The Somatic Psychology concentration at California Institute of Integral Studies is one of three accredited academic programs in the United States that prepares students to use both conventional and body-oriented approaches to psychotherapy.
Students participate in a vibrant academic community where learning includes both didactic and experiential practices leading to the ability to work with clients holistically and effectively.
After completing the program and other Board of Behavioral Sciences (BBS) requirements for licensure, graduates are prepared to do counseling psychology in both private practice and agency settings.
Since its inception in 1980, the Somatic Psychology program has developed a unique learning environment that combines experiential work, rigorous academics, research, and a deep commitment to community.
Students in the Somatic Psychology program at CIIS learn a counseling approach that combines traditional practice and understanding with attention to the crucial role of the body in the structure and process of the psyche.
The program teaches a developmental sociocultural perspective that explores how embodied affect, expression, identity, and interaction are formed both in families and in communities of participation outside of the family of origin.
What is Somatic Psychotherapy?
Somatic Psychotherapies combine traditional approaches to counseling, including dream work, talk, interpretation, and reflection, with experiential explorations. The underlying insight in somatic psychotherapies is that we enact self-feeling, identity, and connection with others through bodily means. We reach out or pull away, are warm or cold to people, are emotional or restricted in our feelings.
Through our development in families and communities, we construct embodied patterns of feeling, sensation, expression, movement, and emotion through which we know ourselves and make relationships in the world.
Work, play, and other engagements with the world are also enacted through the development of varying muscular states, emotional and feeling capabilities, and ranges of movement.
Somatic psychotherapists are trained to help clients explore the bodily means by which they conduct their daily lives. Through the use of breath work; movement exercises; touch; and explorations of feeling, sensation, posture, gesture, and expression, clients experience how they shape particular identities and interact with others.
For Somatic psychotherapists these explorations of clients' patterns of bodily comportment and the explorations of new means of enactment are useful tools in the development of self-awareness and satisfaction in living.
Somatic psychotherapies have been found to be particularly effective means of working with trauma, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), dissociation, identity issues, and affect regulation. They are effective in both group and individual settings, and are especially useful as aids to self-reflection and the development of new ranges of affect, expression, and self-comportment.
Students in the Somatic Psychology program at CIIS learn how to work with somatic approaches as well as learning traditional counseling practices. They become part of a community of scholar/practitioners engaged in developing new approaches to somatic psychotherapy and counseling. These new approaches include work with embodied cognition, understandings of complexity and diversity, and work within a variety of communities.
In preparing students for practice, the Somatic Psychology program at CIIS stresses the importance of self-knowledge and self-development. We believe that practitioners need to have knowledge of their own responses, reactions, and senses of meaning as they work with others.
This emphasis on personal exploration requires students to enter deeply into their own bodily experience, exploring experientially the capacity for empathy, feeling, and expression. They are also asked to examine the familial, social, and cultural roots of their experience. In this way, students work with the personal material they will bring to the therapeutic engagement.
There is a strong emphasis on community in the Somatic Psychology program, and the experiential explorations of the program occur within a context of mutual self-inquiry. Attention is paid to group process and group learning. A program retreat begins the academic year, and there are semi-weekly community meetings in which students, faculty, and staff participate.
The program also offers an environment of rigorous intellectual inquiry. Students are asked to develop a reflective approach to counseling psychology that includes skills in collaborative learning, knowledge of evidence-based approaches to psychotherapy, and a broad understanding of individual and family systems approaches to psychotherapy.
Throughout the program, students write papers and present projects to hone their thinking, writing, and presentation skills. Faculty and students make presentations at national and international conferences concerned with body-oriented psychotherapy, the social sciences, and various aspects of somatics theory and practice.
Under the leadership of Professor Don Hanlon Johnson, the program has undertaken a publishing program that has to date produced three books in the field in collaboration with North Atlantic Books: Bone, Breath and Gesture; Groundworks: Narratives of Embodiment; and The Body in Psychotherapy: Inquiries in Somatic Psychology.
In the program's Center for the Study of the Body in Psychotherapy, Somatic Psychology program faculty and students have conducted research regarding sexual identities and enactments, multicultural understandings of identity and interaction, and early childhood approaches using somatic interventions with infants and parents.
Students in the program have completed practicum training in a variety of settings including city government, homeless outreach programs, work in prisons, and work participation in various agencies dealing specifically with children's and women's issues and addictions.
Western and Non-Western Traditions
Reflecting the founding vision of CIIS, the Somatic Psychology program is defined by its unique integration of various Western and non-Western philosophic and spiritual traditions.
This integral approach challenges the separation of body, mind, and spirit that has dominated Western psychotherapy.
Course offerings explore the relation between bodily processes and states of consciousness, and foster a dialogue between spiritual approaches such as yoga, meditation, and chi gong, psychological approaches, and contemporary scientific understandings of the body.
The Somatic Psychology program offers the following:
- Excellent training in psychotherapy that combines scholarship, best practices in counseling psychology, and experiential approaches to learning
- Learning counseling practices that include verbal and nonverbal work with body, mind, and spirit
- Grounding in psychodynamic, systems, developmental, and sociocultural approaches to psychotherapy
- Attention to diversity and opportunities to work in practicum with a wide range of populations
- A community of learning fostered by student retreats and community meetings
- A wide variety of practicum opportunities, including training at the program's Center for Somatic Psychotherapy