What is Integral Somatic Psychology (ISP) ?
Improving Clinical Outcomes through the greater embodiment of all aspects of experience and all levels of the psyche. ISP is a complementary modality developed to increase the effectiveness of psychological work in any therapeutic or spiritual approach.
Integral Somatic Psychology was developed by Raja Selvam, PhD. It is a comprehensive approach to embodiment based on Western as well as Eastern psychology. It is currently taught in over a dozen countries in North America, Europe and Asia.
As an SE Practitioner, I appreciate how Raja’s approach has given me a very concrete and easily accessible way to manage difficult or overwhelming emotional and physical states with my clients. I use ISP in every single session, with or without SE. My clients love the simple effectiveness of the tools both in the sessions and at home.
Integral Somatic Psychology (ISP) draws from Western and Eastern psychology, scientific research on the neurology and physiology of psychological experiences, empirical research from body psychotherapy schools plus bodywork, movement and energy work traditions.
Integral Somatic Psychology is not another approach to doing therapy. Nor is it a spiritual path. It is a complementary modality developed to increase the effectiveness of psychological work in any therapeutic or spiritual approach.
Integral Somatic Psychology Professional Training is a master training for experienced clinicians to increase clinical effectiveness by fully integrating body, energy, and consciousness into any psychological process.
The role of body, energy and consciousness in generating or disrupting psychological experiences in general and facilitating or hampering self and interactive regulation in particular is taught through applications in areas of widespread current clinical interest: affect regulation, attachment, stress, and trauma.
Integral Somatic Psychology Overview
For an overview of the many aspects of Integral Somatic Psychology, including the science behind ISP and the evidence supporting its effectiveness in therapy, either click on the button below to display content or download the pdf.
Those trained in systems that focus primarily on the regulation of the physical body to treat stress or trauma such as body-based mindfulness approaches and Somatic Experiencing® (SE™) will learn how to work with the physical body more effectively when they work with experiences such as emotion, cognition, or behavior. And where applicable, they will learn how to regulate the body without destroying the very experience they are working with by excessively regulating it, a common weakness in many body-oriented approaches that are currently popular in mainstream psychology.
Those trained in systems that are focused more on breaking down body defenses against psychological experiences will learn how to support the body to generate and contain psychological experiences and to regulate the body at the same time.
In addition, if they are so inclined, practitioners of all somatic or body psychology or psychotherapy approaches can learn about the role the energies from the individual and the collective bodies play in the psychological and physiological regulation of a person; and how to begin to integrate these energies with the physical body into their work to improve outcomes.
And, in turn, greater embodiment of all kinds of complex psychological experiences encountered in therapy or spiritual work: Attachment, relationship, connection; disconnection, alienation, and detachment; transference, counter-transference, and resonance; constriction, stress, trauma, dissociation, and fragmentation; lack of boundary, containment, control, and capacity to tolerate opposites; immaturity, symptoms, and pathologies; mindfulness, boundary, containment, control, and capacity to tolerate opposites; relaxation, expansion, integration, and wellbeing; maturity, symptom resolution, and health; individuation, differentiation, wholeness, religious or spiritual development, and enlightenment.
Therapeutic modalities differ with respect to the emphasis they place on different basic and complex experiences and different levels of the psyche. For example, some emphasize cognition and behavior over emotion; and some work with alienation as having to do with a person’s spirituality as opposed to attachment patterns in the person’s family of origin. Integral Somatic Psychology can increase the effectiveness of a therapeutic or spiritual modality regardless of the aspects of experience and the levels of the psyche it specializes in.
Working well with the physical body psychologically is not just about working with it physiologically in relation to stress or trauma. And working with stress or trauma or any other psychological experience such as emotion in the physical body is not just about regulating the dysregulation or reducing the stress in it, or completing incomplete movements, discharging high arousal, or expressing emotions forcefully.
