Leveraging the Power of Somatic Wisdom Techniques
Our bodies carry an innate understanding and awareness, something we can refer to as somatic wisdom.
Traditional psychology has long emphasized “talk therapy” using cognitive and verbal processes as the primary treatment for distress and disregulation. But as you may have discovered in your own practice, somatic wisdom techniques and breath work can be tremendously effective by beginning at the level of the body.
We now know from research that dissociation is an issue of the nervous system. Including the body’s own wisdom and experience in therapy can have a direct effect on vitality, resilience, health and wellbeing. These practices all address the fundamental activation and regulation of the nervous system, as well as providing a portal into implicit memories.
Learn how the principles and practices of Somatic Experiencing® can create permanent transformation of traumatic experiences with Dr. Peter Levine’s April webinar Shifting from Constricted Past to Embodied Presence and Forward Action.
Somatic methods can benefit a variety of severe conditions, including:
- Dissociative issues connected with attention deficit
- Sensory processing disorders
- Developmental trauma
Somatic wisdom techniques also benefit those with less extreme disorders, such as anxiety responses, emotional disregulation and challenges to intimate relationships.
Somatic Wisdom and Organic Intelligence
Although all of my Somatic Experiencing (SE) faculty members worldwide teach the use of somatic wisdom to heal trauma, Steve Hoskinson, a southern California-based therapist and SE faculty member, specializes in what he calls Organic Intelligence.
His approach emphasizes training a clinician’s powers of observation based on elements of the “biological heritage of the human organism.” This means we need “to establish the conditions in which a disregulated nervous system recognizes its innate capacity for balance…. Affect regulation [for example] has to do with the entire system of energy processing within the nervous system.”
In terms of our biological advancement, verbal & cognitive changes are secondary to physiological receptiveness. For evolutionary reasons, the human organism prioritizes mechanisms of physical survival over cognitive and intellectual processes.
Stated in more practical terms, people cannot take in new information or make lasting cognitive intellectual or emotional changes if they are caught in a state of persistent panic or defensiveness; these are major physiological and neurological features of chronic anxiety and PTSD, as well as autism and Asperger’s. As long as underlying physiological patterns dominate our patients’ responses, our clinical interventions are going to be mitigated, if not ineffectual, without focus on the body.
Practices designed to shed light on the body-mind connection can have a direct effect on many aspects of daily life such as:
- Health and wellbeing
- Skill and coordination
A recording is now available of February’s expert webinar by Dawson Church presenting on his newest book Psychological Trauma: Healing Its Roots in Brain, Body, and Memory.
Tools for Therapists: Left Brain and Right Brain Shifts
It’s very old news that the right and left hemispheres of the brain differ significantly from each other. A new perspective is Iain McGilchrist’s theory that the right hemisphere specializes in “betweenness” or taking in the relational field. Its focus is on “us” or how we are related to each other. We also know that the right brain has “both/and” capabilities and puts us in touch with embodied experience of the present moment.
Research suggests that about 75% of the population (and certainly our culture as a whole) is living in the “left shift,” The consequence, however, is that we are no longer in ventral vagal attunement which means we move out of relationship with one another. When we become overwhelmed by the client’s difficulty and frightened by our own reactions and issues, one way we cope is to shift our awareness to the left brain so we no longer feel stressed.
So rather than focusing on the interventions and protocols we want to use with a client, we must be open, receptive, non-controlling, and non-judgmental in order to open and deepen the mutual experience of safety. It is hugely important that we leverage Steven Porges’ research on ventral vagal experience so that we shift to the right, providing the safety necessary for deep listening and connection.
A recording will soon be available for Kathy Kain’s The Polyvagal Blueprint for Trauma, Connection, and Recovery, part of the Expanding Beyond Trauma in Theory and Treatment webinar series.
Body Intelligence (BQ) for Somatic Wisdom
IQ is a standardized way of referring to a certain form of reasoning intelligence. Then there’s EQ, or “Emotional Intelligence,” which refers to a person’s interpersonal instincts. More recently, there’s also a movement called “BQ,” an acronym for Body Intelligence. Building on Howard Gardner’s groundbreaking contribution on Multiple Intelligences, Jim Gavin & Margaret Moore outline three pillars required for balanced BQ:
1st Pillar: Body Awareness
Awareness of the body’s experience can be grouped into two categories: gross and subtle sensations.
2nd Pillar: Knowledge
Knowledge covers scientific knowledge about anatomy, physiology, neuroscience and nutrition. It also refers to personal understanding of those dynamics within one’s own body.
3rd Pillar: Engagement
Engagement is about our ability to stick with a practice, create a new habit or make a lasting change in choices around food and lifestyle.
My next post will cover BQ in greater depth, offering practical applications of somatic wisdom for you to use in your practice with clients.