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Somatic psychology is an interdisciplinary field involving the study of the body, somatic experience, and the embodied self, including therapeutic and holistic approaches to body. The word somatic comes from the ancient Greek root σωματ- somat- (body). The word psychology comes from the ancient Greek psyche (breath, soul hence mind) and -logia (study). Body Psychotherapy is a general branch of this subject, whilst Somatherapy, Eco-somatics and Dance therapy, for example, are specific branches of the subject. Somatic psychology is a field of study that bridges the Mind-body dichotomy.
Whilst Pierre Janet can perhaps be considered the first Somatic Psychologist due to his extensive psychotherapeutic studies and writings with significant reference to the body (some of which pre-date Freud), it was actually Wilhelm Reich who was the first person to bring body awareness systematically into psychoanalysis, and also the first psychotherapist to touch clients physically, working with their bodies. Reich was a significant influence in the founding of Body Psychotherapy (or Somatic Psychology as it is often known in the USA & Australia) - though he called his early work "Character Analysis" and "Character-Analytic Vegetotherapy"). Several types of body-oriented psychotherapies trace their origins back to Reich, though there have been many subsequent developments and other influences (ref: entry on Body Psychotherapy and Somatic Psychology is of particular interest in trauma work.
There is increasing use of body-oriented therapeutic techniques within mainstream psychology (like EMDR and Mindfulness practice) and psychoanalysis has recognized the use of somatic resonance, embodied trauma, and similar concepts, for many years.
Historically, there are early practitioners, for example, the Persian physician Avicenna (980 to 1037 CE) who performed psychotherapy only by observing the movement of the patient's pulse as he listened to their anguish. This is reminiscent of both traditional Tibetan medicine and current energy therapies that employ tapping points on a meridian. As a contrast to the Western separation of body/mind, some writers describe the "body as a slow mind"  and this re-examination of the fundamental mind-body dichotomy has coincided with research into neuroscience, embodiment and consciousness, and an unconscious mind that 'speaks' through the language of body.
The primary relationship addressed in somatic psychology is the person's relation to and empathy with their own felt body. It is based on a belief, grounded in ancient principles of vitalism, that energy will bring healing to the affected parts if sufficient awareness is directed there.
A wide variety of techniques are used in somatic psychotherapy including sound, touch, mirroring, movement, titration, pendulation and breath. An individual records life experience during a pre- and nonverbal periods differently than during a verbalized and personal narrative period. Working with the client's implicit knowing of these early experiences, somatic psychology includes the non-verbal qualities that mark most human communication, especially in the first years of life. This understanding of consciousness, communication and mind-body language challenges some traditional applications of the talking cure.
Practitioners in this field believe psychological, social, cultural and political forces support the splitting and fragmentation of the mind-body unity. These pressures affect an individual’s mental, biological, and relational health. For example, the writer Alice Miller in her recent book 'The Body Never Lies' says, Ultimately the body will rebel. Even if it can be temporarily pacified with the help of drugs, cigarettes or medicine, it usually has the last word because it is quicker to see through self-deception than the mind. We may ignore or deride the messages of the body, but it's rebellion demands to be heeded because its language is the authentic expression of our true selves and of the strength of our vitality.
The concept of body is socially constructed. What has been considered the limits of body has changed significantly throughout the history of medicine and likely will continue to change as mechanisitic principles underlying mind and body are disclosed by the scientific method.
Wilhlem Reich's pre-eminence as founder of the modern field is open to question. His teacher and the founder of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud, explored the role of body in neurosis, as well as undertaking research on the therapeutic effects of cocaine (beginning on April 24, 1884, when he ordered his first gram of cocaine from the local apothecary). Freud also showed an interest in the nasal reflex neurosis and in vital periodicity, explored during a significant relationship with Wilhelm Fliess between 1887 and 1902. Wilhelm Fliess believed that the nose was the centre of all human illness through its structural deviations to the passage of breath.
State accredited somatic psychology programs that meet the educational requirements for licensure as a California Marriage and Family Therapist (MFT) include John F. Kennedy University (JFKU) http://www.jfku.edu/ and California Institute of Integral Studies (CIIS) http://www.ciis.edu/ The program that meets the educational requirement for licensure for Colorado's Professional Counselor License (LPC) is Naropa University http://www.naropa.edu/
There is a growing body of literature and journals in somatic psychology, and there are several international and national organizations, including the United States Association for Body Psychotherapy http://www.usabp.org/ Somatic psychology books include:
- The Body in Psychotherapy by Johnson and Grand
- Getting Our Bodies Back by Christine Caldwell
- Working with the Dreaming Body by Arnold Mindell
- The Body in Psychotherapy by Edward W.L. Smith
- Body Process by James A. Kepner
- Bonding by Stanley Keleman
- The Body in Recovery by John P. Conger
- The Body Remembers by Babette Rothschild
- Body Psychotherapy
- Expressive therapy
- Health applications and clinical studies of meditation
- Mind-Body Intervention
- Sensorimotor Psychotherapy
- Somatic Experiencing
- Trager Approach
- Boadella, D. (1985) Wilhelm Reich: The evolution of his work. Arkana: Routledge & Kegan Paul. ISBN 1-85063-034-8
- Reich, W. (1933/1974) Character Analysis, Farrar, Straus & Giroux, ISBN 3745098081045
- Moskowitz, A., Schafer, I., & Dorahy, M.J. (Eds)(2008) Psychosis, Trauma and Dissociation: Emerging Perspectives on Severe Psychopathology. Wiley, Blackwell.ISBN 978-0-470-51173-2 (See esp. Chap. 7., re P. Janet on hallucinations, paranoia, & schizophrenia.)
- Ogden, P., Minton, K. & Pain, C. (2006) Trauma and the Body: A sensorimotor approach to psychotherapy. W. W. Norton. ISBN 978-0-393-70457-0
- Afzal Iqbal & Arberry A. J., 'The Life and Work of Jalaluddin Rumi' page 94
- Friedman, L., Moon, S.I.S. & Friedlander, L. (1997) Being Bodies: Buddhist women on the paradox of embodiment. Second Story Press, ISBN 978-1-57062-324-0
- Meekums, B. (2002) Dance Movement Therapy: a Creative Psychotherapeutic Approach. London: Sage, ISBN 978-0-7619-5767-6
- Chodorow, J. (1991) Dance Therapy and Depth Psychology. London: Routledge, ISBN 978-0-415-04113-3
- Lewis, P. (1991; 1988) Theoretical Approaches in Dance Movement Therapy. Vols I & II, USA: Kendall/Hunt, ISBN 978-0-8403-3994-2 & 978-0840346483
- Payne, H.(ed).(2006)Dance Movement Therapy: Theory, Research and Practice (2nd edn). Tavistock/Routledge, ISBN 978-1-58391-703-9
- Gendlin, E 'Focusing-oriented Psychotherapy' Guilford Press 1996
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- Wilberg, P 'From Psycho-somatics to Soma-semiotics' New Gnosis Publications 2003
- Wong, A. (2020, May 7) Why You Can't Think Your Way Out of Trauma. Psychology Today. Retrieved from Why You Can't Think Your Way Out of Trauma
- Miller A. 'The Body Never Lies: The Lingering Effect of Cruel Parenting' W. W. Norton & Company (May 2, 2005) ISBN 0-393-06065-9 ISBN 978-0-393-06065-2
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- Louis Breger. Freud: darkness in the midst of vision. John Wiley & Sons, 2000
- Dominic Streatfeild. Cocaine: An unauthorized biography. Dunne Books, June 2002
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