Successful embodiment of complex psychological experiences require a) the ability to work with all basic experiences (perception, cognition, memory, imagination, emotion, and behavior) in relation to the physical body, b) the understanding of how the physical body is involved in generating as well as defending against such basic experiences as well as complex psychological experiences such as attachment, c) the ability to regulate the physical body only to the extent necessary when working with basic and complex psychological experiences without destroying the very experience one is working with, and d) the availability of a variety of tools such as awareness, breath, and movement that can be easily integrated into different therapeutic or spiritual settings.
• The ability to expand the body to expand the experience as much as possible or to support the experience in one part of the body by expanding another.
• The ability to tolerate the experience such as grief in the body. This requires the ability to understand and work through innate resistance to all unpleasant experiences and psychological resistance to the specific experience such as grief.
• The ability to understand or make sense of the experience. What is the experience? Is it hunger or longing? What context does the experience belong to? Longing for a partner or for God? Is it the longing for a partner in the present or a longing for the mother in childhood? What does the experience mean in the larger scheme of things? These functions usually fall under the umbrella of cognitive work.
• The ability to act or behave appropriately in relation to the experience. For example, power cannot be owned in the long run if it is not expressed or acted on. However, if power is expressed or acted on inappropriately, the feedback from the outside would sooner or later inhibit it in the individual. These functions usually fall under umbrella of behavioral work.
Integral Somatic Psychology emphasizes the first two aspects of embodiment work in the training, expanding the body to expand and support an experience and building a capacity to tolerate it, aspects that are only minimally attended to in most therapeutic and spiritual approaches. That these two overlooked aspects of embodiment significantly improve outcomes in cognitive and behavioral work, the two other aspects of embodiment work, is clearly supported by scientific research presented below.
2. The need to build the capacity to tolerate opposites in experience for long-term psychological health and resilience is recognized in psychoanalysis as the need to help clients build more affect tolerance (Robert Stolorow). When we are able to tolerate an experience, we can get to a place that it feels no longer bigger than us and that we can survive it. Such mastery usually precedes a sense of completion or resolution of the experience. The capacity to tolerate opposites is emphasized as an essential quality for individuation in Jungian psychology and for transformation in alchemy. The capacity to tolerate opposites is also described as the basic qualification for spiritual growth in many traditions such as Buddhism and Vedanta. The more an individual understands the importance of experiencing and tolerating opposites in experience for personal growth, the less the psychological resistance there would be, and the more able and willing the person would be to work with innate resistance and any residual psychological resistance. The less the innate physiological resistance and learned psychological resistance to an experience, the more the psychological capacity to tolerate it. The more the psychological capacity to tolerate an experience, the easier it would be to expand the body to expand the experience or to expand the body in one area to support it in another area; and the less the stress or dysregulation associated with the experience because it would not be concentrated and burdening only some areas of the body. Greater the capacity to tolerate an experience, more of it is likely to be available for a longer period to make sense of or to act with.
3. The ability to make meaning involves different types of cognition: Representing experiences through language or other symbols to know what they are, to operate on them through thinking or other symbolic processes or to communicate them to others; associating the experiences to contexts, past and present, to take action in the appropriate context and to avoid acting out in an inappropriate context because of transference. That such cognitive work persists as an important component if not the most important component of almost all psychotherapy approaches speaks to its therapeutic effectiveness. The embodiment research by Paula Niedenthal and others at the University of Wisconsin, when combined with research presented by Candace Pert and Antonio Damasio that an experience such as emotion is generated throughout the organism, establishes the cognitive benefits of expanding an experience from the brain to not just the facial area but to the rest of the body and tolerating it as long as possible. Conversely, knowing what an experience is, what context it belongs to, and how to operate on it cognitively can more often than not be very helpful in reducing resistance to the experience making it easier to expand it and tolerate it, the first and second aspects of embodiment; and in cognitively formulating behavioral strategies to deal with the experience, the fourth aspect of embodiment.
