What is Somatic Transformation?
Somatic Transformation is a healing modality that uses relational and bodily-centered practices to help people change the imprint of trauma. Whether in the form of early emotional neglect or overwhelming adverse events, trauma alienates people from others, themselves, even their own bodies, generating a profound sense of loneliness and separation from humanity.
Inspired by neuroscience, developmental psychology, and somatic healing practices from traditional societies, Somatic Transformation seeks to identify and then integrate an individual’s bodily-based, intuitive wisdom with the abstract knowledge of the mind through six therapeutic practices: Somatic Empathy, Embodiment, Somatic Awareness, Somatic Inquiry, Somatic Intervention, and Somatic Reflection. The term somatic comes from the Greek word soma, which refers to unity between the body and mind.
At the core of Somatic Transformation is Somatic Empathy, a practice that communicates to people suffering from trauma that they are seen, felt, and understood just as they are, enabling them to feel felt.
Practitioners of somatic empathy learn to be receptive to even the most hidden traumatic-based suffering of the other while offering containment, aliveness, connection, and integration in the moment, despite the dissociation, darkness, and confusion associated with trauma. The practice of somatic empathy creates a mutual, shared space of caring and healing, known as the intersubjective field. When a strong intersubjective field is established between people, trauma can be held and healed within that space.
The body is the primary source of information about one’s internal state of being in the moment and what is happening in the environment. Somatic Awareness is a form of mindfulness that focuses on bodily-based phenomena, the moment-to-moment changes that take place within a healthy body. These changes inform the brain about safety, danger, and life threat.
Somatic Awareness offers a fundamental source of knowledge, and when combined with caring and compassion, is able to reveal the hidden wounds of trauma in the context of an intersubjective relationship. Practiced over time, somatic awareness strengthens innate wisdom and helps us to make sense out of disconnected and fragmented elements of trauma.
It can be a challenge to make sense of the fragmented inner world of trauma survivors. To help them heal, practitioners of Somatic Transformation must first learn to fully embody their own lived experience. To embody is to fully incorporate lived experience by organizing one’s own thoughts and images in a sensory, bodily-based form. Embodiment informs our moment-to-moment decisions, the choices we make to perceive reality and track bodily-based experience.
When disembodied, painful aspects of our lives remain unintegrated, leaving gaps in our sense of self and resulting in the inability to resonate and attune to others, especially when intense emotions are activated. When helping professionals become embodied and accurately perceive their own interoceptions, internal bodily cues that indicate subtle changes, they can develop the ability to discern the cues of the internal world of another. When embodied and authentically interested in connection with another, we can learn to feel, touch, and taste the inner experience of the other without having to carry their experiences for them in our own bodies.
Based on phenomenological research methods, a somatic inquiry seeks to discern the essential qualities of an experience, the patterns and structures that constitute meaning. Practitioners of Somatic Transformation use Somatic Inquiry to uncover the sensory fragments, intense emotions, and disturbing images of disassociated traumatic memories while communicating caring, connection, and healing in the moment. The neurological patterns that develop after traumatic experience can be precisely revealed with somatic inquiry and targeted for specific somatic interventions.
Trauma disrupts healthy functioning of the brain and nervous system, creating dysregulated neural states that negatively affect personality, physical and mental health, and behavior. Somatic Interventions are exercises and meditations designed to regulate the chronic neural patterns of hyperarousal, hypoarousal, anxiety, and depression. When we can identify and shift dysregulated neural states in the moment through somatic practices, we can teach the disturbed autonomic nervous system to maintain more optimal states for growth and development.
Another function of Somatic Interventions is to restore higher cortical processing, often interrupted in moments of trauma. Embodiment of sensory-based images, dreams, and archetypes can awaken vitality, guide the full re-consolidation of anguishing memories, and restore organization and meaning to a person’s inner world. These Somatic Interventions can make use of music, drama, and creative writing, but are most often centered around drawings that represent sensory experience, allowing the subcortical elements of trauma to be reconnected with more complex cortical processing.
Somatic Reflection is a shared body-centered dialogue that synthesizes the sensations, intense emotions, and symbolic images of lived experience for incorporation into the self. In the context of an intersubjective field, Somatic Reflection allows people to grasp the powerful forces of trauma that have been at the root of their struggles in life, forgive themselves and others, and acknowledge the ways they have unintentionally hurt others.
Providing opportunities for gradual shifts in self-identity and behavior, Somatic Reflections often conclude the processing of lived experience but can also initiate or be embedded within a therapeutic encounter.