What Is Somatic Psychology?

If you’ve considered becoming a psychologist, you might wonder what somatic psychology is. This branch of psychology deals directly with the mind-body connection. Somatic psychologists study anatomy and physiology in tandem with psychology in order to make connections and draw conclusions concerning the mind-body dichotomy. This is the field of study that examines whether sad or angry people tend to be sick more often than happy, peaceful people, and these studies attempt to provide answers for doctors and counselors treating a variety of conditions.

Studying the Mind-Body Connection

To begin a career in somatic psychology, you need to study psychology, but you may choose to earn a degree in biology, physiology or healthcare. Most individuals begin with an undergraduate degree in psychology or a related field and then earn graduate degrees to complete their education. Since somatic psychologists study across more than one discipline, many of them also study traditional or alternative medicine. Research on the mind-body connection continues to be relevant across healthcare disciplines, so some individuals pursuing studies of the interactions between physical and mental health pursue degrees in clinical research.

Most individuals working and researching in this field hold doctoral degrees, but these degrees come from across psychology and healthcare disciplines. Medical doctors research the mind-body connection and somatic symptoms related to psychiatry as do individuals with doctoral degrees in psychology. Chiropractors and osteopaths as well as occupational therapists also work in this field.

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Working with the Mind-Body Connection

Somatic psychologists take a variety of different career paths. Many choose to practice clinical psychology and help clients achieve overall health as they explore the mind-body connection. Others prefer to work in research settings, designing experiments and testing groups of subjects. Researchers in this sub-field of psychology often have the opportunity to develop innovative treatment options along with an interdisciplinary group of colleagues.

Yoga instructors and recreational therapists commonly work with the mind-body connection, and this connection has been the focus of medical and psychological research for decades. Today, researchers study the interaction between physiology and psychology to find innovative treatments for a multitude of illnesses. Many cancer treatment centers have begun to include meditation and counseling into their treatment programs. As research on the mind-body connection continues, evidence of psycho-somatic issues affecting such conditions as asthma and cancer has become important in the development of treatments for these and other diseases.

The study of the mind-body connection is centuries old. Eastern cultures addressed the connection in religious writings, medical practices and martial arts for centuries before the Greeks first introduced the concept of a mind-body dichotomy. Ancient Hebrews did not believe the mind and body to be separate entities. Today, the debate about the mind-body connection continues, but it is constantly being informed by the work of researchers and somatic psychologists. With a career in the interdisciplinary science of somatic psychology, you can be on the cutting edge of new insights in healthcare, advances in medicine and improvements in the quality of life for thousands of people.

What is Body Psychotherapy?

Body psychotherapy, also sometimes referred to as “body-oriented psychotherapy,” is considered an offshoot of psychotherapy that brings different ideas contained in the study of somatic psychology into the study of psychotherapy.

Body-oriented psychotherapy has its roots in the writings of Sigmund Freud, Pierre Janet, and Wilhelm Reich. In Wilhelm Reich’s writings, body psychotherapy was termed vegetotherapy.

The history of body-oriented psychotherapy

Wilhelm Reich is generally considered to be the most significant figure in the development of body-oriented psychotherapy. Reich was a psychoanalyst from Austria who developed the idea that tension in the muscles is caused by the repression of emotions. Reich was known for developing a method of facilitating the release of this emotional tension in clients. Initially, the ideas of Wilhelm Reich were largely regarded as fringe notions that were not accepted by the mainstream. The ideas of Reich finally took off, however, in the 1960s and the 1970s when counterculture ideas gained prominence.

Branches of body-oriented psychotherapy

Body-oriented psychotherapy itself can be broken down into various branches which trace their origins to other figures in the history of psychotherapy. Some examples of later developments in body-oriented psychotherapy include the development of bioenergetic analysis by Pierrakos and Lowen, the development of “Radix” by Chuck Kelley, the development of organismic psychotherapy by Katherine Brown and Malcolm, and the development of “biosynthesis” by David Boadella.

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Recent developments in body-oriented psychotherapy

In recent years, there has been a rising focus in psychotherapy on the therapeutic relationship. While psychotherapy has traditionally hinged- to a certain extent- on the development of a positive relationship between the therapist offering therapeutic services and the client receiving therapy, this focus has been stressed in the years since body-oriented psychotherapy become accepted by the mainstream in the 60’s and 70’s. The characteristics of the relationship between therapist and patient has become so stressed that it is now considered to be a highly important part of achieving a successful outcome in any type of therapy.

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One important factor of establishing this relationship is that the therapist should no longer presume to be such an expert. While in the past, the therapist or psychotherapist might have been looked on as something of a superior, nowadays body-oriented psychotherapy dictates that either in spoken language or through body language, a therapist should never assume an authoritative position. Taking on such a position could worsen the condition of a patient who has traditionally felt dis-empowered or overly passive.

How a body-oriented psychotherapy session unfurls

On the surface, a session of body-oriented psychotherapy may seem very similar to any other kind of psychotherapy session. The key difference is in the fact that a body-oriented psychotherapy session might involve a more “hands-on approach,” including techniques such as bio-dynamic massage, psychodrama, or psycho-synthesis.

When human beings are suffering from psychological pain, they can often become lost in harmful behaviors that are habitual and repetitive. Body psychotherapy involves a stronger awareness of the relationship between the body and the mind and endeavors to end the repetitive nature of psychological pain through different “bodywork” techniques like breathing, movement, posture, or massage exercises.