4. Behavioral work has under its umbrella the functions of identifying relevant behavioral alternatives in a situation, analyzing their advantages and disadvantages, choosing the best course of action to follow in that situation, gathering external support for it, and then implementing the chosen alternative as an action or an expression. The extensive research presented by Antonio Damasio in his book Descarte’s Error shows that the more the availability of an experience such as emotion, the better a person’s ability not only in generating relevant behavioral alternatives for the situation but also in choosing which course of action to follow.The more clarity there is about what the experience is and what context it has to do with, the easier it would be to formulate appropriate behavioral strategies, analyze them for strengths and weaknesses, and to choose which course of action to follow. The more expanded and tolerable an experience such as power is, the more available it would be. The more available it is, the more motive force there would be for expressing it or acting on it. Conversely, consistently inhibiting appropriate expression of an experience such as power can, through suppression or repression of it, increase all kinds of resistance to it, and have an adverse effect on the person’s ability to generate, expand, stay with, or tolerate the experience; and make sense of the experience because there would not be much of it to examine. When one expresses oneself verbally or non-verbally, it often leads to an increase in the external support for it. And external support can help an individual to embody an experience in all four ways. Expressing an experience expands not only those areas of the body involved in the expression. It facilitates the expansion of the experience throughout the organism. When we want to express something, there is an intent is to express it verbally and non-verbally. 90% to 95% of an expression is non-verbal. Therefore, even verbal expression can lead to expansion throughout the body, something critics of talk therapies overlook.
There are a large number of controlled studies that establish the effectiveness of even simple energy psychology models such TFT and EFT that employ tapping along the meridians. There are several scientists who have made theoretical sense of the healing effects of energy psychologies in terms of findings in quantum physics, quantum biophysics, and epigenetics. There are hundreds of scientific studies on the effectiveness of working with awareness through mindfulness approaches. Larry Dossey in his book Healing Words presents many research studies on the effectiveness of prayer and spirituality as healing modalities.
Integral Somatic Psychology, because it stands on the shoulders of many approaches that work with different levels the psyche, is supported by the research that establishes the effectiveness of each of these approaches. Integral Somatic Psychology, in an abbreviated version limited the physical body level of the psyche, has been found to be effective in treating symptoms of trauma among survivors of the 2004 Asian Tsunami in India (published in Traumatology, September 2008) and in treating symptoms of war, violence, loss, and displacement in Sri Lanka after the civil war ended there in 2009.
The possibility of embodied integration of many levels of the psyche and the tremendous synergy such integration offers for improving outcomes has been a driving force in the spread of Integral Somatic Psychology to different parts of the globe. It is now taught in the United States, Russia, India, Sri Lanka, Germany, France, Italy, Switzerland, Austria, the Netherlands, and Denmark; and is scheduled in the United Kingdom, Belgium, Canada, Israel, Brazil, Hong Kong, Mainland China, and Australia in 2017 or 2018.
Benefits to those who already work with the physical body
Those who already know how to work with the physical body will learn more about how to work more effectively with different psychological experiences such as emotions, cognitions, and behavior through the physical body, informed by extensive knowledge on the role of the physical body in generating and defending against different psychological experiences from over a century of scientific research in universities and clinical research in body psychotherapy traditions. And whether or not they already work with levels of the psyche other than the physical body, they can improve their outcomes through greater integration of other levels of the psyche with the physical body, informed by the knowledge from the East and the West of how different levels of the psyche interact with each other and how each level of our psyche contributes to all of our physiological, psychological, and spiritual experiences.
Benefits to those who work primarily with levels of the psyche other than the physical body
Those who work primarily with levels of the psyche other than the physical body will be able to improve their outcomes through learning how to embody the energies from other levels of the psyche in the physical body. They can also learn how to work more effectively with different psychological experiences such as emotions, cognitions, and behaviors in the physical body, informed by extensive knowledge on the role of the physical body in generating and defending against different psychological experiences from over a century of scientific research in universities and clinical research in body psychotherapy traditions, something they need to know how to do in order to effectively embody the energies of other levels of the psyche in the physical body.
