ability to be embodied and to remain embodied in the context of providing therapeutic interventions. This skill is dependent on the therapists' degree of self-awareness and the ability to tolerate, sequence, and/or contain activation of the nervous system. An example of this concept is found in the experience of sympathetic arousal, which might be perceived as excitement, fear, anger or high energy. The ability to contain varying levels of arousal in the context of the therapeutic environment serves a function of "psychobiological regulation" (Schore, 1994), which is a term used to describe the ability of a caregiver to help contain, mobilize, and restrain a growing child whose nervous system is immature and in the process of development. Indeed, Schore (1994) explains that the nervous system of the parent literally serves as an "auxiliary cortex" for the developing nervous system of the child and provides physiological regulation through the process of attachment.

Schore (1994) states that psychobiological regulation also occurs between the therapist and client, where the therapist's role is to serve as an auxillary cortex for the client. This is not a reflection on the maturity of the therapist's or client's nervous system, but on the need for individuals in the client's position to work with someone who can help them by staying embodied rather than becoming dissociated.


back to the top

Somatic Resonance

Caregivers serve as psychobiological regulators through an essentially unconscious process that informs them of their childrenĺ─˘s needs as well as their levels of activation or arousal. Psychobiological regulation is generally unconscious as well as innate, and may consist of a personal experience of excitement when gazing at one's infant, followed by an impulse to quiet down, which allows an infant to recover from the intense interaction of a gaze interaction (Schore, 1994). As a result of these ongoing unconscious assessments, caregivers are able to meet their children's needs and to foster growth and development of their social and emotional beings as well as their nervous systems (Schore, 1994). Psychobiological regulation is an important function in psychotherapy (Schore, 1994) and body-centered psychotherapy differs from many other psychotherapeutic modalities in its deliberate and conscious use of this function as a therapeutic tool. The ability to notice and track emotions, sensations and impulses informs the therapist of issues that may be present for the client during therapy and is referred to as "somatic resonance" (Kurtz, 1990; Levine, 1997).



back to the top


Summary

In summary, somatic psychology differs from other approaches in its value of the body mind connection, its conscious use of psychobiological regulation, as well as its invitation to both the client and therapist to mindfully observe the ĺ─˙organization of experienceĺ─¨ in the present moment from a place of curiosity and nonjudgment. This philosophy, more than any particular technique, fosters dialogue between the parts of the brain that have been out of touch following experiences of trauma and overwhelm in the past. The ability to perceive the internal and external environment grows out of this personal study, and helps retrain the nervous system to oscillate and cycle with patterns that promote rest, creativity, growth, and learning.



back to the top


References



Aposhyan, S. (1999). Natural intelligence: body-mind integration and human development. Baltimore: Williams & Wilkins.

Boadella, D.. (1990). Somatic psychotherapy: its roots and traditions. A personal perspective. Energy and Character, 21(1), 2-26.

Brook, A. (2001). From conception to crawling. Boulder, CO.

Caldwell, C. (1996). Getting our bodies back: Recovery, healing, and transformation through body-centered psychotherapy. Boston: Shambhala. ... more on Caldwell.

Caldwell, C. (1999). Theories of somatic psychology. Unpublished course syllabus, Naropa University, Boulder, CO.

Caldwell, C. (2001). Addiction as somatic dissociation. In M. Heller & P. Lang (Eds.), Flesh of the soul: The body we work with. Berne, Switzerland.

Caldwell, C. (Ed.). (1997). Getting in touch: the guide to new body-centered therapies. Wheaton, IL: Quest Books.

Cohen, B. B. (1993). Sensing, feeling, and action. Northampton, MA: Contact Editions.

Frank, K. (2002). Resources in Movement. Movement educator; personal communication.

Krueger, D. W. (1989). Body self and psychological self: A developmental and clinical integration of disorders of the self. New York: Brunner/Mazel.

Kurtz, R. (1990). Body-centered psychotherapy: The Hakomi Method. Mendocino, CA: LifeRhythm.

Levine, P. (1997). Waking the tiger. Berkeley: North Atlantic Books.

Minton, K. (2002). Introduction to object relations: Transference and countertransference.Unpublished manuscript.

Minton, K., & Ogden, P. (2000). Working with developmental issues using Hakomi Integrated Somatics. Unpublished course syllabus, Naropa University, Boulder, CO.

Ogden, P. (2001). Sensorimotor Psychotherapy Institute: Trauma Training. Training conducted in Boulder, CO.

Ogden, P., & Minton, K. (1998). Sensorimotor sequencing: One model for processing traumatic memory.Unpublished manuscript, Unpublished article in course syllabus, Naropa University, Boulder, CO.

Pert, C. (1997). Molecules of emotion. New York: Simon and Shuster.

Scaer, R. C. (2001). The body bears the burden: trauma, dissociation, and disease. New York: Haworth Medical.

Schore, A. N. (1994). Affect regulation and the origin of the self: the neurobiology of emotional development. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Schore, A. N. (2001, June). Affect regulation and the origin of self: Neurobiology of the right brain and models of trauma. Seminar hosted by the Hakomi Somatics Institute, Boulder, CO.

Smith, E. W. L. (1985). The body in psychotherapy. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company.

van der Kolk, B. A., McFarlane, A. C., & Weisaeth, L. (Eds.). (1996). Traumatic stress: the effects of overwhelming experience on mind, body, and society. New York: Guilford.

back to the top




© copyright 2004-2017 | Veronique Mead | all rights reserved | design by A5design   visit me on my chronic illness blog Tumbling the Stone