Increasingly, I am hearing disturbing stories from new patients about what is being labeled in the SF Bay Area as ‘somatic therapy’. What is clear is how many clinical and non-clinical people are calling themselves ‘somatic therapists’ and offering subpar to damaging services to individuals in need of effective mental health treatment for PTSD.
Frankly, I have no idea what a somatic therapist is. Yet so many people are seeking somatic therapy because these days pop psychology views everything as traumatic and somatics as the cure for all trauma. This reminds me of what happened 15 years ago when mindfulness became the clinical intervention for every malady. We all know how poorly that worked out.
Integrative psychotherapy acknowledges that mental health is interdependently determined by the systemic quality of one’s mind states, emotions, and bodily responses. Human beings are organisms in constant flux; continually homeostatically reacting and responding to causes and conditions. Our thoughts are conditioned by body health as much as physical health is undermined by a chaotic mind and highly-reactive emotions.
Because traumatic experiences impact the entire human organism, resolving traumatic experiences must be a whole system endeavor. Changing thoughts is not enough. Loosening muscles and tissues will not prevent future bracing each time a challenging-enough situation occurs. And emotion regulation is a body-mind-heart mission.
Somatic Experiencing® (SE™) focuses on and accomplishes whole system trauma resolution. SE is a complex theoretical model delivered in a three-year training program. It takes time to learn how to recognize, work with, and deliver skills for effectively resolving the nervous system dysregulation commonly found in PTSD sufferers.
Other clinically helpful trauma methodologies include Sensorimotor Psychotherapy and EMDR. However, EMDR is often too activating and unhelpful for people with complex-PTSD who experienced early developmental trauma prior to adult traumatic events. SE is an excellent methodology for those individuals.
I encourage asking anyone claiming to be a ‘somatic therapist’ what training they have undergone and if they are a licensed clinical professional. Unlicensed practitioners are unregulated practitioners with no legal or ethical oversight. That is a minefield to avoid particularly for trauma sufferers.
It seems dis-ease predominates the world stage at this time. Whether it is whiplash from 2.5 years of pandemic, the ongoing Russian war on Ukraine, or mounting climate disruption catastrophes, an air of dread permeates the current world mental health landscape.
In 2014 I coined the phrase genuine mental health and set out in a rather dense textbook to explicate what that might be and how to facilitate it in psychotherapy. I still hold to the premise that human minds are innately capable of humility, wisdom, compassion, and great insight. And I remain committed to offering patients targeted, clinically-appropriate contemplative practices for cultivating these states and building states into traits.
Eight years later the landscape of mental health interventions seems more murky, sensationalized, and as Yaden, Potash and Griffiths recently described in JAMA Psychiatry more subject to hype-cycles. Psychedelics and cannabis are big medical business now and clinical research on effectiveness is slower than business-led exaggerated claims of efficacy. Substances are remarkably unpredictable in how a given human will react. And with the growing number of cannabis-induced psychosis reports (that industry refuses to address) I remain skeptical of the long-term transformative capacity of these methods.
And it’s not just the interventions, diagnoses as well have expanded to include almost any form of human suffering—particularly PTSD or trauma. Difficult or painful human experience is not by definition traumatic. Prior disposition and level of cognitive-affective-physical disorganization in a receiver’s system usually determines if a given painful experience will be traumatic or not. A great example is discussed in my previous blog post on overcoupling. Humans are a tremendously adaptive and resilient species by nature. Most of us can withstand high levels of challenge and some of us greet it with joy and anticipation!
My prescription for World Mental Health Day is a plea for each of us to take up the mantle of humane, respectful conduct and communication in all of our interactions with others—regardless of whether they are friend, foe or stranger. Kindness is not enough. Holding in thought, word and deed a commitment to non-harming is critical in a world of increasing global disturbance.
Equally important is the compassionate recognition that every human has their own form of human suffering; me included. None of us is perfect. Reflecting on our own imperfection and recognizing the power every one of us has to awaken to genuine mental health, will rescue our world from its current path of intensified suffering and harm.