The term somatics was coined by Thomas Hanna, PhD, “A soma is any individual embodiment of a process, which endures and adapts through time, and it remains a soma as long as it lives. The moment that it dies it ceases to be a soma and becomes a body” (1976).

How is Somatic Therapy different from other forms of ‘talk-therapy’?

While you have a narrative that’s important to share, there is also a corresponding set of communications that your body conveys. A somatically-trained therapist listens to what you have to say, and simultaneously pays attention to various changes in gestures, movements and postures.


For instance, a somatic psychotherapist might inquire, “When you say you’re anxious, how is that showing up in your body?” Both client and practitioner notice, become aware of and respond to changes during sessions. Moreover, a somatic therapist often offers observations and insights, which inform invitations to adjust posture, experiment with movement, breathing and other ways to engage the physiology. Mindfulness of the body in the present moment, with the support of a trained professional, often shifts patterns in both the mind and body. Most importantly, greater awareness opens deeper understandings of self as well as in relationship to others and to the world.

How do I know if Somatic Therapy is for me?

In some circumstances, traditional talk therapy hasn’t been an effective process. In other words, some people have a hard time naming their emotions, telling cohesive narratives or expressing themselves. Instead imagery, tensions, bodily sensations and more can be explored providing a gateway to feelings and impulses. Gentle guidance often lends to finding language for experiences. As a result, greater awareness and growth develop into enhanced communication, assertion and empowerment.

In addition, many clients seeking somatic therapy often report prior experiences working with a therapist. Some say that they reached a natural ending to a therapeutic relationship. Others feel as if they’ve “plateaued” where talking about their issues and identifying patterns hasn’t led to the changes they want. Still seeking relief, somatic approaches often bring about new behaviors, possibilities, beliefs, meaning-making etc.

“Emotions, memories, values, outside demands, internal expectations, environmental conditions and social norms almost always have a perceptible bodily dimension. For example, integrity might be experienced as warmth in the heart or lengthening of the spine; internalized social norms might manifest as immobilized muscles or a lump in the gut. Encouraging learners to ask themselves where these features of the experience live in their bodies can give voice to hidden dimensions and suggest new pathways for change.” —Rae Johnson, PhD, RSMT, Embodied Social Justice

A very brief history of Somatics

In English, the word body does not carry the same connotations as in some other languages. Borrowing from the Greek root soma meaning “the living body in its wholeness,” somatics came to be defined as the body as experienced from within, where body and mind are an integrated experience.

There is a vast field of international practitioners who study, develop, educate, research and continue to evolve the field of somatics (US, Australia etc) and body psychotherapies (Europe etc). Both historically and present-day, there continues to be much cross-pollination between bodyworkers, performing artists, movement educators, philosophers, psychologists and psychotherapists as well as many other influencers.

 

Though not a fully comprehensive list, here are some central pioneers whose contributions in the US continue to influence and promote healing today: 

Many past innovators and present-day practitioners also borrow from and train in dance/movement, ritual/spiritual practices and non-Western wisdom traditions such as:

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