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Body Psychotherapy versus Somatic Psychotherapy

‘Body Psychotherapy’ – as a label or signifier – tends towards a slightly more European description of the general ‘field’ of … a form of psychological therapy with people from a body-oriented perspective … that respects and utilizes the powerful and intricate connection between the person’s body and their mind.

Our bodies are not just vehicles for carrying our heads around – as some psychologies and psychotherapies seem to indicate; our bodies are an essential part of an intricate, indivisible and interrelation component of our whole ‘body-mind’ or Self, In effect, Descartes (I think, therefore I am) is dead!

Instead – “I am – because I exist in a thinking and feeling body – This is Me!” (or something like that).

The terminologies of ‘Somatic Psychology’ are – essentially – an American (trans-Atlantic) equivalent to the terminologies of ‘Body Psychotherapy’ in Europe. The basic body-oriented (somatic) ‘therapy’ – however you may call it – is often one-to-one, but sometimes happens in group therapy – and it focusses much more on: ‘How we are in this world’; or ‘ … at this moment’; and ‘How we relate to ourselves – and thus to others’ and ‘What do we really (deeply) feel about ourselves – and others’.

This type of therapeutic work is not just purely about the mind, or our thoughts, or our feelings, or our behaviors, or about ‘labels’, ‘diagnoses’, or ‘pathologies’, but it is about something that is deeply rooted and felt within us, in our bodies, in our feelings, and also (sometimes) in our spirits. Unlike traditional ‘talk therapy’ or ‘cognitive therapy’ or other ‘ labelled’ psychotherapies, Somatic Psychology (or Body Psychotherapy) tends to be much more experiential and existential and attempts to work much more at an authentic or ‘felt’ level, working with the person and their ‘felt sense’ of Self.

Somatic Psychology (or Body Psychotherapy) has a long and rich history, and is primarily derived from the theories and practices of Wilhelm Reich, a psychoanalyst and student of Sigmund Freud, as well as from the work of Pierre Janet, and several others. Since those early ‘psychoanalytical’ times, it has been influenced by humanistic, existential, and gestalt psychology; by dance, movement and art therapies; by family and systemic theories; biology, neurology, anthropology and developments in neuroscience; and as well as by Eastern philosophies, and by spirituality or transpersonal psychotherapy.

Individuals seek this particular form of therapy, or ‘ treatment’ (or development) for similar reasons that they might look towards more traditional therapies — to address issues of stress, anxiety, depression; relationship and sexuality issues; issues of grief and loss; addictions; trauma (including recovery from abuse – for which Body Psychotherapy (or Somatic Psychology) is particularly useful); as well as for the more purely ‘medical’ reasons – including relief from pain, migraines, headaches, chronic fatigue syndrome, chronic pain, and other somatic symptoms; as well as psychological reasons, involving family dynamics, character structure, affect, attachment disorders, psychosomatic symptoms, etc.

Somatic Psychotherapy includes many different techniques that can be utilized depending on the specific needs of each client. Such interventions can include: developing ‘mindfulness’ and greater awareness of one’s physical and emotional presence using relaxation and meditative techniques; movement, in order to promote a deeper physical awareness and to expand one’s capacity to feel and express emotions; breathing techniques to increase awareness of and improve functioning of the breath and expressive verbalizations; specific exercises or routines to help eliminate certain physical tensions or ‘blocks’; etc.

The many different arenas and dimensions of both Body Psychotherapy and Somatic Psychology are explored further in the recently published, “Handbook of Body Psychotherapy and Somatic Psychology (2015; North Atlantic Books), as well as, in the International Body Psychotherapy Journal; in ‘Somatic Psychotherapy Today’; in the journal of Body, Dance & Movement in Psychotherapy; and in various other publications and books.

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