There are four stages of spiritual development that can be seen, to a greater or lesser extent, in every religion: Seeing and praying to God in everything around oneself as in animism, seeing and relating to God as external and remote entity or a divine pair as in the Old Testament, relating to God as an incarnate human being such as Jesus as in the New Testament, and relating to God as an inseparable unity that contains everything including oneself as in Vedanta in Hinduism. Integral Somatic Psychology offers a framework for embodiment in all stages of religious or spiritual development.
On many religious or spiritual paths, the practice is to disidentify with the lower levels of the psyche such as the individual physical and energy bodies and identify one’s awareness instead with the dynamic collective physical and energy bodies or the absolute collective body of pure awareness. While this is a legitimate practice in itself to retrain one’s awareness to become familiar with the less familiar planes of one’s existence, the view in Integral Somatic Psychology is that the embodiment of energies of these higher planes in the individual physical body can help in a more enduring grasp of oneself as the higher levels of one’s psyche, prevent learned dissociation from the lower levels of the psyche, and enhance the benefits of religious or spiritual practice in all stages of religious or spiritual development.
• The individual energy body
• The dynamic collective physical and energy bodies
• The absolute collective body of pure awareness
Level one: The individual physical body
Therapeutic modalities differ with respect to the levels of the psyche they specialize in. Psychology, for the most part, is focused on one aspect of the physical body, the brain. Somatic or body psychologies and psychotherapies on the fringe have tried to expand this focus to include the rest of the physical body. Of late, mainstream psychology has shown more interest in embodying more of the physical body due to the emerging evidence of better outcomes from its inclusion. However, relative to what is possible with respect to the physical body, embodiment in mainstream psychology has much scope for improvement. Therefore, level one of embodiment work in Integral Somatic Psychology is focused on improving clinical outcomes through greater integration of the individual’s physical body into all psychological approaches.
Integral Somatic Psychology’s embodiment strategies on this level of the psyche are based on extensive knowledge of how the physical body is involved in generating as well as defending against emotions and other psychological experiences from over a hundred years of scientific research in academic circles and clinical research in body psychotherapy traditions; and on a simple model of regulation of the physical body based on findings from medical sciences and somatic therapies. Greater embodiment of all basic and complex psychological experiences in the physical body is the foundation work in Integral Somatic Psychology on which the subsequent work of embodying the other levels of the psyche is built.
Level two: The individual energy body
Level two of embodiment work in Integral Somatic Psychology is an attempt to increase clinical outcomes through greater integration of energy into psychological work. Called the energy body in the West or the individual subtle body in the East, the integration of this level of the psyche in mainstream psychology at present is even more limited. Schools of energy work operate primarily outside of the perimeter of psychology with most of them focused on the regulation of the energy body through touch or movement. Schools of energy work and energy psychology on the fringe of psychology, using constructs such as energy centers, elements, and meridians, are also by and large focused more on symptom resolution through regulation of the energy body than on work with psychological processes. They do not fully exploit the available knowledge on the role of the energy body in either physiological or psychological regulation. And, most of the time, the work with energy such as energy center work is disembodied or not adequately related to the physical body.
There is greater resistance in general to the integration of the energy body than the physical body, in psychology as well as science. This despite there being more controlled research studies on the effectiveness of simple energy psychology methods that use tapping along the meridians (energy lines) than on the effectiveness of all the somatic or body psychology and psychotherapy systems combined. There are probably several understandable reasons for this resistance. The quantum level energy body is hard to measure at the sub-atomic level and therefore easy to deny, as was the case in science with quantum physics till it was w firmly established. Even though science and psychology now allow for the quantum level of the physical body, they continue to be reluctant in allowing for the possibility of another quantum level body interacting and influencing the physical body at the sub-atomic level. Such allowance might open the door for the concept of the soul present in all religions; possibly an anathema to the Western scientific establishment that had to struggle long and hard against religious dogma to establish itself. Resistance to the possibility of reincarnation in Western religions might also contribute another layer of resistance in the West to the idea of a separate subtle or energy body that is nevertheless a part of all Western and Eastern religions.
