Somatic Psychotherapy could DRAMATICALLY impact the overall happiness in your life, potentially offer a much shorter and less expensive navigation through your therapy journey and provide a route to an authentic experience of empathy for yourself and others.
Somatic is the new buzzword that is doing the rounds in recent years in the field of psychotherapy. What does the term ‘somatic’ mean and what benefit could it bring for you, an average run-of-the-mill Joe (or Jenny!) thinking about beginning to seek or return to therapy?
Well, firstly to sum up, it could DRAMATICALLY impact the overall happiness in your life, potentially offer a much shorter and less expensive navigation through your therapy journey, provide a route to an authentic experience of empathy for yourself and others and overall leave you more bullet-proofed to potential future mental health challenges through empowering you to have more control over your own wellbeing.
Too good to be true? While the following is a simplified primer and aims only to skim the surface of the entire subject, I hope it can capture the essence of this way of working, stimulate your interest and leave you feeling therapy can offer you something new, exciting and genuinely empowering.
If you already know that Somatic Therapy is for you then please contact me firstname.lastname@example.org and book a free 30min consultation
What is Somatic Therapy?
To begin with, Somatic generically means ‘relating to body, especially as distinct from the mind’ (Websters Dictionary, 2022). However, in therapeutic terms it is not accurate to say it is simply about the body, that place from the neck down to your toes. Somatic therapy in practice encompasses the whole of yourself, both the mechanical, functional and feeling body but also the thinking, understanding and conceptualizing mind. You see, there really is no actual division between the mind and body – both are tied together literally and functionally – it is impossible (and ill-advised) to live exclusively from one or the other. Yet, our modern lives have habituated us to prioritize our thoughts over the clear wisdom of our body (‘I think therefore I am’ – Descartes). We are bombarded with messages that our external ‘reality’ is what matters. Everything from the mountains of social media’s subliminal messages of what constitutes ‘happiness’ and ‘fulfillment’ – all side-tracking the inner landscape. We must accumulate and show our happiness to the masses and yet being well is simply a matter of being motivated and supported to best attune to yourself so that you can hear and respond to the reality of your own little universe inside. All else, is a bi-product of that relationship in essence and is the lens through which we see and respond to the world. As Stephen Covey states “We see the world, not as it is, but as we are”.
An interesting fact is that 80% of the information we take in from the environment actually originates in our body (called afferent neurons – which heavily involve the GUT, hence the focus of gut health and probiotics to influence our overall wellbeing). Our ‘gut’ experience is set to inform how we see and evaluate what we experience. In effect then, only 20% of our perceptions (how we see and take sense of the world) is naturally thought through logically and consciously – like you would a crossword puzzle. The 80% (yes, that’s 80% again!) of our natural wisdom comes from our body and we are biologically designed as humans to attune to it, prioritize and trust its wisdom over everything else. In fact, what happens inside of us is biologically tied to our very survival and the more we are on its wavelength to listen to what it is saying non-verbally, the greater chance we have of our intrinsic needs being met. Indigenous communities are naturally attuned to nature and to themselves in this way, while we in the Industrialized world have lost touch with what our bodies are telling us moment to moment.
Feeling disconnected from ourselves
This forgotten ally then becomes our somatic self and we distance ourselves from our bodies and with it the epi-center of our intuition, believing we ‘know best’. In effect, we resign to make life decisions which are based on only 1/5ths of the facts – to think and talk our way through life with so little connection to ourselves and the world around us. Not a recipe for fulfillment in anyone’s book. This is one of the core reasons why many people turn up to therapy because the ‘cost of doing business’ in ignoring ourselves habitually leads to emotional, physical, relational and spiritual crashes. Often in the brave effort to reach out, the person or couple is disconnected from their somatic (intuitive, feeling) self and why often a beginning point of their journey is to slowly make friends with this treasure trove of wisdom and self-healing within themselves. To support you to find your feet on the ground – to Ground yourself. It can be a relieving and liberating experience. Many clients report feeling more whole and ‘together’ even after one or two sessions. It also means we feel more, that includes more of the good stuff – more of our true selves and with access to our full life-force and expression as an individual. Being suppressed can feel so robotic and rigid that feeling more can offer freedom to see the world through a different lens where there is possibility and richness in the air. As therapy progresses being more plugged into your body will also mean noticing the discomfort inside. However, with a patient and experienced therapist this too can be supported to exist and to get what it never had to this point in your life.
Therapy then, can first support you somatically by slowly and incrementally reintroducing you to your feeling body (your ‘felt sense’) and to feel safer and gain some mastery of what you are feeling and thinking. There are many ways somatic therapies can support contact. There are many disciplines with many approaches to invite this reconnection but the common theme, if done respectfully and safely, is to help to support you to go slow and within one’s capacity to dip your toe into this inner exploration in a way that offers you a successful, rewarding and comfortable experience. Together we avail of both your attention (where it is focused inside) and intention (what attitude or level of compassion you bring authentically to what you are doing) in this endeavour.
