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Why Involve the Body in Psychotherapy?

Welcome back! March's blog theme will be Somatic Therapy & Healing [Somatic means having to do with the body, FYI]. When I polled my Instagram followers (@rachelharlich) back at the end of January in my stories, Somatic Healing and LGBTQ+ Competent Therapy were neck and neck - so I listened. And I'm so glad too because this is one I'm super passionate and nerdy about.

We'll be talking polyvagal theory and the nervous system, different somatic therapy modalities, practices you can do on your own or with loved ones, and why you might even want to involve the body in psychotherapy period. Let's start there.

𝗪𝗵𝘆 𝗶𝗻𝘃𝗼𝗹𝘃𝗲 𝘁𝗵𝗲 𝗯𝗼𝗱𝘆 𝗶𝗻 𝗽𝘀𝘆𝗰𝗵𝗼𝘁𝗵𝗲𝗿𝗮𝗽𝘆?

Does it seem odd to you that a therapist would be concerned with your body? Does it feel uncomfortable? The body is often a controversial topic in the realm of mental health and there is large emphasis placed on cognitive behavioral approaches which take a 'mind over matter' approach to our wellbeing (I could go on and on about this but I'll spare y'all for now). Many psychotherapists, clinical supervisors, and professors will encourage therapists and trainees to *never* touch clients even for a handshake or a hug. The field of psychotherapy (and the more traditional schools of therapy in particular) seem to be afraid of the body.

Why might we want to rebel against these norms and consider involving the body in therapy?:

  • Trauma lives in the body through nervous system responses like anxiety, fear, depression, shutdown, dissociation and more.

  • Body image issues, chronic illness/pain, body dysmorphia, and gender dysphoria may lead to having a fraught relationship with one's body - maybe we're angry at it, maybe we feel completely disconnected to our body

  • If we live in a marginalized body, we may have internalized or otherwise suffered the cumulative effects of body oppression due to racism, ableism, cissexism, heterosexism, and sizeism

  • We view our body as only as good as it's ability to perform and be "productive" due to the internalization of capitalism

  • We've intellectualized our wellness and mental health as a way to avoid feeling uncomfortable emotions and sensations

Does any of this resonate for you? And as a therapist or client, why might you involve the body in your therapy sessions? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Stay tuned here and on my Instagram to keep learning more.

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