Level two of embodiment work in Integral Somatic Psychology is an attempt to increase clinical outcomes through greater embodiment of the next level of the psyche, the energy body. Findings from quantum physics and scientific research on reincarnation are used to establish the existence of the energy body and its relationship to the physical body. Knowledge from energy work and energy psychology schools from the East as well as the West are used to understand the physiological and psychological functions of the different layers of the energy body and how to access, regulate, and integrate them into the physical body during psychological work, through constructs such energy centers, elements, and zones. The work with energy in Integral Somatic Psychology is through and in close relationship to the physical body, using the expertise acquired from level one of embodiment work with the physical body.
Level three: The dynamic collective physical and energy bodies
Level three of embodiment work in Integral Somatic Psychology has as its goal improvement in clinical outcomes through greater integration of dynamic collective physical and energy bodies into a person’s individual’s physiological and psychological processes. In Western as well as Eastern psychology, there are different traditions that acknowledge and work with collective physical and energetic influences on an individual’s physiology and psychology. Typically, both the collective physical and energy bodies that have complex relationships with each other are conceptualized as having many levels where each level is made up of all the levels below it. For example, both the psychology of Jung from the West and Advaita Vedanta from the East conceptualize the collective physical and energy bodies as the collective raw material in the universe and the collective universal intelligence that gives it shape as well as regulation. That is, the collective energy body is likened to psyche and the collective physical body to matter. In both systems, the collective physical and energy bodies in turn form a collective body of unity in which one cannot be separated from the other, as particle and wave cannot be separated from each other in a loose quantum physics analogy. This implies that the psyche is matter and the matter is psyche and the two are in an inseparable relationship; and that they must be made of the same substance to be able to influence each other. In both systems, the influence of the collective on the individual recognized as paramount.
There are many traditions inside and outside of psychology that work with various collective bodies and their relationships to the individual bodies: Jungian and archetypal psychologies, Ken Wilber’s Integral Psychology, Eastern psychologies such as Buddhist psychologies and Sri Aurobindo’s Integral Yoga Psychology, and transpersonal psychologies on the fringe of Western psychology; energy work systems such as Reiki, bodywork systems such as biodynamic craniosacral therapy, movement therapies such as Qi Gong and Tai Chi, astrology, shamanism, and ritual practices; schools of meditation, spirituality, and mysticism; religions, politics, ideologies, movements that promote causes such world peace or a better environment, and movements that seek to counter injustice such as racism and religious intolerance. However, as with work with the individual energy body, most work that is done at the level of collective physical and energy bodies especially in psychology is not embodied enough in the individual physical and energy bodies. Therefore, in level three of its embodiment work, Integral Somatic Psychology seeks to demonstrate ways to improve clinical outcomes through greater embodiment of the energies from the collective physical and energy bodies in the individual’s physical and energy bodies, and through the strengthening of the connections between these collective and the individual levels of the psyche.
The knowledge from Jungian and archetypal psychologies, Integral Psychology, models of transpersonal psychology, Buddhism and Advaita Vedanta, theories of religions, mysticism and spirituality, sociology, social and cultural anthropology, and quantum physics forms the theoretical basis for the third level of the psyche in Integral Somatic Psychology. The knowledge about how to embody the individual physical and energy bodies from levels one and two of embodiment work in Integral Somatic Psychology forms one basis for grounding the energies of the collective physical and energy bodies in the individual physical and energy bodies. (In fact, level two of embodiment work in Integral Somatic Psychology already involves connecting the individual energy body to the archetypal energies of the collective energy body associated with each of the five lower energy centers). The knowledge of the physiological, psychological, and spiritual functions of the higher energy centers at the third eye and the crown and their relationships to the lower energy centers, and how to work with the two higher centers and integrate their energies into the individual’s physical and energy bodies provides the second basis. The knowledge of the multiple levels of resonance, between the individual bodies and between the individual and the collective bodies, and how to facilitate these various connections through resonance to increase their interactions provides the third basis.
