Understanding Somatic Experience: Working With the Body to Heal the Mind

How Can Therapists Overcome Fears About the Body with Clients Who Struggle to Heal from Painful Somatic Experiences?

Mary Sykes Wylie
February 24, 2014

Within the field of psychotherapy, trauma specialists have led the way in bringing a more direct focus on somatic experience into treatment. The pioneering work of psychiatrist Bessel van der Kolk and others has highlighted the way that people experience the long-range effects of trauma as much in their bodies as in their minds.

Indeed, it’s the very fact that both emotion and reasoning ability are held hostage by their body’s continuing physical reaction to trauma—long after the traumatic event happens—that makes healing so hard for trauma survivors, no matter how much cognitive “insight” they have into their suffering. As a result, many trauma therapists have tried to make mindful body awareness, breathing, relaxation, and grounding techniques as integral to the therapy as talk.

Discover the rewards of body-oriented therapy and learn to overcome the fears, transference issues, and obstacles that often get in the way. Download Somatic Therapy: Using the Mind-Body Connection to Get Results for FREE!

Most talk therapists, however, have a long way to go before becoming as body-wise as their colleagues in the trauma field. For generations, therapists have been taught that focusing too much attention on somatic experience would be too arousing, enticing, or frightening for clients. It might undermine the therapist’s neutrality and ruin the transference.

But it isn’t just a concern for the client that kept therapists from bringing the somatic experience into their therapeutic work. Most people are at least a little frightened of their bodies and the untoward feelings that well up from their depths—frightened of what happens beneath the skin, beneath the veneer of reason and civilized behavior.

So what does it take for a therapist to move past these various obstacles to bringing mind and body together in the treatment room?

For therapists who’ve spent entire careers firmly planted in their chairs, learning how to integrate some sort of somatic therapy into their work can be relatively simple. They can enrich their therapy by learning how to better read their own bodies and those of their clients while never budging from their seats.

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About briandmahan

Following a catastrophic automobile accident several years ago, I began suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). I was hit by one of two cars that were racing on the 10 freeway in Los Angeles. And, although I walked away from the accident, I began to have several FULL-BLOWN panic attacks a day (I didn’t even know they were panic attacks; I just thought I was going crazy). But, after just a few sessions with a Somatic Experiencing Practitioner, my anxiety and panic attacks ceased and I haven't had one in 9 years. In fact, my life changed so dramatically and quickly, I decided to train in the same technique. Upon completing a three-year training program studying Somatic Experiencing, the work of Peter Levine, PhD., my self-obsessed passion for healing and personal transformation shifted. I've been blessed to be able to help and assist other survivors of unresolved past traumatic events, who suffer from PTSD, Anxiety, Panic Attacks, Depression and Stress to feel safe, joyful and to take take control of their lives again. And, now, I consider that car wreck to be one of the best things that ever happened to me. It’s my passion for the past 9 years to share my story, experience, and know-how with others, like you, who may simply have been trying to heal with the wrong approaches. (You can’t heal a toothache by getting a massage.) I am not a psychologist, a medical doctor or a spiritual healer. I am a trauma survivor. And I have come to understand that PTSD, anxiety, panic, stress and depression are physiological conditions more so than they are psychological disorders. I hold retreats, workshops and free seminars, focused on establishing a sense of safety and re-awakening embodiment through healing stress and trauma. I also offer one-on-one sessions both face-to-face for local clients and by Phone and SKYPE for clients nationwide and internationally.
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