Somatic Psychology is generally thought to have its beginnings with Freud, or his student Wilhelm Reich.  See the graphic below for an overview of the most well-known individuals and approaches over the last century.

Somatic Psychology History

Many prominent individuals in Somatic Psychology are not listed here.  Some techniques utilized at PCAB may be similar to or may contain elements derived from the practices and people listed on this page, though what our program offers not constitute formal training in any of these.

Somatic psychology is an interdisciplinary field involving the study of the body, somatic experience, and the embodied self, including therapeutic and holistic approaches to the body. Its history extends over a hundred years back to Wilheim Reich, and its ideas align well with recent affective neuroscience research on emotions/feelings, memory, personality, attention, and consciousness. At PCAB, however, we do not emphasize the theories and theorists as much as we emphasize personal experience, because that’s where the healing happens.
Humanistic psychology emerged as a third wing of psychology in contrast to Freudian Psychotherapy and Behaviorism. Humanistic Psychology includes several approaches to counseling and therapy. Among the earliest approaches we find the developmental theory of Abraham Maslow, emphasizing a hierarchy of needs and motivations, as well as the work of Carl Rogers.  Both Maslow and Rogers were part of the Human Potential Movement.
Affective Neuroscience is a branch of neuroscience that is focused on the basis for emotions (aka affect), personality, and the multidirectional relationships between cognition, emotion, and body physiology.  Regions of the brain most often studied in Affective Neuroscience include limbic structures (e.g. hippocampus, amygdala, hypothalamus, cingulate, insula, orbital frontal cortex, ventral striatum, and the ventral medial prefrontal cortex).
Wilheim Reich was a psychoanalyst who, among other things, integrated massage into this psychotherapy practice, much to the dismay of his colleagues. Reich was a student of Freud’s and is generally considered the father of somatic psychology.
Gestalt therapy puts a focus on the here and now, especially as an opportunity to look past any preconceived notions and focus on how the present is affected by the past. Role playing also plays a large role in Gestalt therapy and allows for a true expression of feelings that may not have been shared in other circumstances. In Gestalt therapy, non-verbal cues are an important indicator of how the client may actually be feeling, despite the feelings expressed.  Gestalt was developed by Fritz Perls, a student of Reich’s.  Perls was part of the Human Potential Movement and was influenced by the Alexander Technique as well as Ida Rolf, the founder of Structural Integration.
The NeuroAffective Relational Model (NARM) was developed by Dr. Larry Heller to specifically work with developmental and complex trauma, as opposed to shock trauma, which SE is designed for. NARM’s focus on developmental trauma makes it unique among the somatic therapies, most of which were developed before the relatively new concept of developmental trauma was outlined.
Somatic Experiencing (SE) is based on the understanding that symptoms of shock trauma are the result of a dysregulation of the autonomic nervous system (ANS) and that the ANS has an inherent capacity to self-regulate that is undermined by trauma. SE bases its approach on the science that mammals automatically regulate survival responses from the primitive, non-verbal brain, mediated by the autonomic nervous system (ANS). In the wild animals spontaneously “discharge” this excess energy once safe. Involuntary movements such as shaking, trembling, and deep spontaneous breaths reset the ANS and restore equilibrium. Humans disrupt this discharge through our enculturation, rational thinking, shame, judgments, and fear of our bodily sensations. Somatic Experiencing (SE) approach works towards restoring this inherent capacity to self-regulate by facilitating the release of energy and natural survival reactions stored during a traumatic event. Sessions are normally done face-to-face, and involve a client tracking his or her own felt-sense experience.
Interpersonal Neurobiology (IPNB) is essentially an interdisciplinary field which brings together many areas in science including but not limited to anthropology, biology, linguistics, neuroscience, and psychology to determine common findings about the human experience from different perspectives. At its core, interpersonal neurobiology holds that we are ultimately who we are because of our relationships. Further, because the mind is defined as a relational process that regulates energy flow, our brains are constantly rewiring themselves. All relationships–particularly the most intimate ones with our primary care givers or romantic partners–change the brain. While it was once thought that our early experiences defined who we are, interpersonal neurobiology holds that our brains are constantly being reshaped by new relationships. A short-term dose of effective couples therapy, namely Emotionally Focused Therapy, can change the way the brain responds to fear and threat. This is but one of many neuroimaging studies that demonstrate how the brain can change over time based on relationships and new experiences. We are more social than we realize. Social pain is coded similarly in the brain as physical pain: Both forms of pain signal danger to our survival. Interpersonal neurobiology adds to the growing body of research that demonstrates just how social of an animal we are.
