Douglas Smith

Mind Meets Body Institute

Workshop Update:

We had 21 students at the Body in Psychotherapy workshop recently. This is the foundational experiential workshop for the development of basic skills in somatic psychotherapy. This workshop will be offered again in the fall. Below are highlights of upcoming workshops. For a full list visit the MMBI website – where registration and other workshop information is available.

May 9, 2014 Buddhist Psychology and Somatic psychotherapy – A workshop on mindfulness and the body. We will explore the experience of mind not only from the way it is used to conduct a life but from the perspective of the body itself, when the mind is participating in the embodiment process. This actually has to be reviewed and intelligently  integrated by Sally.       Sally Bowden-Schaible and Douglas Smith

May 23, 2014 Princes and Pawns – This is an advanced workshop for students who have completed an earlier somatic workshop or have equivalent experience working with body structures. We go beyond finding  general coherence  in systems, to working with systems that have taken the brunt of stress or trauma reaction and look at ways to redistribute that load. This helps build a stronger overall container for the management of survival, and other powerful energies seeking resolution.                  Douglas Smith


Key Elements of Somatic Therapy

Somatic therapy shifts the focus of psychotherapy from an emphasis on cognition and affect to a deeper inclusion of the body and the client’s experience of the body. It is the experience of the automaticity of the body and the particular states that arise as somatic patterns that are the focus of somatic therapy.

Traditional psychotherapies variably seek to bring forward increased awareness of, and more conscious engagement with engrained or conditioned patterns of experience and behavior. The recent expansion of mindfulness practices, body-oriented therapies, and advances in brain science and body/mind medicine have helped clear the way for exploration of deeper somatic patterns as well, and their role in inhibiting or enhancing health and resilience.

It is becoming increasingly evident that the nervous and other body systems operate in a bi-directional manner, meaning that the feedback from the body, to itself, rounds out the mechanisms of survival and adaptation.

The work of somatic therapy is to engage this bi-directional process from the body-feedback side — in essence, to bring the therapeutic conversation to the body. Through awareness of sensation and physiology, a person’s self-experience is naturally expanded to include awareness of the patterns of reactivity that may always have been present (and influential) but not always consciously available to work with.

The key “tool” for this work is the cultivation of body awareness, or interoception. Interoception, in the psychobiology sense, can be defined as “…the ability of visceral afferent information to either reach awareness and/or to directly or indirectly affect behavior.” (Cameron, 2002). Obviously, for psychotherapeutic purposes we are interested in the form that reaches consciousness — but my work in Somatic Experiencing has shown me that it is possible to enhance this natural interoceptive ability by focused attention and a strategic process for gaining access to the body.

Below are the key elements of the cultivation of body awareness:

 Elements of Body Awareness

Interoception - The key to somatic therapy. Defined above.

Differentiation - The starting place for differentiation is what I call dual awareness, the recognition of two or more states of activation or settling in the body at the same time. This begins to build the capacity for more nuanced awareness of the body and of patterns of activation relative to mental and emotional states. A deeper way that somatic work uses differentiation is through awareness of “layers” of the body.

Tracking - Tracking is the mindful attention to sensation in the body, and following of changes and developments as they occur. In therapy the therapist can coach the client to follow sensation and encourage an attitude of curiosity. In this way patterns of reactivity or relationships between affective and somatic states can begin to become apparent. There will be a distinction between attention and intention in tracking. One is the holding and the other, moving of attention.

Titration - In medicine, titration is the gradual adjustment of a dose of medicine until the optimal result is reached. In somatic work, titration is the gradual introduction of awareness of a pattern of activation (usually sympathetic arousal) until the system can tolerate or “digest” the experience. The simplest example of this would be in trauma work where the gradual exposure to a traumatic memory and its accompanying activation results in an increased capacity of the body and mind to maintain equilibrium in the face of the energy inherent in the trauma pattern or structure that becomes activated.

Coherence - The tendency of systems to move toward balance and integration. This is both facilitated and looked for (tracked) in the body. Coherence exists in all realms. There is coherence of breath, coherence in tissues, coherence in relationship between systems and structure of the body. The reason that coherence is important in somatic therapy is that coherence begets coherence – if there is coherence in one system there is a tendency for systems near by to fall into coherence as well. Normally this will bring on settling in the body, and therefore parasympathetic down-regulation, which is a key goal in somatic therapy.

Resonance - or somatic resonance – is the client-therapist relationship on the somatic level. This is where your own embodiment practice meets the client in the therapeutic relationship. Looked at from one perspective, resonance can simply mean that you are consciously present as much as you can be with the client’s experience – and your own. Or it can mean that you are intentionally focused on one particular aspect of the client’s experience and bring (or find) yourself in sync with that.