Top Seven Must Read Books in Somatic Psychology

somatic psychology trauma Feb 17, 2023
 Lina Trochez Unsplash

My book recommendations

There are lots of books about somatic psychotherapy because there are many different types of somatic psychotherapists!

There are somatic therapists that work primarily with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, some focus on people who have a hard time with depression or anxiety, and others who work with organizational leaders, artists, or dancers to help them optimize their performance.

Some somatic psychotherapists incorporate the use of the creative arts in their therapeutic process, others use touch, others emphasize movement, dance, or breath. There are lots of different pathways in.

If you're interested in learning more about Somatic Psychology -- here are my top seven books written about the subject. These are some of the texts that we use in our somatic psychology training programs, and the two that are specifically highlighted here are great choices for a general audience, as well.

The Body Keeps the Score
by Bessel van der Kolk

If there is one seminal book that brought somatic psychology into the mainstream, it is this perennial New York Times bestseller by Bessel van der Kolk, The Body Keeps the Score.

Van der Kolk is a psychiatrist who specializes in the treatment of trauma. He has worked tirelessly to elucidate the neurobiological underpinnings of the body-mind connection, perhaps more than any other individual in our generation.

The book is dense with clinical material, neurobiological insights, and ample case studies of individuals who suffer from trauma.

For many people who suffer from PTSD, learning about the underlying neuropsychology of trauma, and how it impacts their bodies, can be enormously helpful, even revolutionary, and life-changing. 

There is a good reason why thousands of people around the world have read this book and continue to seek it out for its elucidation of the body-mind connection.

It is a defining and seminal book within the field of somatic psychology. It comes with my highest recommendation.

Complex PTSD: From Surviving to Thriving
by Pete Walker

Note: So I should preface this book recommendation with the caveat that this is not, strictly, a book that is just about somatic psychology. It encompasses some somatic techniques, but is more a general all-purpose book about healing trauma. It utilizes an integrative approach – inclusive of somatic, cognitive, behavioral and other approaches. Nevertheless, it is a tremendously potent and powerful book for anybody who may have experienced developmental trauma in their childhood years. (Okay, with that public service announcement out of the way, here we go! Back to our regularly scheduled book recommendation… :-) )

If there is one book that could make you feel deeply understood, just through the act of reading someone else's words, it is most likely to be this book. The author writes from a deeply human and vulnerable perspective, as a survivor himself of childhood abuse and trauma.

When you read this book you have a sense that Pete Walker really gets it.

He understands the experience of the trauma survivor in a way that is uncanny, remarkable, and deeply heartfelt.

This is a book that is written in a down to earth, intelligent, but conversational tone – and hits on so many deep and profound insights page by page. For many trauma survivors, the simple experience of seeing themselves recognized on the page, can feel remarkably liberating and healing.

There are very few books that have as much of an impassioned following is this one. Indeed, there are videos of people from around the world on YouTube simply reading passages from this book out loud, both as a gift to the world, and as part of their own personal process of healing.

They read this book. Feel recognized. Grieve the childhood that they had. And the childhood they never had.

Words are magic. They have power. This is, for many, a deeply healing book – perhaps the most directly healing book of any on this topic.

by Eugene Gendlin

I think I was at a bookstore in Ann Arbor, Michigan called "Crazy Wisdom" which had all of the books that seemed to tug at my heart and soul. Maybe you have a bookstore like this in your neck of the woods. I found this little book on the shelves by Eugene Gendlin, a philosophy professor at the University of Chicago who turned into a rock star in the field of somatic psychotherapy. He wasn't a psychologist himself, but impacted the field greatly.

This little book, which seemed so imminently digestible, accessible, and readable is and should be required reading for anybody who is in the field of somatic psychotherapy. It introduces the foundational concept of the "felt sense" to the world – the intuitive body-feel we get inside when we have unresolved issues. Gendlin realized that people could be taught to develop their connection with the "felt sense" – and could learn to "think at the edge" – beyond their habitual patterning and behavior. He developed a six stage model for accessing the "felt sense" and using it to uncover novelty and guide us towards our next right action.

This is a seminal book that can be read straight through. I remember drinking it in – reading it straight through in one sitting – and feeling like I had discovered something electric and profound. My whole body went abuzz. It opened the gateway to so many things for me – and I recommend it with whole heart. 

Healing Developmental Trauma
by Laurence Heller and Aline LaPierre

Okay – so, this is a book that we used as a foundational book in our Individual Development class at JFK University, when I directed the program over there. It was one of our students' favorites. And it is easy to see why. The writing is good. It is emotionally resonant, and the early chapters, in particular, really capture both the longing and the fear that many of us have for connection.

The general thesis of the book is that there are things that occur during our childhood that create particular "survival style" characteristics in people as they move into adult life. This is a common theme within many modalities, including Hakomi's "Response to Life" model, Schema Therapy, or Alexander Lowen's character typology.  But this book makes this typology quite accessible and digestible, and quite frankly very moving. It's the kind of book that you might want to read slowly – one that you might want to pause while reading, because you might very frequently feel seen and recognized on the page.

I remember one of my students saying that the book "broke her open" in a good way – and that it helped her connect with, and give language to, pain and trauma that she had held within for a very long time. Yes, it is that good.


