It certainly isn’t new, though – Wilhelm Reich (1897-1957) brought body awareness into psychoanalysis by introducing physical touch, which was anathema to the profession of psychotherapy. Pierre Janet predated him in referencing the body in his psychotherapeutic studies. In terms of popular science, somatic therapy is definitely the new kid on the block.
Over the years, I have developed a deep and abiding respect for the wisdom of the body in trying to protect itself from harm, and equally, by the profound and almost immediate impact somatic therapy has on alleviating trauma and its concomitant symptoms, however severe and inexplicable they might seem to conventional medicine.
Societal implications of somatics: We are an amalgamation of emotional, psychological, biological and evolutionary aspects, and ‘shape’ or form ourselves through social, economic, cultural and historical forces. The way men walk on the street in patriarchical cultures, the way women cower, the generational impact of slavery on African Americans, the impact of the holocaust on Jewish families, including health and somatic impacts passed on to their children who did not witness the trauma personally, are examples of how we shape ourselves. Trauma is passed on from generation to generation, not just culturally, but epigenetically – by changing the functioning of genes.
Within a lifetime, children who are abused are more likely to be in abusive relationships, I suspect because it is the ‘familiar’. When children grow with the concept of familiar and comforting to be what is destructive, when the child grows, s/he will reach for the same in his or her adulthood. Studies with soldiers returning from war inexplicably showed them experiencing exaggerated stress during peace, and them calming down when shown videos of war. In these instances, while intellectually they know they are safe, they know this relationship is ‘wrong’ for them, but their body knowledge seeks what is damaging to them, somatic intervention is needed.
As a society, we are a sum of the parts. Look at increasing incidents of road rage, hypertension, cancer, environmental devastation around us. As a society, we cannot create peace until we have peace in our own selves. Unless we transform ourselves holistically, incorporating somatic transformation, we as individuals would only manifest what is within us.
What are we as Indians today? As Jews today? As African Americans today? What do we stand for? A snapshot of our physical, medical and environmental wellbeing depicts deep and abiding trauma. When Martin Luther King Jr. said, ‘Be the peace you wish to see in the world’, I suspect he was suggesting that changing the world begins with you. All of you – your mind, and your soma.