Some widely recognized approaches to Somatic therapy include EMDR, Somatic experiencing, Hakomi Therapy and Somatic Touch work. I am trained and experienced in all of these methods.
Your personal alarm system – The Autonomic Nervous System
The focus of somatic therapy often revolves around the Autonomic nervous system (A.N.S). Put simply, this is a traffic light system that scans for both danger and safety in your environment throughout our day. It does so unconsciously (autonomic = automatic) and sends us signals and instincts through our body as feedback. It is commonly understood as FIGHT, FLIGHT and FREEZE. In somatic therapy the A.N.S can be a great road-map to navigate all the information contained within our sensations and emotions we come to experience as we navigate this new place.
Green light = safety
Amber light = Fight or Flight
Red light = Freeze
The reality is that much of how we take in the world at difficult times has little to do with the present event, but is a reaction to past experiences and past challenges which left us overwhelmed and disempowered. Survival is our biological instinct at all times. Without asking us, our system encodes this experience and others like it into a mini-map (what it means about you, messages that other people are like this, situations like this are unsatisfying and need to be avoided at all costs). What we believe are choices are often instinctive survival responses to ‘protect’ us from harm. Somatic therapy then becomes a way to get some space from these reactions and to understand and support them to change thus releasing you from their grip.
Welcome to your Somatic world in a nutshell! For more detailed information I’d recommend the following –
Somatic Therapy in action- for Adults, couples and Adolescents
Finally, lets see this in action and what might be an example of working with a somatic focus in therapy.
In coming to therapy so many of the problems that present themselves as external issues are, in fact, often internal responses that need listening to.
“I am anxious about a presentation I have to do for my Boss and colleagues at work – I can’t sleep, my appetite is suffering, I am giving out to myself and have thoughts of it being a disaster and everyone laughing at me”
“If I would just pull myself together and realize this is no big deal then it will go swimmingly and I will get through this”
The natural 21st century reflex is to believe that if I am supported to think this through and understand my predicament then this will lead to relief and I will feel better – I can think and talk my way to happiness. Another common response to feelings of discomfort inside is to medicate the underlying anxiety and fear with medication to numb the response. This narrows the bandwidth of the problem and allows us to believe we know where it starts and ends –
Somatic Therapy is different. It supports us to experience that ‘if I can listen wholly to my response to this crisis – listen inside first and hear how my body communicates the impact and allow myself to just experience it (without trying to figure it out) this will lead me to tap into the whole of myself” (80% that is often ignored + 20% thought). This is in itself the conditions for healing.
Deb Dana (Book: Polyvagal exercises for safety and Connection) sums it up well when she encourages that ‘Story should follow State’ in supporting ourselves. Change therefore is founded on our capacity to observe ourselves and not how well we connect the dots of the issue in our heads, but to be ‘a fly on our own wall’ as it were. A good start then in somatic therapy is a combination of building our capacity to become a little separate from our experience in order that we can begin to observe and listen to, without judgment, what is actually being experienced by us.
Working somatically might then begin with coming away from the story and begin to refocus on our environment. To smell the roses as it were. This then might be a way to tune into the now of the moment and to communicate the reality of what is happening inside of us, as opposed to the story, which may be drawing you into the then of event. Somatic therapy often introduces you to the resources that are right here in this moment, the life-buoys that are present but so often we are unaware of – the wood in the trees as it were. We repeatedly initiate therapy by stimulating the safety signals within our A.N.S, which slow us down and provide some perspective potentially to what is troubling us. With this inner space established and maintained, we can then begin to feel less reactive to the event and can bring more choice and control over its impact on us in the present moment. New meaning and deeper insights often naturally emerge from just listening to ourselves.
This then offers more opportunities to respond to it in an empowered way and to offer compassion where before there might have been fear and a belief that we were at the mercy of the situation. Space and perspective will mean the work with your therapist offers interventions going forward that can be different and representative of your actual needs than based on a survival instinct that was more about the time of the actual event. Connection to this moment gives us access to what is happening inside ourselves (out thoughts and feelings) rather than being a slave to what is happening to us.
Where to get Somatic therapy online in Ireland?
I hope this brief introduction stimulated a desire for you to invest in your own self and to reach out to and initiate connect with your true self. I am here and will walk this path with you in full support of your dreams.
To book a free 30min consultation to see if we are a good fit to start your own journey in therapy or if you have any questions, please email me on email@example.com or stay on my website jasoncowell.ie or my LinkedIn profile on https://www.linkedin.com/in/jason-cowell-575b735a/