Today’s post is inspired by a session in which a client asked me what my treatment plan was for our therapy together. This is a tricky question for a somatic psychotherapist to answer, because my approach to therapy doesn’t typically follow rigid programs for treatment. (I can get to the reasons for that in a longer post some other time!) That said, I wanted to create a simple framework for the client to feel contained and to understand that there is a rhyme and a reason to psychotherapy and to ensure them that therapy would not last forever. (My job is actually to put myself out of a job! Again, another topic for another post.) What ensued was an impromptu explanation of the basic steps for successful therapy:
1 | Safety
If one doesn’t feel safe in psychotherapy (or in any setting!) they are not in an optimal state for growth. This is true for people of all ages — children and adults alike. Kids cannot learn in school if they are constantly in a stress response state. People need to feel safe in order to follow their curiosity, explore and take risks. With that in mind, there are many ways that therapists create safety in the room. Some of the ways I cultivate safety are through thoughtful self-disclosure (that’s when the therapist shares a bit about themselves,) guiding clients through brief meditation and inviting the client to alter the environment (e.g. take their shoes off, move pillows around, change the lighting, etc.)
2 | Awareness
Once a client feels safe, they are in an optimal state to start drawing their awareness to their in-the-moment actions, thoughts, feelings and body sensations. This awareness gives clients insights into their own unique experience and also gives them the opportunity to explore certain areas of interest in more depth, such as a particular emotion, verbal crutch or nervous tic. Awareness is at the core of somatic psychotherapy, as our belief is that we can effect change through helping clients feel through their discomfort (in a safe place) and move through past hurts.
3 | Contrary Action
When an individual brings their awareness to aspects of their experience, it creates a chance for that person to take contrary action (that means doing something different from what they normally do.) For example, if someone notices that they constantly berate themselves in their mind at each perceived mistake, the person can choose to play a new script in their mind. They can tell themselves “Oh, there’s that voice telling me I’m not good enough” and replace the unpleasant thought with a more compassionate thought like “I’m trying my best and that’s good enough for me.” Over time, these become our automatic ways of behaving.
These steps are far from exhaustive, and psychotherapy is a dynamic process. However, these three tenets do a pretty good job explaining what it is I do in the psychotherapy room. If you have any questions about my approach please feel free to leave them in the comments section below. If there is an aspect of therapy that you’ve found particularly healing that you’d like to share, please include that, too. Thank you so much for reading and be well.
about the author
Hi! I'm Natalie. And my passion is helping people live more peaceful, meaningful lives. Through holistic therapy in Pasadena and here on the blog, my mission is to provide people with the support and tools they need to live their best life.