Level four: The absolute collective body of pure awareness
The fourth level of the psyche in Integral Somatic Psychology is defined as an unlimited, independent, and self-aware body of pure awareness that is the basis of all things animate and inanimate. It is established philosophically (through traditions such monism and idealism), scientifically (in theory through quantum physics and in empirical evidence through brief as well as enduring experiences of not just mystics but also ordinary people in all religious traditions and all walks of life), and spiritually (through Advaita Vedanta from Hinduism, Mahayana Buddhism, Sufism in Islam, Kabbalah in Judaism, and Christian Science and Thomism in Christianity).
Mindfulness approaches in psychology typically work with awareness in relation to experiences in the brain or the physical body and understand the benefits that accrue from such practices as having to do with improvement in the functioning of specific brain regions such as the prefrontal cortex. However, the typical aim of mindfulness, meditation, and contemplative practices on spiritual paths is the discrimination of awareness from all aspects of experience on all levels of the dynamic psyche: the individual physical and energy bodies, the dynamic collective physical and energy bodies, and the one dynamic collective body of unity they in turn form due to their inherent inseparability. The goal in Advaita Vedanta, for example, is the discrimination of all experiences on all levels of the dynamic psyche as objects of one’s awareness and the identification with the pure awareness that remains; and the subsequent realization of the inseparability of the absolute collective body pure awareness from all aspects of experience and all levels of the psyche. Integral Somatic Psychology can be helpful whether the goal is simply to increase mindfulness in relation to ordinary experiences as in psychology (lower mindfulness) or to grasp one’s deeper identity with the absolute collective body of pure awareness as in Advaita Vedanta (higher mindfulness).
The ability to tolerate opposites in experience on each level of the dynamic psyche increases one’s ability to maintain discrimination of one’s awareness from experiences that arise on each level of the psyche. Levels one, two, and three of embodiment work in Integral Somatic Psychology, because they develop the capacity to tolerate opposites in experience on the all levels of the dynamic psyche through the physical body container, contribute to the ability to discriminate one’s pure awareness, the fourth and final level of the psyche, from all experiences on other levels of the psyche. Therefore, level one, two, and three of embodiment work in Integral Somatic Psychology can help in acquiring lower as well as higher mindfulness as defined above.
The fourth level of embodiment work in Integral Somatic Psychology involves accessing and working with the energies of the two higher energy centers at the third eye and the crown and bringing them all the way down into the physical body with a number of benefits in mind.
The two higher energy centers at the crown and the third eye have a lot to do with the perspective of the absolute collective body of pure awareness and the understanding of its relationship to other levels of the psyche. Integral Somatic Psychology, with methods for working with these two higher energy centers and integrating their energies into the individual’s physical and energy bodies, offers another way of greater differentiating the awareness of the witness consciousness from and all experiences every level of the dynamic psyche with the potential benefits of both lower and higher mindfulness. This includes the level of the brain in the physical body that science is mostly concerned with. One of the drawbacks of mindfulness, meditation, and other contemplative practices when they are focused on the higher energy centers is the learned disconnect or dissociation from lower and more concrete levels of the psyche such as the individual’s physical and energy bodies. Integral Somatic Psychology safeguards against those limitations because it works closely with these lower level bodies as it works with the energies of from the two higher energy centers.
