In body-centered (somatic) counseling we look at the mind and body as one inseparable unit. That is, anything that happens in the body will also show up in the mind, and anything that happens in the mind will also show up in the body. It has been both my personal and profession experience that a body-centered approach creates the deepest healing. As an ordained minister and body-centered counselor, I work with both body and mind throughout our sessions.
Somatic counseling is a holistically oriented therapy that integrates physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health. It accomplishes this by helping us to become aware of our bodies and the sensations we experience through them. Body awareness and movement are combined with dialogue in order to reveal the connections between life experiences and bodily experiences. This provides an opportunity to heal the whole person.
In somatic counseling we learn that the body is a deep resource and our most accessible teacher. To travel deep into the body is to discover truth. The body is a source of information and a vehicle for transformation and it is through the body that we communicate with the unconscious. The path to our authentic selves is through the body, not through denial of the body.
I work with the body for two main reasons. The first is that I found body-centered counseling critical to my own healing process. I spent several years in therapy and had learned to understand the root of my issues, however, understanding my issues didn’t help me actually move through them. It was through somatic counseling that I actually noticed a difference in my life.
The second reason I work with the body is that somatic counseling is strongly supported by clinical research, trauma research and the latest discoveries in neuroscience. The nervous system basically regulates how chilled out or freaked out we are. Because the roots of many dysfunctions are nervous system dysregulation (a common side-effect of trauma) and a cultural overemphasis on cognitive processes, I use breath, movement, vocalization, dialogue, and sometimes touch to help people regulate over-active and under-active nervous system responses, as well as to provide relief to an overactive mind. I work with the body because, unlike our minds, which can often circulate in confusion, the body doesn’t lie. Working with the body in a mindful state can often produce more clarity and healing than working on the cognitive (thinking brain) level alone.
Somatic Counseling & Trauma
Body-centered counseling is particularly relevant to trauma. When I work with people suffering from the aftermath of trauma, I am often working with nervous system regulation. Traumatized people often enter into states of hyperarousal, that is, an elevated sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight) response. In this state people are often anxious, tense, agitated, or what you might call “wiggy”. This is particularly true for those suffering from Posttraumatic Stress & Posttraumatic Stress Disorder. When the sympathetic nervous system is in full gear, the hippocampus becomes relatively inactive. Since the hippocampus is responsible for incorporating memory and meaning making, the hippocampus must be online in order for counseling interventions to have lasting effect on the client. I used body-centered interventions to help people lower their state of hyperarousal. I then integrate other therapies, such as Internal Family Systems, to work with the unresolved trauma.
Traumatized people can also experience recurrent states of hypoarousal (that is, an under-active response system common in the freeze response). People can experience this as “going away”, shutting down, or numbing out. Hypoarousal also interferes with necessary hippocampus function, so I use body-centered techniques to elevate the individual’s arousal.
Counseling is most effective when our bodies are involved in the process. Everything we know about neuroscience and the nervous system clearly indicates that a body-based approach to healing is the most holistic and integrative. Part of what makes a body-based approach to counseling effective is that the body doesn’t lie. We can convince others and ourselves all kinds of things that aren’t true, but the truth will show up in the body. Lie detector tests are an example of how this works. A person can be calm on the outside while lying, but their insides may be speaking a whole different truth.