As a society we laud the analytical, strategizing, evaluating tactics of our over-thinking minds. But these attributes of our human cognitive abilities often keep us only in our heads and trapped in the continual loop of problem-solving when we experience discomfort in our lives. When we live from only our thoughts we tend to get caught up in anxious and depressive patterns that become so overwhelming that we unconsciously look for ways to numb out through binge watching, endless scrolling screen time, over-eating and drinking, and excessive activities. When we numb out and dull the edges of our over-active minds we are strongly ignoring the one thing that could be the gateway to feeling more grounded and in control of our lives: our body.
Our bodies are a key factor to our mental well-being. Thinking through our problems and strategizing for change in our behaviors will likely only lead us right back to the same repeated issues and patterns. But if we invite the body into our experiences to counter our over-thinking, we begin to develop new pathways towards well-being. The good news is the process to achieve this is to simply turn our attention more towards the sensations of our bodies in the present moment. Every moment of every day our body, not only our brain, is processing sensation and information to inform us of what we need to survive and thrive. However, our busy, fast-paced, technologically driven lives force us to hit override on the body’s signals of sensation causing us to ignore the vast wisdom the body is providing.
When I work with clients in therapy, we integrate the body into the talk therapy practice because often the body has more valuable insight than the recurring negative thought cycle. For many of my new-to-therapy clients, this can feel a very foreign process initially and time is taken to develop what I call a personal somatic vocabulary, because learning the language of the body is like learning a new language and takes time. This is done in session with the very simple practice of inviting awareness towards sensations that show up in the body in the present moment while expressing a particular thought or emotion. For example, I may talk of childhood experiences with my grandmother and while doing so I can detect a very warm feeling along my spine and a gentle grounding pull in my belly that leads me to feeling safe confirming that my grandmother was a nurturing figure who provided safety in my childhood.
Bessel Van Der Kolk, the well-known psychiatrist and researcher on psychological trauma and the body, titled his famous book The Body Keep the Score, which points to the body’s profound role of recording memories and experiences in the tissues. Embracing this concept certainly highlights the importance of including the body in everyone’s life narrative in the therapy room, because if there is any story to tell about our lives it cannot be told only from our thoughts but from the recorded history in our flesh and bones which hold infinite wisdom. Pat Ogden, author and somatic (body-based) psychotherapist reminds us with her words, “The body always leads us home . . . if we can simply learn to trust sensation and stay with it long enough for it to reveal appropriate action, movement, insight, or feeling.”
For licensed therapists that integrate and work with the body in therapy, look for those who have trained specifically in Somatic Psychology and/or a modality that focuses on somatic theory or somatic practices.