Differentiation of one’s awareness from experiences on all levels of the dynamic psyche or identification of oneself with the absolute collective body of pure awareness are not the only benefits that can accrue from level four of embodiment work in Integral Somatic Psychology. The energies that come through the two higher centers at the third eye and the crown are understood as the fundamental energies or source materials that differentiate into all successive collective and individual physical and energy bodies. Because they provide the material building blocks for all levels of the dynamic psyche, the fourth level of embodiment work in Integral
Somatic Psychology can also contribute significantly to level one, two, and three of embodiment work with the individual and collective physical and energy bodies.
The energies through the two higher centers also bring with them the intelligence with which the universe is designed and regulated from top to bottom. When level four of embodiment work facilitates the embodiment of these energies on lower levels of the psyche such as the brain, it can result in intuition or inspiration for scientific, psychological, artistic, social, or spiritual knowledge.
The higher energies accessed through the two higher centers are also theorized as possessing the blueprints of an individual’s life purpose as well as the individual’s (spiritual) connections to the whole. Integral Somatic Psychology, because it works to embody these energies in the individual physical and energy bodies, enhances the likelihood of embodied life purpose and embodied spirituality. It increases the possibility of the transformation of the physical body into a crystalline image of the properties of the higher energy centers at the third eye and the crown. When that happens, as theorized by Sri Aurobindo in Integral Yoga Psychology, the spiritual understanding of the relationship between the individual and the whole can be realized in the felt resonant sense of the physical body in relation to the environment, as opposed to just having a cognitive grasp of the possibility of it.
2. Selvam, R. (2005). Treating tsunami survivors for trauma: The effectiveness of a short-term psycho-physiological trauma treatment approach among South Asian tsunami survivors. Journal of Holistic Healthcare, Vol. 2, Issue 4, November.
3. Parker, C., Doctor, R. M., and Selvam, R. (2008). Somatic Therapy Treatment Effects with Tsunami Survivors. Traumatology, Vol. 14, No. 3, September.
4. Selvam, R. (2008). Advaita Vedanta and Jungian Psychology: Explorations Towards Further Reconciliation in East-West Dialogues on the Psyche (Pacifica Graduate Institute, Carpinteria, California). Unpublished doctoral dissertation.
5. Selvam, R. (2008). Embodiment Exercises: How to Sense the Body to Increase Its Powers of Self Regulation, Audio CD set, of 5 CDs.
6. Selvam, R. (2013). Jung and Consciousness. Spring, Vol. 90, Fall 2013, pp. 155-177.
Integral Somatic Psychology Resources
Understanding and Improving Affect Tolerance: The Role of Attitude, Support and Embodiment
The paper offers a definition of affect tolerance, discusses three important factors that drive it, and their implications for improving the work with emotions in all therapeutic modalities. Improving affect tolerance can resolve symptoms and increase a person’s resilience so that symptoms do not form in the future.
The Science of Embodied Cognition and Enactive Emotion: Implications for Improving Outcomes in all Therapies
The paper offers a definition of affect tolerance, discusses three important factors that drive it, and their implications for improving the work with emotions in all therapeutic modalities. Improving affect tolerance can resolve symptoms and increase a person’s resilience so that symptoms do not form in the future.
How To Improve Outcomes in All Therapies Through Embodiment of Emotions?
Embodiment of emotions, defined here as the ability to expand emotional experiences to as much of the brain and body physiology as possible and to tolerate them for longer periods of time, has theoretical as well as empirical evidence for its effectiveness in improving not only emotional but also physical, energetic, cognitive, behavioral, relational and spiritual outcomes in therapeutic and spiritual modalities.
How To Avoid Destroying Emotions When Tracking Body Sensations
This paper explains how tracking of body sensations can eliminate emerging emotions and then offers ways of working more effectively with emotions in the body to improve not just emotional outcomes but also cognitive, behavioral, relational, and spiritual outcomes in all therapeutic modalities.
