Somatic psychology is an interdisciplinary field involving the study of the body, somatic experience, and the embodied self, including therapeutic and holistic approaches to body. The word somatic comes from the ancient Greek root σωματ- somat- (body). The word psychology comes from the ancient Greek psyche (breath, soul hence mind) and -logia (study). Body Psychotherapy is a general branch of this subject, while Somatherapy, Eco-somatics and Dance therapy, for example, are specific branches of the subject. Somatic psychology is a field of study that bridges the Mind-body dichotomy.
While Pierre Janet can perhaps be considered the first Somatic Psychologist due to his extensive psychotherapeutic studies and writings with significant reference to the body (some of which pre-date Freud), it was actually Wilhelm Reich who was the first person to bring body awareness systematically into psychoanalysis, and also the first psychotherapist to touch clients physically, working with their bodies. Reich was a significant influence in the founding of Body Psychotherapy (or Somatic Psychology as it is often known in the USA & Australia) - though he called his early work "Character Analysis" and "Character-Analytic Vegetotherapy"). Several types of body-oriented psychotherapies trace their origins back to Reich, though there have been many subsequent developments and other influences (ref: entry on Body Psychotherapy and Somatic Psychology is of particular interest in trauma work.
There is increasing use of body-oriented therapeutic techniques within mainstream psychology (like EMDR and Mindfulness practice) and psychoanalysis has recognized the use of somatic resonance, embodied trauma, and similar concepts, for many years.
Historically, there are early practitioners, for example, the Persian physician Avicenna (980 to 1037 CE) who performed psychotherapy only by observing the movement of the patient's pulse as he listened to their anguish. This is reminiscent of both traditional Tibetan medicine and current energy therapies that employ tapping points on a meridian. As a contrast to the Western separation of body/mind, some writers describe the "body as a slow mind"  and this re-examination of the fundamental mind-body dichotomy has coincided with research into neuroscience, embodiment and consciousness, and an unconscious mind that 'speaks' through the language of body.
As a field of study, somatic psychology has been defined as: 'the study of the mind/body interface, the relationship between our physical matter and our energy, the interaction of our body structures with our thoughts and actions.'
The primary relationship addressed in somatic psychology is the person's relation to and empathy with their own felt body. It is based on a belief, grounded in ancient principles of vitalism, that energy will bring healing to the affected parts if sufficient awareness is directed there.
A wide variety of techniques are used in somatic psychotherapy including sound, touch, mirroring, movement and breath. An individual records life experience during a pre- and nonverbal periods differently than during a verbalized and personal narrative period. Working with the client's implicit knowing of these early experiences, somatic psychology includes the non-verbal qualities that mark most human communication, especially in the first years of life. This understanding of consciousness, communication and mind-body language challenges some traditional applications of the talking cure.
Practitioners in this field believe psychological, social, cultural and political forces support the splitting and fragmentation of the mind-body unity. These pressures affect an individual’s mental, biological, and relational health. For example, the writer Alice Miller in her recent book 'The Body Never Lies' says, Ultimately the body will rebel. Even if it can be temporarily pacified with the help of drugs, cigarettes or medicine, it usually has the last word because it is quicker to see through self-deception than the mind. We may ignore or deride the messages of the body, but its rebellion demands to be heeded because its language is the authentic expression of our true selves and of the strength of our vitality.
Wilhelm Reich's pre-eminence as founder of the modern field is open to question. His teacher and the founder of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud, explored the role of body in neurosis, as well as undertaking research on the therapeutic effects of cocaine (beginning on April 24, 1884, when he ordered his first gram of cocaine from the local apothecary). Freud also showed an interest in the nasal reflex neurosis and in vital periodicity, explored during a significant relationship with Wilhelm Fliess between 1887 and 1902. Wilhelm Fliess believed that the nose was the centre of all human illness through its structural deviations to the passage of breath.
- Body Psychotherapy
- Mind-Body Intervention
- Expressive therapy
- Health applications and clinical studies of meditation
- Somatic Experiencing
- Trager Approach
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