I’m trained as a talk therapist but keep hearing about all these new somatic approaches being used today. What are some simple somatic tools I can integrate into my work?Answer:
The idea that the mind and body are inextricably intertwined is widely accepted in our field, but many therapists remain so focused on understanding the thoughts and feelings in clients’ minds that they forget about the pivotal information to be gleaned by paying more attention to clients’ bodies. The three-step somatic process below can be used with just about any therapeutic approach. It will help you directly access the important information that lives within the clients’ immediate physical experience.Step 1: Connect emotions to a felt body sense.
The first step in making therapy more embodied is to shift attention from a top-down verbal analysis to a bottom-up focus on physical experience. Intense emotional states will most often be felt deeper in the body, particularly in the organs of the body.
You may hear clients say things like, “I feel this twisting feeling in my gut,” or “It feels like my heart is a big heavy rock,” or “I feel like my gut area is empty, like there’s a big hole there.” People have a bottom-up way of processing emotional information, which originates largely in our visceral body (our guts, heart, and lungs) and percolates upward into the brainstem, limbic brain, and finally our cortical brain, where we find words for what we feel. But before our left hemisphere can accurately find the words to describe or name what we feel, we actually need a moment to hang out in the right hemisphere and feel what we feel.Step 2: Honor and support the body-centered emotion.
It’s important at this point for the therapist to help clients acknowledge the body’s truth. We all know the importance of saying “I hear you” when our clients share something difficult or painful. The same quality of empathic listening needs to occur as your client shares the direct experience of feeling emotion in the body.
When you empathically hear what a client’s body is saying and the client knows you’re right there meeting this body experience and having compassion for the difficulty behind it, the pain often begins to transform. It may sometimes deepen into an emotional release, where held tears and choked-back sobs emerge, or the emotional distress naturally finds some peace.Step 3: Listen to what pain or wound is being held in the body.
At this point, the armor or guarding that occurs around the painful emotion will have started to melt, so the body is ready to speak its truth, to reveal the pain or wound that needs support and healing. To invite the body to speak, there are two key questions to ask:
- What’s the message contained within the body’s emotional felt sense?
- What else does the emotional body need?
At this point, once the body has spoken its truth, there can be a sense of completion with the process. Your clients will feel deeply heard and reconnected to themselves.To read this complete article in the November/December 2013 issue, subscribe to Psychotherapy Networker magazine.