Social:Somatic psychology

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Short description: Form of psychotherapy

Somatic psychology is a form of psychotherapy that focuses on somatic experience, including therapeutic and holistic approaches to the body. Body psychotherapy is a general branch of this subject, while somatherapy, eco-somatics and dance therapy, for example, are specific branches of the subject. Somatic psychology is a framework that seeks to bridge the mind-body dichotomy.

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).[1] According to psychodynamic psychology, it is only gradually that the body entered into the realm of available techniques that could be used in a psychodynamic frame. This idea was, in part, developed by Sándor Ferenczi and his friend Georg Groddeck, then Otto Fenichel and his friend Wilhelm Reich. Wilhelm Reich is the first who tried to develop a clear psychodynamic approach that included the body, but he soon found out that it could not be done.[2][3] He then developed his own way of combining body and mind and the somatic regulators that connect these two dimensions.[4] Reich was a significant influence in the founding of body psychotherapy (or somatic psychology as it is often known in the USA and Australia) - though he called his early work "character analysis"[5] 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 on body psychotherapy and somatic psychology is of particular interest in trauma work.[6][7]

Dance therapy and dance movement psychotherapy reflect some of this approach and are each considered a study and practice within the field of somatic psychology.[8][9][10][11]


As a field of study, somatic psychology has been defined as: 'the study of the mind/body interface, the relationship between our physical matter and our energy, the interaction of our body structures with our thoughts and actions.'[12]

The primary relationship addressed in somatic psychology is the person's relation to and empathy with their own felt body.[13] It is based on a belief, from the principles of vitalism, that bringing sufficient awareness will cause healing.[14]


A wide variety of techniques are used in somatic psychotherapy including sound, touch, mirroring, movement and breath. An individual records life experience during a pre- and nonverbal period differently than during a verbalized and personal narrative period. Working with the client's implicit knowing[15][16] 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.[17]

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.[18] For example, the writer Alice Miller in her recent book 'The Body Never Lies'[19] 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 its rebellion demands to be heeded because its language is the authentic expression of our true selves and of the strength of our vitality.


Wilhelm 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.[20] Wilhelm Fliess believed that the nose was the centre of all human illness through its structural deviations to the passage of breath.[21][22]

See also


  1. Van Der Hart, Onno; Brown, Paul; Van Der Kolk, Bessel A. (1995). "Pierre Janet's Treatment of Post-Traumatic Stress". Psychotraumatology: 195–210. doi:10.1007/978-1-4899-1034-9_12. ISBN 978-0-306-44783-9. 
  2. Heller, M. (2012) Body Psychotherapy, W. W. Norton & Company, ISBN:9780393706697
  3. Geuter, U., Heller, M. C., & Weaver, J. O. (2010) “Reflections on Elsa Gindler and her influence on Wilhelm Reich and body psychotherapy”, Body, Movement and Dance in Psychotherapy, vol. 5, 1, pp. 59–73
  4. Boadella, D. (1991). “Organism and organisation: the place of somatic psychotherapy in society”, Energy & Character, vol. 22, pp 21-23
  5. Reich, W. (1933/1974). Character Analysis, Farrar, Straus & Giroux, ISBN:9780374509804
  6. 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.)
  7. 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
  8. Meekums, B. (2002) Dance Movement Therapy: a Creative Psychotherapeutic Approach. London: Sage, ISBN:978-0-7619-5767-6
  9. Chodorow, J. (1991) Dance Therapy and Depth Psychology. London: Routledge, ISBN:978-0-415-04113-3
  10. Lewis, P. (1991; 1988) Theoretical Approaches in Dance Movement Therapy. Vols I & II, USA: Kendall/Hunt, ISBN:978-0-8403-3994-2 & 978-0840346483
  11. Payne, H.(ed).(2006) Dance Movement Therapy: Theory, Research and Practice (2nd edn). Tavistock/Routledge, ISBN:978-1-58391-703-9
  12. C. Caldwell. (1997) ‘This body opens,’ in C. Caldwell (Ed.) Getting in touch: The guide to new body-centered therapies. Wheaton, IL: Quest, (p.1).
  13. Gendlin, E Focusing-oriented Psychotherapy Guilford Press 1996
  14. Coulter, Ian; Snider, Pamela; Neil, Amy (June 2019). "Vitalism–A Worldview Revisited: A Critique Of Vitalism And Its Implications For Integrative Medicine". Integrative Medicine: A Clinician's Journal 18 (3): 60–73. ISSN 1546-993X. PMID 32549817. 
  15. Rolf 'Two Theories of Tacit and Implicit Knowledge' retrieved from "Archived copy".  May 20, 2007
  16. Knowledge (Implicit Explicit) Philosophical aspects retrieved from [1], May 20, 2007
  17. Wilberg, P 'From Psycho-somatics to Soma-semiotics' New Gnosis Publications 2003
  18. "Somatic Psychology". John F. Kennedy University. January 2016. 
  19. 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
  20. Chiriac J translated by Mihaela Cristea retrieved from [2] May 22, 2007
  21. Louis Breger. Freud: darkness in the midst of vision. John Wiley & Sons, 2000
  22. Dominic Streatfeild. Cocaine: An unauthorized biography. Dunne Books, June 2002

External links