My Body Compass
by Albert wong

So, I'm partial to this book.  In full disclosure, because I wrote it. So, perhaps it doesn't really belong in the pantheon of greatness.  But, in all honesty, I think it is actually a useful book and a good one. It's more of a workbook – that gives a lot of space for journaling and writing, but there's also sections where it intends to teach folks how to use their own body as an inner compass. I call it the BodyCompass practice -- the practice of being present with all the sensations, emotions, and feelings inside you as you make your way through life.

 It's a simple book, filled with easy to follow bite -sized exercises – and a lot of inspirational quotes and cool prompts.  If you want to start to actually learn to listen within, this book creates a space for you to begin. It includes a lot of room to journal about your interoceptive experience – which can help you feel healthier, have better relationships, sleep better, and improve your sense of centered, grounded direction in the world.  

In Trauma and the Body, psychologist Pat Ogden gives us a fascinating look into the world of somatic psychology. With her engaging and conversational prose, Ogden draws us into the connections between the body and mind when it comes to trauma.

As Ogden explains through numerous case studies and research, trauma gets lodged in the most primal parts of our brain. Our bodies then remember the traumatic experience long after our conscious minds have forgotten. We may no longer remember what happened, but we continue to feel anxiety, panic, or disconnect without knowing why.

This is where somatic psychology comes in. Through techniques like tracking bodily sensations, guided movements, and touch, somatic psychologists help clients unlock trauma stored in the body. Ogden shares how introducing small, physical actions like stamping one's feet or pushing against a wall can shift a client's stuck nervous system. The stories of clients releasing years of pent-up tears or finally feeling safe in their bodies are incredibly moving.

Ogden dives deep into the neuroscience, unpacking how trauma impacts the lower limbic system and the resulting dysregulation. But she also gives concrete tools and techniques therapists can use to re-engage the body's capacity to self-regulate. Her compassionate approach recognizes the adaptiveness of trauma symptoms while providing a roadmap to wholeness.

With insightful analysis and empathic wisdom, Ogden convinces us somatic psychology is critical for trauma treatment. Our bodies do keep the score, but they also hold the possibility of healing. This book is essential reading for understanding how we can help people come home to their bodies once again.

Last butt not least: 

I want to share with you a labor of love, a project that has been years in the making and close to my heart. "The Healing Trauma Workbook" -- written by yours truly -- is a culmination of my own journey of healing and the knowledge I've gained through years of studying and practicing various therapeutic modalities.

As someone who has navigated the complex landscape of trauma, I understand the challenges and the longing for guidance and support. This book is my attempt to offer a helping hand, a companion on your journey towards healing and self-discovery.

In creating this workbook, I've drawn from the wisdom of polyvagal theory, attachment theory, somatic trauma therapy, and holistic thinking. I've woven these approaches together in a way that I hope will resonate with your experiences and provide you with a comprehensive set of tools to support your healing process.

One of the aspects I'm most proud of in this book is the way it describes the states of hyper -and hypoarousal. I've poured my heart into finding the words that capture these experiences in a way that is both poetic and relatable, in the hopes that you'll feel seen and understood as you read them.

This workbook is not just a collection of exercises and practices; it's a reflection of my belief in the resilience of the human spirit and the power of integrative healing. It's an invitation to explore your own inner landscape with curiosity, compassion, and courage.

Whether you're a survivor, a mental health professional, or someone seeking to better understand yourself and your experiences, I hope this book will be a valuable resource on your journey. I hope it will remind you that you are not alone, that healing is possible, and that you have the strength within you to reclaim your life from the grip of trauma.

With heartfelt gratitude and support, wherever you are in your journey,


PS.  If you're at the stage where you are looking for actual graduate school training programs, you can check my blog post here, where I go over your main options for graduate school training in somatic psychology in the US.  

Other great books:

Geared towards Clinicians:
Aposhyan, S. (2004). Body-mind psychotherapy: Principles, techniques, and practical applications. New York: W W Norton & Co.

Cornell, A.  (2013). Focusing in Clinical Practice: The Essence of Change. New York:  W W Norton & Co.

Levine, P.A. (2010). In an Unspoken Voice: How the Body Releases Trauma and Restores Goodness, Berkeley, California: North Atlantic Press 

Mischke-Reeds, M. (2019). Somatic Psychotherapy Toolbox: 125 Worksheets and Exercises to Treat Trauma & Stress. New York:  PESI.
Ogden, P., & Fisher, J. (2015). The Norton series on interpersonal neurobiology. Sensorimotor psychotherapy: Interventions for trauma and attachment (D. Del Hierro & A. Del Hierro, Illustrators). New York: W W Norton & Co.

For General Public and Clinicians:

Gendlin, E. T. (1981). Focusing. New York: Bantam Books. 

Van der Kolk, B. A. (2014) The Body Keeps the ScoreBrain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma. New York: Viking.

Whatever your path, I wish you strength and courage in your journey. It’s not easy, but the sense of relief and understanding is worthwhile. If you are feeling anxious, or depressed, please seek help from a medical professional.
Photo credit:  Lina Trochez @ Unsplash

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