holding hands close up

Although the Greek word soma originally meant “of the body,” it later evolved to mean the living body in its wholeness. In this latter definition, soma is a process of doing and being, rather than an abstract entity. In other words, soma is a living process by which our bodily sensations, movements, perceptions, emotions and thoughts form a whole of experience.

Somatic study is an inquiry into our “lived body” by observing and exploring ourselves through sensing and moving. It is simply and most profoundly, the study of how human embodied experience unfolds.

Somatic awareness includes attending to our external senses — sight, hearing, tasting, smelling and touching — as well as to our proprioception or the sensing of our movements. Proprioception guides our senses in the world and underlies our capacity for orientation.

Proprioception develops in the womb as the fetus adjusts to uterine conditions during gestation and in preparation for birth. As the infant progresses, a developing proprioceptive awareness determines his or her ability to respond and relate within the environment. How infants experience their bodies in motion forms the substratum for the emerging self, the responsive and continual engaging of infant and environment.

Throughout the life-span, proprioception encompasses all aspects of movement and includes: kinesthetic — a sense of movement, active or passive, and a sense of weight, resistances to movement or weight, and the relative positions of the body in relation to itself or the environment; vestibular — spatial awareness or sensitivity to the position of the head and body in relation to the earth, and the direction of motion in space; and visceral — a sensitivity to pulsations of internal organs expressing levels of excitation and fatigue.

Somatic psychotherapy is the integration of somatic inquiry within the therapy session. Somatic psychotherapy emphasizes the process of dynamics within session as primary to the work of therapeutic discovery, while the process of content is of secondary importance.

Using somatic techniques as the means for exploration, the client is able to experience where spontaneity, creativity and deliberateness flow throughout his or her body and where flow is suppressed or blocked. With the body as locus for intervention, somatic psychotherapy uncovers early material as it lives in this here-and-now.

Developmental Somatic Psychotherapy is an expansion of gestalt therapy — a novel approach within its theory and practice — and also can be quite usefully combined within other psychotherapy models, even those which do not attend to movement processes.

It offers a framework for understanding clients’ preverbal experiences that are often overlooked or misunderstood and left unattended. Thus, existential issues with roots in early life surface with great immediacy. These issues would not emerge as easily, if at all, in other psychotherapies. Fleshing out the greater background from which present behaviors arise deepens the developing narrative within each session, as well as throughout the course of therapy.