Somatic psychology is therapy that includes the body. A great deal happens in our bodies when we feel emotions or react to our environment. When we are stressed, our shoulders might be tense and raised, our gut might feel twisted up in knots, we might find it hard to sit still. When we are angry, we might feel heat in the back of our neck, we might feel the urge to hit something. When we are happy, we might smile or laugh, we might feel light and relaxed. These aren’t things we do consciously with our bodies. By noticing bodily sensations, it can help increase a connection between the mind and the body and allow emotions to be processed more fully.
The body can store emotions that aren’t processed or felt fully. It can be tempting to ignore negative or overwhelming emotions, but they don’t really go away. They get stored in our bodies. This can look like chronic tension, physical imbalances, or even injury.
Have you ever heard of people who cry in yoga but don’t know why? This happens because the body holds past emotions that didn’t get to be fully processed in parts of the body. By stretching out that body part, the emotion finally has the opportunity to come out.
This is why it is so important to include the body in the therapeutic process.
So you might be wondering what it would be like to go to a somatic therapy session. Well, it will be pretty similar to traditional talk therapy most of the time, if you’ve ever been to a therapist before. You will come in, sit down, and talk about whatever it is you want to work on, whether that is talking about a past trauma, a strained relationship with your family, relationship struggles, work stress, whatever it may be. As your therapist, I will ask questions to help you think deeper about the issue you bring in. The part where it “gets somatic” is when I ask if you notice any sensations in your body as you talk about certain things. I like to slow down the session here for you to feel any emotions, if any, that come up.
If any sensation or emotion feels too overwhelming, then we don’t have to linger there and can move on to a more pleasant and resourcing experience. Somatic therapy isn’t just about feeling difficult emotions or pain. It can be about finding what feels good and supportive to the body.
One of my favorite tools for somatic resourcing is mindfulness. Mindfulness is a highly successful tool that has been proven to reduce physical symptoms of chronic stress. It serves a dual role of helping increase awareness of your body’s experience, and at the same time inviting relaxation. By the simple act of drawing your awareness to your breath, you can start the process of tuning into what is happening in the body. To be mindful of your bodily experience introduces a mind body connection. The breath is something that is an involuntary bodily function that we can easily manipulate. You can intentionally slow down your breathing and breathe deeper during times of stress, actively lowering stress hormones in the body. I have guided many clients through mindfulness meditation as a way of dropping into their body, and the overwhelming response is reports of feeling calm and relaxed.