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Somatic therapy melds mind and body into a holistic approach

The term "therapy" can be used to describe many different modalities of healing, from physical therapy to couples counseling. Along with the more traditional methods such as psychiatry or psychology, there are many offshoots of behavioral and family counseling that have sprung from a more holistic approach, one that incorporates more than just the processes of the mind. One such modality is somatic therapy.

Alternative Medicine

What Is Somatic Therapy?

Somatic therapy, often referred to as somatic psychotherapy, examines the role of the body in well-being. Because the body and mind are connected, learning what physical triggers might be related to emotional responses can be a useful tool in diagnosing and treating patients. With the use of physical cues, it is believed that patients who might have trouble identifying what is happening to them emotionally can use their physical symptoms to guide them, according to GoodTherapy.org, a website created by therapists worldwide to spread ethical practices.

Somatic therapy can incorporate yoga, dance and other movement techniques to help further enhance a person's connection to his or her physical self. Practitioners of somatic therapy can run the gamut from licensed clinical social workers or marriage and family therapists to yoga teachers and dance instructors. There is no formal requirement for practitioners who wish to claim they practice somatic therapy.

A Brief History of Somatic Therapy

While the concept of a mind-body connection may seem obvious today, the origins of somatic therapy had a bit of a rocky start. The theory that the body holds and exhibits the mind's troubles can be traced in part to the work of infamous psychiatrist Dr. Wilhelm Reich, an early believer in psychoanalysis and a student of Sigmund Freud's work. Reich was one of the first to posit that patients could benefit from physical touch and the study of their physical symptoms in relation to their emotional state. Reich's methods were considered radical in the early 1900s, but many psychiatrists and psychologists have continued his work, with a large boom of physically oriented therapies taking place in the 1970s.

The United States Association for Body Psychotherapy, a nonprofit professional association, claims the methods and practice of somatic therapy are growing as more people look to a holistic and synergistic approach to health care and mental health care.

What to Expect from Somatic Therapy

So what type of client might benefit most from a nontraditional therapy such as somatic therapy? The methods used are helpful in many cases, such as depression, anxiety or stress, but some have found this type of therapy to be particularly helpful in cases of trauma, post-traumatic stress disorder and abuse.

Somatic therapists may use such tools as breathing exercises, stretching techniques, gentle touch, posture and movement exercises and more, along with conversation and traditional analysis work.

The idea of being touched by a counselor or therapist might be uncomfortable for some, but clients are always fully clothed. While it's always impossible to directly monitor each practitioner, the United States Association for Body Psychotherapy has published ethics guidelines on its website for members. Choosing a somatic therapist who is a member of the association is encouraged.

Potential clients and students interested in somatic therapy should understand that a degree is not required to practice somatic therapy. This doesn't mean the therapy isn't legitimate, however, and there are a number of schools that offer not only course work but graduate-level degrees as well, such as a Master of Arts in Counseling Psychology, Concentration in Somatic Psychology. Traditional psychology degrees such as in licensed clinical social work or marriage and family therapy are often the first steps somatic therapists take before choosing this niche area of study.

While alternative therapies can sometimes dabble in pseudoscience that may resemble hocus pocus to some, the work of somatic therapy has a credible, albeit short, history. For those looking to expand their understanding of behavior and emotional issues, somatic therapy offers another venue for exploration.

Somatic Psychotherapy • Jan 03, 2012 • http://www.goodtherapy.orghttp://www.goodtherapy.org/Somatic-Psychotherapy.html

Somatic Psychology Program • http://www.ciis.eduhttp://www.ciis.edu/academics/graduate_programs/somatic_psychology.html

Body Psychotherapy: It's history and present day scope • Feb 27, 1997 • http://usabp.affiniscape.com/displaycommon.cfm?an=1&subarticlenbr=11

Adapted from EABP definition of Body Psychotherapy • Definition of Body Psychotherapy • Feb 27, 2013 • http://usabp.affiniscape.comhttp://usabp.affiniscape.com/displaycommon.cfm?an=1&subarticlenbr=9

Biography of Wilhelm Reich • Oct 06, 2011 • http://www.wilhelmreichtrust.orghttp://www.wilhelmreichtrust.org/biography.html

Center for Somatic Psychotherapy • http://www.somaticpsychotherapycenter.org/

About the Author:

Megg Mueller is a journalist with almost two decades of experience. She has worked as a reporter and editor for the Reno Gazette-Journal and as an editor of health care and education manuals for Aspen Publishers, a subsidiary of Wolters Kluwer. She wrote a weekly column on the hotel industry during her tenure as assistant travel editor for USA TODAY.com. Mueller is the editor of a tourism-based website and also serves as a reporter for a weekly business newspaper also serves as a reporter for a weekly business newspaper.


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