Somatic psychology is a holistic approach the term comes from the Greek soma (body), which, combined with the term psychology defines that branch of psychology that connects the body with the mind.
Somatic notions have existed in psychotherapy ever since Freud’s days, Freud himself had paid a great deal of importance to the physical effects of psychoanalysis on his patients.
However, the founder of psychosomatic psychology is Wilhelm Reich (Boadella, 1985). Even though his formation was in psychoanalysis, he has modified the therapeutic setting and has gone so far as to touch his patients and ask them to actively work with their bodies during the sessions. His name is connected with the development of numerous schools of psychosomatic psychology and psychotherapies geared towards the body – Body Psychotherapy, EMDR, Bioenergetics, Mind-Body Intervention as well as Dance Therapy (Meekums, 2000).
- The body is the psyche’s mirror and vice versa: any psychological dysfunction can manifest in the physical plain through symptoms that may arise across various organs. At the same time, psychological dysfunctions that are being repressed or postponed too long will manifest on the body, making it ill.
- Making the psyche healthy is possible with the body’s aid: reconnecting to your own body, attention, and loving care for it may also determine the psyche to heal. As a temple for the soul, the body needs our care as much as our psyche. The emotions or thoughts that poison our minds have a harmful effect on the body as well.
- Body awareness: Paying attention to one’s body is also a way of closely monitoring and taking care of one’s psyche. Physical symptoms must be decoded, each one of them having the potential to explain something that is taking place in one’s soul. Nothing happens out of coincidence, the mind and the body are connected and the care we pay to one directly influences the other.
Somatic psychology has a wide range of uses. It can be used for people who don’t necessarily have a keen interest in psychotherapy, but merely want to improve their own personal situation and develop as individuals.
In order to function as a whole, one needs to keep both the mind and the body in good health. Hence, dance therapy, body awareness techniques, and relaxation techniques may prove useful to those that actively engage in working with the body (ballet dancers, choreographers, people activating in sports) as well as to those who need to resolve emotional problems.
For instance, oftentimes psycho-somatic psychology is connected with healing trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder: “Focus on sensation provides a doorway to the unconscious mind, where the potential for deep restructuring and healing lies” (Johnson & Grand, p. 23).
The body also represents a way of exploring both normal consciousness (for example, by focusing on breathing and specific movements we can raise our ability to stay in the present moment), as well as the unconscious (for instance, holotropic breathwork).
Proofs for the efficacy of body psychotherapy have been demonstrated in a study conducted by Rohricht & Priebe (2006) even in cases of patients suffering from chronic diseases, such as schizophrenia.
However, somatic psychology still remains a controversial field and is oftentimes criticized with the main argument that we cannot always associate certain illnesses with psychological disorders. A causal relation between a physical illness and a psychological disorder is almost impossible to determine as a rule that can be applied to all cases, even though medicine acknowledges some psycho-somatic diseases (ulcers, gastritis, etc). However, somatic psychology continues to increase in popularity across the world, claiming to be not only a holistic approach to the individual as a body-mind-spirit trinity but also a way of transforming life into a unique, complete, and revelatory experience.
If you’re interested in learning more about the kinds of therapy and what may work for you, click here.