Somatic Coaching: For the Body and Soul
Tales from a Session:
A woman seeking respite from anxiety and early-development trauma
Somatic literally means, of the body. Many therapeutic experiences rely on verbal processing or education only. At the Somatica Institute, I learned that a far richer understanding and imprint can be achieved when I guide a participant to connect with his or her entire body during a session. That said, the purpose of the work is to touch into one’s breath, to calm the nervous system, to rejuvenate the sense of self, to remember what incites joy, and to be awakened by that which is arousing. Though the exercises and games can be sexually charged, they are meant for healing and inspiration, not sexual climax. What one learns in my office will hopefully lead to deeper connections and greater sexual experiences in every part of their life.
A female client asked for a session right after a breakup. She’d just moved out of his place, decided to quit drinking, try antidepressants, lose some weight, go back to school, and all around get her life in order. In her early thirties, she was convinced that she could turn things around, though the journey ahead of her seemed overwhelming, long, and lonely. She expressed how hard it’s been to curtail the flow of emotions, especially at inopportune times. She lamented relying on antidepressants to stabilize her feelings but was afraid of the heft of the many mornings she’d had without them. During our previous sessions, we focused on life coaching, for motivation and goal setting, as well as pattern assessment from her childhood experiences with her parents. Born to a young, single mom, my client grew up carrying her mother’s feelings of anxiety and unworthiness. To compensate, she put all her energy into caring for others, even when it pushed her to exhaustion and completely overshadowed her own needs. In her professional life and with romantic partners, her generosity has been her strength and her weakness.
In our next session, after breaking up with a partner who scarcely knew what her needs were, let alone could try to meet them, my client was visibly defeated and depleted. My heart leapt out for her; I envisioned creating an experience of care, nurturing, gratitude, accomplishment, and inspiration for a brighter future. After a brief intake conversation, I asked if she’d be open to a somatic visualization exercise. She agreed. I wanted to give her the time and place for any emotions to arise, for her to be free to feel all or any of the feelings that she’s had to bottle up to stay strong and functional. Laying down on my chaise lounge, she closed her eyes while I began to speak words of affirmation to her and use my hands to ground her head, shoulders, arms, legs and feet. I used gentle strokes and grabs intended to help her feel held, relaxed, and infused with the energy of my words and encouragements. I told her how brave it is that she’s sought help outside of herself to get the nurturing she’s missed from her primary caregivers growing up as well as in prior and recent relationships. I celebrated her generosity in her professional life, as a healer, and called her attention to these moments, when she is perfectly deserving of being cared for in return, to fill her bucket so that she can return to her work and personal life with new vigor.
At the culmination of that experience, she opened her eyes with warm gratitude. I had one more guided meditation to share, if she was willing. We transitioned positions, with me on the chair and a pillow between my legs, so that she would rest her head on my lap, as if she was a young child accepting comfort from her mom. Once in place, I placed my hands, one on her arm, which was resting on my leg, and the other on her back, so I could pat her gently, with support, as she traversed the depths of her mind’s eye, recounting the feelings she had in her youth. I led her in a visualization to see herself as a little girl in her mother’s home. She described her feelings of being there with her mom, who was often anxious and seemingly overwhelmed by the work and commitment needed to support children, physically and economically. She felt alone and helpless against the challenges that plagued her mother, especially when the latter would withdraw from her children emotionally and physically, often with the help of mind-numbing substances. I suggested to my client that she picture her adult-self going into that visualization and joining her inner child. What advice would her mature-self share? What words of wisdom or encouragement would her adult-self offer? She spoke with love, care, and hope, “You are loved, and you’ll be ok.” Then I asked her to reflect on what words or actions their mom might need in these hard times. The mature visitor urged the child to give their mother love, support, and kindness. “She’s doing the best she can even though times are hard.” Tears streamed down my client’s cheeks. I could feel her body sink into my lap – held, safe, loved. I continued to stoke her shoulders, run my fingers over her head and hair, and squeeze her hand on mine, letting her feel the re-nurturing that she deserves, that we all long for, in our most vulnerable states and always. At the close of the session, my client’s face was serene, and a big smile showed me how much impact the experience had had on her. She said it was exactly what she needed.