Updated: Nov 18, 2022
I am a therapist. And I am deeply skeptical of therapy.
I believe in the value of a deeply relational and boundaried space. I believe that a therapeutic relationship can shift tides and reverse momentums. But I am critical of the ways in which therapy spaces decontextualize our mental health from our bodies, community, ritual, trance, and connection to the more-than-human world.
It's no surprise that somatics is having a "moment" right now. The push to reconnect to our bodies is a clear and direct response to climate change, colonialism, capitalism, white supremacy, and the ever-expanding digital world. But to some, it may seem counter-intuitive to tackle systemic oppression and global crises by turning towards ourselves and our bodies. There is so much to be dealt with "out there", what's the point of being "in here"? Shouldn't we be expanding, reaching out, connecting, and organizing?
In order to create lasting, regenerative change, we need foundations that honor our interconnection. We need to better understand ourselves, our bodies, our basic needs, our longings, and our capacity to relate. And, we need to get to know the parts of us that perpetrate harm, our exiles, and our fears. We need to welcome complexity and contradiction within ourselves. When we learn to do this within ourselves, we can more easily do this with others. And in turn, when we're surrounded by people that can welcome us as we are, we can more easily access acceptance within ourselves.
What we experience as selfishness, greed, narcissism, insecurity, greed - these are expressions of a body that has been numbed, disconnected, and shielded. These are mechanisms of a body in survival mode. And survival mode makes sense in our current contexts - we are constantly inundated with a sense of scarcity, urgency, and isolation. Our bodies are responding effectively to the stories we're told about the world we're in. What might change if we all learned how to navigate these survival strategies? What might shift if we could choose new stories?
The mental health field often perpetuates narratives like "I am broken" and "I have to heal". And practitioners and clients will often approach therapy from this lens. But these stories are rooted in binaries and eugenics. If there is always an ideal way to be, if there is a good or a bad, a well or unwell, a privileged or marginalized, a male or female, then none of us will ever be enough.
I am not interested in “healing” as it is understood in the wellness field right now. I do not accept the notion that "health" is a body without disease or trauma. I do not believe that anyone is broken. I do believe that many of us feel stuck in our survival physiology and we do not all have have access to the tools we need to find flexibility within these states.
Ultimately, we want to have more access to choicefulness and congruence. I chose to study somatics because getting closer to my body has taught me how to access these.
Choice looks like: being able to access gentler narratives about your own thoughts, emotions, and behaviors, having the flexibility to shift your nervous system state when possible, having the option to step outside of urgency before making decisions or responding to circumstances.
Congruence looks like: knowing what your needs are and knowing how to get those needs met, engaging in behaviors that closely match your values, trusting your own rhythms, becoming more honest about who and what you are, feeling at home in yourself (physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually, energetically, & relationally).
When we are able to connect to our bodies as the sensual creatures that they are, when we can sense time outside of urgency, when we can welcome mystery and darkness and contradiction, when we can experience difficulty without labeling it "bad" or getting overwhelmed, we have more access to the infinite possibility of expression and the systems of connection that support us. We can sense the edges of that which we will never be able to conquer or calculate. And that - more than any of the theories I learned in college or grad school - is life-affirming and soul-shifting.
To close with the words of Susan Raffo:
We are all connected. Every single thing we do has impact. What you do for your own self-care has impact on those around you. The fact that it has impact doesn’t contradict your need for it, it just connects your need to the need of others. Western science is slowly remembering these things as well as research finding after research finding says the same thing, whether we are oak or swallow, dolphin or elephant, human in whatever place, we are all connected and we are born with the capacity to feel and be that connection, whether we are raised to savor and appreciate it or to be afraid of it.