Mindfulness Based Somatic Psychotherapy

Somatic Body Based Mindfulness Therapy

Introduction to Mindfulness Based Somatic Psychotherapy

While the techniques and strategies that we use in therapy vary depending on individual needs, our dominant therapeutic approach is one that is mindfulness-based and utilizes somatic psychotherapy (vs. the so-called “talking cure”). 
This is also known as “body” psychotherapy because it is focused on information held in the body that is not always available in our analyzing, rationalizing and logical brain.  Somatic or “body” psychotherapy refers to the world of underlying beliefs, habits, memories and emotions that are often outside of our everyday conscious awareness.  

Mindfulness somatic psychotherapy is much less focused on what happened to you in the past and more on how your body is responding in the present moment. 

Mind-Body Somatic therapy

Non-Verbal Experience & Implicit Knowledge

Not all of what we *know* is in our active thinking brain that we often draw upon to problem-solve and find solutions.  This rational consciousness that sits in the neocortex part of the left hemisphere is very word- intensive and the part most prospective clients bring to the proverbial therapy couch.  (It’s also the part of the brain that many couples bring to their interactions as they pursue “fixing” as a way of establishing connection).

The methodologies upon which a somatic approach is based are designed to elicit underlying beliefs, habits, memories and emotions that are encoded in implicit memory that lies outside of our everyday awareness.  These aspects of implicit memory can spin a story of events that sometimes conflicts with our rational “narrative.”  

Why Access to Implicit Memory Matters
These implicit experiences often shape our perception of things, attitudes and responses.  Think of your “gut” feeling of dread that prevents you from accepting a social invitation or that expansive feeling of joy that encourages you to greet a friend.

In other words, though we think much of our decision-making comes from our rational minds, our inner experience plays a huge role.  These various sensations, impulses and core beliefs that make up our procedural knowledge often lie undetected.  They function much more rapidly than the process of bringing rational thought into awareness. 

They become very relevant in therapy when they are the basis of our distress and reported “symptoms.”  It takes intentional focus cultivated with an open and curious mind to access this material.   

Procedural vs Declarative Knowledge
Because much of this procedural knowledge is prelinguistic,  a somatic therapist will emphasize and draw attention to sensations, affect, muscle tension, phrases, images, impulses, quality of voice, gestures, posture, and facial expressions that are reflected in various nervous system patterns.   (Declarative memory relates to the memory content that we recall using words that we often relate to others in the form of some narrative).  Many of our experiences, particularly those from childhood, are stored in the form of sensory-motor reactions in our bodies as part of our implicit memory.  These contribute much to how we organize our beliefs and our sense of Self.  Access to this information, in addition to the meanings that we associate with these reactions, helps bring us more fully into self-awareness.

What Does A Somatic Based Session Look Like? 
Accordingly, much of your session time in a mindfulness-based practice is not dedicated to problem-solving, intellectual knowledge, logical processing or speculation regarding emotional history or past conflicts because this doesn’t tell the full emotional story of what is going on and won’t on its own generate lasting change on a structural level.  Endless scrutiny of who did what and why, in many instances, only serves to reinforce distance in relationships, blame, shame and self-critical judgments. More importantly, if the neocortex is in overdrive without connection to underlying body memories, perspective and perception are usually way off and not terribly helpful.  Sometimes, it’s just random guessing.

Somatic Oriented Questions
A mind-body approach is much less focused on what others have done, and more on how your body is responding in the present moment. With a mindfulness based somatic healing approach, we ask ourselves:

~”What is going on ?” and

~” Where is it coming from?” (vs “why?”)

This is the process for knowing what we need and how best to respond in our interpersonal interactions.  This is reflective of what is also known as a “bottom-up” approach to therapy vs. “top-down” i.e. thinking or analyzing to interpret or access meaning. We care focused more on what “feels” right to the body versus what we “figure out” in our heads. 