The Hakomi Method is a form of mindfulness-centered somatic psychotherapy developed by Ron Kurtz in the 1970s.  Hakomi uniquely relies almost entirely on mindfulness of body sensations, emotions, and memories during the entire therapy session, and the goal is to transform core beliefs. Each session follows an arc starting with building rapport and establishing mindfulness, then evoking experience through “experiments in mindfulness”, followed by processing, transformation, and integration.
Integrative Body Psychotherapy (IBP) is a psychotherapy that is based on the premise that the body, mind, and spirit are not separate, but rather integrated parts of a whole person. IBP is a synthesis and implementation of numerous therapies, including Attachment Theory, Gestalt therapy, Transpersonal therapy, Alexander technique, and Feldenkrais bodywork. One of the key concepts of IBP is that early childhood stresses are held in the body as blocks that are exhibited as chronic muscular tension, organ dysfunction, and/or lack of sensation. A key component of IBP treatment is to facilitate the release of the blocks through physical exercises, physical and emotional release, and psychological processing.
Eriksonian hypnosis is a particular kind of hypnosis that involves metaphor, storytelling, and indirect suggestion, in contrast to the direction suggestion variety that is most often associated with hypnosis in western culture. Erikson was a prominent psychotherapist and is generally considered the father of clinical hypnosis.
Focusing is a process outlined by Eugene Gendlin in the mid-1950s that involves the client focusing on the felt-sense of something, attempting to put words to it, and repeating this process when the next felt-sense arises.
Vipassana meditation, also known as mindfulness meditation, is a form of silent mediation wherein the meditator focuses on his/her own body sensations and observes them in a nonjudgmental manner that involves neither striving to maintain nor cease a sensation. It’s effectiveness is based on rewiring old neural patterns (habits) for striving towards positive sensations and suppressing or overriding negative ones.
NVC is a non-somatic method of interpersonal conflict resolution that was developed by Marshall Rosenberg. One part of it (“giraffe inward” language) involves the speaker stating an observation, followed by a feeling, the relevant need being fulfilled or not fulfilled, and lastly a request of the listener (e.g. “When you came home late, I felt disappointed, because I have a need for quality time…”). “Giraffe outward” language involves listening for the unmet need in the speaker. NVC has been used to create more peace and understanding in countless situations worldwide, including very violent and volatile contexts.
Reflective Listening (RL) is a communication strategy that involves reconstructing what the client is thinking or feeling and reflecting it back to the client to confirm that the client has been correctly understood. RI is a specific form of active listening that arose from Carl Roger’s client-centered counseling theories. RL is a key component of Motivational Interviewing.
Motivational Interviewing (MI) is a client-centered counseling style of eliciting changes in behavior by assisting clients to explore and resolve ambivalence. It is more goal-oriented and directive than non-directive styles. In addition to its role in psychotherapeutic contexts, it’s often used in manual therapy contexts.
Dr. Damasio is a Neuroscientist at USC who studies the neuroscience of interoception (bodily feelings) and the foundational role it plays in the development of the self and consciousness. Damasio formulated the somatic marker hypothesis, which details how emotions play a critical role in higher-level cognition, and his work has made him one of the most cited researchers of the 21st century. He has published many books, including The Feeling of What Happens.
Dr. Siegel is known as a mindfulness expert and for his work developing the field of Interpersonal Neurobiology, which is an interdisciplinary view of life experience that draws on over a dozen branches of science to create a framework for understanding our subjective and interpersonal lives. Siegel’s most recent work integrates the theories of Interpersonal Neurobiology with the theories of Mindfulness Practice and proposes that mindfulness practice is a highly developed process of both inter- and intra-personal attunement.  Dr. Siegel has written many books, including The Neurobiology of “We”:
How Relationships, the Mind, and the Brain Interact to Shape Who We Are and Mindsight: The New Science of Personal Transformation.
Dr. Levine is the founder of Somatic Experiencing, which is a somatic psychotherapy practice developed for the treatment of shock trauma.  Dr. Levine is the author of Waking the Tiger: Healing Trauma.
Dr. Sapolsky is a neuroendocrinologist at Stanford and author of the books Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers and Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst.
Bessel van der Kolk is psychiatrist noted for his research in the area of PTSD. His work focuses on the interaction of attachment, neurobiology, and developmental aspects of trauma’s effects on people. His major publication, the New York Times bestseller The Body keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma, talks about what we have learned about the ways the brain is shaped by traumatic experiences, how traumatic stress is a response of the entire organism, and how that knowledge needs be integrated into healing practices. Van der Kolk has published extensively on the effect trauma on development of mind, brain, and body. He has found connections to dissociative problems, borderline personality disorder, self-mutilation, and a wide range of other issues. Currently, he is conducting brain imaging research on how trauma can affect memory in individuals with PTSD. He is also researching how yoga and neurofeedback can be used as effective treatments for trauma.