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What is Somatic Psychology?

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  • Written By: Terrie Brockmann
  • Edited By: Melissa Wiley
  • Last Modified Date: 29 November 2016
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Somatic psychology, which is also called body-mind psychotherapy and body-oriented psychotherapy, is a branch of psychology that believes in a strong mind and body relationship. The somatic body system is part of the nervous system and transmits information between the central nervous system and the nerves in the skin, skeletal muscles, and sensory organs. The sensory organs govern a person's senses, including hearing, sight, and touch. A somatic psychologist uses a patient's body language, emotional expressions, and other physical characteristics as clues to the person's mental state and teaches a patient to use physical techniques to promote better mental and physical health. Wilhelm Reich, a student of Sigmund Freud, is credited with creating this branch of psychology based on the writings of Freud, Fritz Perls, and Arthur Janov.

Wilhelm Reich believed that the mind and the body are not separate entities, but rather each is influential on the other. He named his new psychotherapy vegetotherapy or character-analytic vegetotherapy. Somatic psychology evolved as psychologists merged other practices, such as dance and movement therapy, with Reich's vegetotherapy. Some other influences include other psychology theories, such as existentialism, humanistic psychology, and gestalt practices; biology and neurology; and Eastern philosophies. Many of Reich's followers developed their own form, using these influences and their own theories.

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People consult somatic psychologists to reduce stress and anxiety, including post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD); to improve and understand relationships and sexual issues; and to cope with illnesses such as chronic fatigue syndrome, headaches, and other pain. Many people find that it can help them cope with addictions, loss, and grief. By emphasizing the relationship between the mind and the body, somatic psychology helps psychologists treat the whole patient in a holistic manner.

Most psychologists customize the techniques for each patient. Usually, a psychologist develops self-awareness within the patient by using relaxation and meditation, including breathing techniques. Movement, such as dance therapy, helps a person experience a deeper physical awareness. Somatic psychology expands a patient's ability to fully feel and naturally express his or her emotions in a healthy manner. Psychoneuroimmunology, a science close to somatic psychology, studies how a person's emotions affect his or her immune system.

Some of the modern terms that psychologists use to label somatic psychology may include bioenergetics, focusing, and sensorimotor psychotherapy. Ilana Rubenfeld designed the Rubenfeld synergy method, which combines physical touch and talk therapy. Ron Kurtz created hakomi therapy based on somatic psychology and Eastern philosophies. Hakomi is a Hopi word that loosely translates to "you are who you are."

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