Don Hanlon Johnson Don Johnson

Somatic Psychology
Counseling Psychology Department
School of Professional Psychology and Health

PhD, Yale University

MA, Gonzaga University

Professor Johnson is the founder of the Somatics Program, the first of its kind, established in 1983. After a brief career in teaching academic philosophy, he encountered various methods of deepening body experience and changing body structure-Feldenkrais, F.M. Alexander, Rolfing, Sensory Awareness, Orgononomy, Authentic Movement, Middendorf Breath Work, Rosen Work, Continuum, Body-Mind Centering, Osteopathy, and a host of others. His education in phenomenology enabled him to discern the potential of these then seemingly different and often competitive methods for helping create a more humane world at a time when they were seen principally as modes of personal healing and transformation. He saw that the fragmentation of these various schools was weakening their capacities for realizing their potential for individual and social change. Bringing to light those shared principles held the promise of posing effective challenges to harmful assumptions that shape medicine, education, political activism, and religion. Inspired by that task, he left academic philosophy for practical studies in these various modalities. He received his original training from Dr. Ida Rolf with whom he studied from 1970 until her death in 1978. He was a trustee of The Rolf Institute and author of the first book on Rolfing.

The shaping of the graduate degree program emerged from his work with a handful of people who recognized that the proliferation of transformational bodyworks masks the fact that they share common principles at odds with mainstream body-mind dualism. Over some twenty years, with the support of Esalen Institute, Professor Johnson gathered a number of creators of training schools to explore shared understandings of the body in the world. This group also entered into dialogue with biomedical researchers, social scientists, philosophers, and spiritual teachers to explore how these bodyworks might affect mainstream thinking, and how in turn the discourse about these works might become less ideological, self-centered, and grounded in serious research. These ongoing seminars slowly led to the creation of the field of Somatics, named such by the late Thomas Hanna, creator of the journal Somatics. Also a phenomenologist by education, Hanna chose the name based both on the primal usage in Greek for soma, which signified the whole person, and Edmund Husserl's proposal for a somatology, a science that would bring together empirical, objectivistic studies of the body, with first-person studies.

Professor Johnson was director of the program for 13 years. During that time, it became a support center for teachers and practitioners in the various private training institutes, and a think-tank in the field. From the program's inception, he saw to it that graduates were able to situate themselves fully within the mainstream clinical community. To that end, he engaged as one of three consultants in reshaping the State of California MFT legislative task force to allow more room for training in a variety of expressive modalities. He also initiated the purchase of a neighborhood psychotherapy clinic as a training site for students in practicum. Along with his successor as program director, Ian J. Grand, he has continued to develop the research segment of the program, with funding from various sources.

His various activities continue to be focused on social transformation through the lens of healing practices, the nature of the human body, and the structures of human communication. He continues to be active in bringing together people from a wide variety of theoretical and practical viewpoints, and ethnic backgrounds with the aim of initiating greater cooperation in addressing critical problems facing us at this period in history.

In addition to his work in the program, he has been a member of the Center for Theory and Research at Esalen Institute. In that capacity, he coordinates public and private seminars, and research projects in the field of Somatics. He brings to Esalen leaders in the fields related to the body -therapists, anthropologists, biological scientists, artists, psychologists- to develop their work in a collaborative way. He was a member of the Esalen-Soviet Union Health Promotion Project, focusing on addiction and gerontology. He is also the coordinator of the Esalen Scholars Program which awards CIIS doctoral fellowships for dissertations relevant to the Esalen mission.

For several years, he was funded by Laurance Rockefeller and The Fetzer Institute to organize a project in which leaders of various major religious institutions both here and in Russia-schools of theology, retreat centers, monasteries, urban clinics and hospitals-worked together with leaders of various schools of Somatics to explore ways to ameliorate the body-deteriorating forces afoot in the world.

He is a contributing editor of the professional journal Somatics, and the editor of a series of seminal collections of writings in the field, listed below, published by CIIS in collaboration with North Atlantic Books.

Since 2000, he has been teaching and lecturing in Japan. In collaboration with the director of the Graduate Program in Human Services at Ritsumeikan University in Kyoto, he has developed a cooperative student-exchange program with CIIS.

He continues to engage actively with a group of phenomenologists and cognitive scientists in inquiries into the relationships between direct bodily experience and studies of neural functioning. A longtime partner in this work is Elizabeth Behnke, creator of The Study Project in Phenomenology of the Body. Also, with Eugene Gendlin, the creator of Focusing, he has been working to develop models of first-person science. Adrian Harris is gathering many of these sources in his website and



Everyday Hopes, Utopian Dreams: Reflections on American Ideals. Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books. 2006.

