Two Foundational Somatic Interventions

Feb 20, 2023
Chelsea Gates Unsplash

When the mind and body work together, you can do some fantastic things. You can interpret a situation in your life differently and live with less stress. You can create a physical environment that nurtures you. You can finish out that hard encounter in a way that feels good instead of bad. But there is another step — another journey — and it’s what you’re here for, right? It’s knowing which road to take, even when it’s unclear where it will lead. Somatic psychotherapy helps people do just that.

Somatic psychotherapy is a gentle approach that can feasibly be used with all sorts of people, from those experiencing lower levels of mental distress to those experiencing higher levels of physical and emotional stress. It can be incredibly profitable for people who are stuck—people who are too angry to fall asleep, or too anxious to finish a presentation, or too sad to interact with anyone except their dog.

I keep coming back to this question of body: yours and mine, the body I’m in. How do we inhabit it? How do we move through our lives? If you can bring awareness to yourself in this way, if you can be curious about how you interact with your environment, I think that’s the place where healing can begin.

As for me, I’m grateful for the experience, and it continues to work its way into my life. I’ve found that I can draw on the tools of somatic psychology in my daily life, whether it is sensing my body during a stressful moment or examining my reactions during tense conversations. I won’t claim that therapy instantly cured me of all my anxieties and phobias (or cured me of anything at all, for that matter); nor will it resolve all of your problems. Instead, consider going to therapy like introducing yourself to a gentle stranger — one you could potentially be friends with down the road.

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.

This process may be a little different each time, but you’ll want to write down your thoughts and feelings as they come. The more honest you are with yourself, the more effective these exercises will be.

Here are two of my faves: the body scan and installing resources.

1. The Body Scan

In somatic psychotherapy, we begin by listening to the body. We bring the guiding light of awareness into our interior world.

As we turn our attention inward to our felt experience…
Are there any areas of tension or constriction?

Are there any areas of calm or ease?
What is the quality of sensation in these places?
Is it hot or cold?
Tight or relaxed?
Might there be a shape to the inner sensation?
Might it have a head or tail?
Is there a color?

By noticing the subtle landscape of your inner world, you can begin to deepen your connection with yourself and allow for the natural, organic unfolding of change that comes from within.

We become who we are meant to be, by being with who and where we are.  

When we become aware, change is possible. 

What is it like to be you right now?

2. Installing Resources

It is perhaps easiest to understand the concept of resources by first introducing and sitting with the following questions.

What in the world helps us feel safe?

Where do we feel safe?

When do we feel safe?

The answer to these questions points us in the direction of what supports us and nourishes us. These things that support and nourish us are, within the world of somatics, called “resources.” 

Sometimes resources are things, like a favorite blanket, or cozy jeans.  Sometimes resources are activities, like hiking in nature, or dancing in the rain. These are things that help us feel steady and stable again when we are feeling wobbly.

So, if a person is feeling unstable, they might need to resource themselves for a little bit. For example, they might need to feel their feet underneath them, or perhaps take a few deep breaths. Maybe they have a favorite song that they listen to, or a friend that they can reach out to and lean upon.

In somatic psychotherapy, there are many different kinds of resources that might be utilized. Sometimes, therapists use a range of “attachment figures” as resources – for example, as in Laurel Parnell’s Attachment-Focused EMDR. In Dr. Parnell’s model, she utilizes protective figures, nurturing figures, wise figures and a safe place.  These are classic resources that can be imagined into felt experience. Sometimes, in the literature, we call this process of imagining resources into present-felt-experience "resource installation." 

The basic protocol of attachment focused resource installation is to imagine a range of attachment figures with us and around us, surrounding us in our safe place. Once the imaginative imagery takes hold, we then from a somatic perspective work to absorb the nourishment and support from each of them.

Many different protocols utilize this technique, or some variation thereof, and it is a powerful way of helping people come back to safety in the midst of unsafe circumstance.

Photo credit: Chelsea Gates @ Unsplash

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