What does “somatic” mean?

The word “somatic” is trending hard in the therapy world these days, but many clients who could benefit from somatic work don’t even know what it means. Terms like this are often used as mechanisms of gatekeeping — if you don’t know the language, how can you access the healing? For this reason, I generally try to keep fancy language like this out of my practice. But the term “somatic” captures something that I’ve found no other term for in our society:

“[S]omatic . . . describe[s] the whole and indivisible nature of the human being. This means that it’s not so much working with the mind and the body as it is an implicit understanding that each person is the mind and the body, together–a holistic and global understanding of the biological, cultural, emotional, psychological, spiritual, energetic, and evolutionary functioning of the human organism.” – from “A Brief Overview and History of Somatics”

In western (colonial capitalist) society, we’re mostly taught that our mind is us (“I think, therefore I am”), and that our body is a sort of appendage that either weighs us down (aches, pains, illness, disability, aging, and death) or an object to be mastered (weightlifting, working out, dieting, fasting, eating disorders). Somatic healing recognizes that our body is us as much as our mind is — and that in fact, our mind can often get in the way of our bodies’ inherent wisdom.

Surrogate partner therapy and somatic sex education, the two modalities I call home, are both grounded in the belief that processing trauma and healing ourselves starts with hands-on, bodies-on learning. The way we reprogram old habits that have us stuck, scared, and alone is to try on new behaviors at a gentle, supported pace. Verbal processing, emotional reflection, and self analysis are all part of the work as well; rather than compartmentalizing these realms of healing, we integrate all of them into our sessions.

If you’re interested in learning more about somatic healing, I recommend checking out the following organizations and healing modalities: