While we might expect to engage our minds when talking through issues in counselling, knowing something cognitively only goes so far. It may require more than our rational minds to gain a fundamental understanding of ourselves, particularly as intense rationalising can even be symptomatic of attempts to escape difficult feelings.
As Freud asserted, the psyche is first and foremost somatic; by which he meant that our primary experience is physical. I help people gain a deeper understanding of their body’s wisdom by encouraging them to pay close attention to their immediate experience. Psychological wounds and uncomfortable emotions can be unconsciously locked into the body so lasting change occurs only when we are able to release any enduring rigidity in body and mind. Not only do we let go of pain and fear, but connecting with ourselves as embodied beings brings greater colour and discernment to our lives.
“The mind is like the wind and the body like the sand: if you want to know how the wind is blowing, you can look at the sand”, Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen
We might wish we could think ourselves well, yet complex psychological processes are largely unconscious. While they remain unconscious, we may only be able to identify them by recognizing the longer patterns in our lives. Often these patterns keep repeating themselves over and over.
Somatic approaches allow us to access early memories and retrain our emotional systems to perceive our environment more accurately. Stressful events and disruptions in early life mean we can perceive our surrounding environment as hostile and default to fight, flight or freeze survival defenses. The body regulates our responses based on states of perceived safety. Only by addressing our whole human system can past trauma be effectively healed. Working mindfully with the body, we gradually come to identify and listen to those parts of ourselves that we most need to attend to.
Listening to the body helps us better understand our longstanding patterns and offers a method of effecting profound transformation. Hence it is vital that we learn to trust our somatic experience and to actively engage the body in the processes of our physical, psychological and spiritual recovery.