Expressing Emotions
An important part of this process is the discovery that we can express our emotions in many ways beyond labeling them with words.  Just because we don’t have words to describe feelings doesn’t mean that we don’t experience them on some level.  Remember, our emotional experience might be beyond our cognitive awareness, but it is no less powerful in terms of its impact on our choices, behaviors and outcomes. These outcomes include the impact of this internal experience the nervous systems of others who who show up in our emotional orbit.


“Problem-solving, intellectual knowledge, logical processing or speculation regarding emotional history or past conflicts doesn’t make many of the structural brain changes necessary for therapeutic healing on a sustained level.  The kind of healing that address trauma and attachment injuries.”

The Mindfulness-Based Somatic Therapy Session

The Benefits of Somatic Therapy For Trauma and Attachment Wounds
Relational trauma and attachment injuries show up in our interactions with others.  The emotional foundation that impacts so many of our relationships as an adult is primarily formed in the first two years of life when our linguistic framework is still in major development.  Indeed, research on development and neurobiology demonstrates the profound impact of our early relationships on meaning making.  Small babies will push away mother faces when overstimulated and engage in various forms of “reach” to reconnect if the mother’s face is immobile. These are the “baby beginnings” of our adult attachment strategies. 

Accessing stored experience that is non-verbal and outside of conscious awareness isn’t going to flow from much of our rational and logical thinking that is very word intensive.

A mindfulness based somatic approach is designed to assist you in studying internal processes that ultimately shape and inform your full identity and interactions.  It is a valued approach in working with trauma and attachment wounds because it can help clients get “unstuck” from distressful emotional reactivity that is often expressed on autopilot in repeat cycles. 

It can also help us express our lives with more purpose and meaning as it brings greater awareness and access to our core beliefs and values.


“The emotional foundation that impacts so many of our relationships as an adult is primarily formed in the first two years of life.”

Readiness for Mindfulness Based Somatic Practice

yoga hakomi body mindfulness

Observer Stance

Detecting the core beliefs that affect your perceptions and behavior requires that you enter into brief periods where you are sufficiently calm to discern a “felt sense” of your own reactions.  We sometimes refer to this as an “observer stance.”  This state of being is called mindfulness.

Expectations of clients
The process requires a threshold of emotional stability and self-awareness and works best:

  1. If you can track your inner experience and provide feedback on what you are experiencing.
  2. If you are able to focus on your inner experience in a way that is relaxed enough to tolerate reactions;
  3. If you are willing to experience some uncomfortable and probably intense feelings while accepting prompts from your therapist; and
  4. If you have sufficient curiosity and ability to be open and honest about your inward focused state.

“Condition your nervous system to better attune to the human voice for increased social engagement and connection.”

Mindfulness Details

Individualized & Experimental
This approach is very in-the-moment and experimental as the therapist draws from your real time micro responses that express your deeper layers.  Those deep layers reflect how your body organizes your past experiences to inform your current perceptions and behavior.  Your therapist will create little experiments while you are in this mindfulness state.  These experiments are always voluntary, often spontaneous, and basically designed to evoke reactions that will be reflections of habits and beliefs that make you who you are. 

Consistency & Self-Study
It may take some time to build to this state as your adaptive unconscious shifts so that you can enter mindfulness and allow reactions.  It requires a fair amount of self-study in between sessions and the expectation is that you do this consistently and not just when you are feeling out of sorts or triggered. 

Contraindications-Not for Everyone
This approach may be beyond the current capacity of certain individuals such as those with serious underlying medical conditions, self-harm, psychosis, frequent suicide ideation or those who dissociate frequently.    Pregnancy might also be a factor.  In such cases, please share your concerns.  The clinician will decide if you might benefit from an alternative intervention or a referral. 

Here’s some additional practice and information to help you develop self-compassion and manage relational wounds:

You can find other soundbites related to preparation for therapy here .  Stay in tune with issues related to your well-being and mental health right here in the Urim Recovery Journal .

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