Body, Spirit and Democracy. Berkeley: North Atlantic Books. 1993

Body: Recovering our Sensual Wisdom. Boston: Beacon Press, 1983. Translated into Portuguese (Rio de Janeiro: Nova Fronteira, 1990). Paperback edition Berkeley: North Atlantic Books, 1992.

The Protean Body . New York: Harper and Row, 1977. Translated into French (Paris: Retz, 1981); German (Essen: Synthesis Verlag, 1980).


Editor, The Meaning of Life in the 21st Century: Challenges to Spiritual Values Provoked by Advances in Science. New York: iUniverse Books. 2008
Introduction to the book: " Science, Knowing, and Values"

Editor with Ian J. Grand, The Body in Psychotherapy: Inquiries in Somatic Psychology. CIIS/North Atlantic Books, 1998.

Editor, Groundworks: Narratives of Embodiment. Berkeley: CIIS/North Atlantic Books, 1996.

Editor, Bone, Breath and Gesture: Practices of Embodiment. CIIS/North Atlantic Books. 1995


"The Cultivation of Children's Bodies Towards Intricate Thinking and Sensitive Behavior," in Svi Shapiro, ed., Our Children's World: New Visions for Education in the 21st Century. London: Eribaum, Routledge. 2008

"Cultivation, Ethics, and Science: Creating Shared Values in a Diverse Culture," in Science and Religion in the Age of Crisis. [in Japanese] Tokyo, Kodansha. 2007

"Slurping Soba, Twirling Spaghetti: Etiquette, Fascism, and Pleasure," in Etiquette: Reflections on Contemporary Comportment. Eds. Ron Scapp and Brian Seitz. Albany, NY: SUNY Press. 2006.

"Esalen's Role in Transforming the Theoretical and Practical Understanding of the Place of the Human Body in Consciousness." in J. Kripal, ed., On the Edge of the Future: Esalen and the Evolution of American Culture. Indiana Unversity Press. 2005

"Der Vorrang des erfahrungsorientierten Vorgehens" ("The Primacy of Experiential Practices in Body-Psychotherapy"), in Handbuch der Körperpsychotherapie (The Handbook of Body Psychotherapy), ed. Gustl Marlock and Halko Weiss, Stuttgart: Schattauer GmbH, Verlag für Medizin und Naturwissenschaften. 2005

"Breathing, Moving, Sensing, and Feeling: Somatics and Integral Medicine." Consciousness and Healing: An Integral Approach to Mind-Body Medicine. Ed. Marilyn Schlitz, Tina Amorok, Marc Micozzi. St. Louis, MO: Elsevier/Churchill Livingstone. 2004

"Charlotte Selver as Spiritual Teacher," Bulletin of the Sensory Awareness Foundation. 2004

"Rolfing: Science and/or Transformation," International Association of Structural Integration Yearbook, ed. Marilyn Beech. The International Association of Structural Integrators. P. O. Box 8664, Missoula, MT 59807. 2004

"Body Practices and Human Inquiry: Disciplined Experiencing, Fresh Thinking, Vigorous Language," in The Body in Human Inquiry: Interdisciplinary Explorations ofEmbodiment, ed. Vincent Berdayes. The Hampton Press, 2003

"Sitting, Writing, Listening, Speaking, Yearning: Reflections on Scholar-Shaping Techniques," in Shapiro and Shapiro, editors. Body Movements: Pedagogy, Politics and Social Change. Cresskill, N. J.: The Hampton Press, 2002.

"Body Practices and Consciousness: A Neglected Link," in The Journal of the Anthropology of Consciousness. 2000.

"The Methodological Cultivation of Tactile Intricacy in Nine Schools of Integrative Bodywork: A Challenge to Research Design," in The Biological Basis for Mind-Body Interactions, ed. Emeran A. Mayer, M.D., and Clifford Saper, M.D., Ph.D. Elsevier Science Press, 1999.

"Der Weg des Leibes: Eine kurze Geschichte der somatischen Bewegung." H. Milz and M. V. von Kibed, editors, Körpererfahrungen: Anregungen zur Selbstheilung. Zurich: Walter Verlag, 1998


Somatics and Ecoactivism: designed to explore the interface between Somatics and the various communities that are working to foster ecological awareness and sustainability.

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