What is Integral Somatic Psychology? A conversation with Raja Selvam
The following is an edited transcript of Serge Prengel’s conversation with Raja Selvam for Somatic Perspectives on Psychotherapy. It varies substantively from the original interview. It was edited by Raja Selvam to make it more clear and informative. Published with permission from somaticperspectives.com
Improving Outcomes With Integral Somatic Psychology
The Integral Somatic Psychology™ (ISP™) Professional Training aims at improving clinical outcomes through greater embodiment of all aspects of experience and all levels of the psyche in the physical body. ISP is a master training for experienced clinicians to increase their clinical effectiveness through greater integration of body, energy, and consciousness in the practice of any therapeutic modality.
Somatic Experiencing® (SE™) is a body-oriented approach for resolving trauma symptoms with training programs in over three dozen countries around the world. It was developed by Dr. Peter Levine, PhD, the recipient of the United States Association for Body Psychotherapy’s lifetime achievement award. Based on the neurobiology of trauma and using concepts and tools such as autonomic freeze, tracking of body sensations and involuntary movements, resourcing, discharge, completion of incomplete defensive responses, titration, pendulation, trauma and healing vortices, and regulation, the approach relies on downregulating autonomic and somatic nervous systems as the primary strategy for resolving physiological as well as psychological symptoms of trauma. When working with more complex aspects of trauma such as memory, cognition, emotion, and behavior, the same tools, concepts, and strategies for working with the body are usually employed.
As effective Somatic Experiencing has been found in healing trauma symptoms, the singular focus in the approach on downregulation of the physiology towards rest as soon as any aspect of traumatic experience gets too intense to prevent re-traumatization may compromise its effectiveness in working with more complex cognitive, affective, and behavioral aspects of trauma as well as psychosomatic (psychophysiological) symptoms from trauma.
Excessive and frequent regulation of the body can destroy complex experiences of memory, cognition, emotion, and behavior as they emerge, diminish forces of self-regulation, thwart global and stable reorganization, and the building of capacity of psychological aspects of trauma, especially emotions. These aspects are not only important for healing symptoms in the short term but also for building resilience for the long term so that a person is less likely to be affected by future traumas or more likely to heal from them quickly.
How does the ISP Professional Training complement Somatic Experiencing?
The ISP™ Professional Training offers therapists practicing Somatic Experiencing complementary theories, concepts, and tools for working more effectively with all aspects of traumatic experience as well as all kinds of traumas (simple versus complex, shock versus developmental). ISP utilizes the science of the physiology of emotions and other psychological experiences such as memory, cognition and behaviour, a broad model of biology of regulation, and principles of energy psychology to regulate the brain and body physiology and at the same time develop a greater capacity for all aspects of traumatic experience including emotions, foster deeper self-regulation, and promote global and stable reorganization for quicker symptom resolution and greater resilience in the long run.
In addition, ISP, from Dr. Raja Selvam’s experience of teaching Somatic Experiencing over twenty years in as many countries, offers SE therapists an understanding of how not to thwart more complex experiences of trauma such as emotions, memory, and behavior from forming and developing when they use the traditional SE approach with its emphasis on downregulation of the physiology towards states of rest and relaxation. ISP can therefore be a valuable complementary training for all those who practice Somatic Experiencing (SE).
How does the ISP Professional Training complement Attachment Work?
Integral Somatic Psychology™ (ISP™) can help improve the effectiveness of all those who work with attachment difficulties in their clients in a number of ways. ISP, through the use of a) the science of the physiology of emotions and attachment in the brain from academic research, b) the science of the physiology of emotions and attachment in the body from body psychotherapy traditions, and c) the science of biological regulation from medicine can create a greater capacity in clients to access, process, and complete unconscious, early, and archaic attachment patterns in the body with greater efficiency. Integral Somatic Psychology (ISP), in addition, offers ways of working with attachment patterns in the deeper energy body of an individual from Eastern energy psychology traditions.
How does the ISP Professional Training complement Craniosacral Therapy?
Integral Somatic Psychology™ (ISP™) can help improve the effectiveness of craniosacral therapists who engage their clients in psychological processing in a number of ways. ISP, through the use of a) the science of the physiology of emotions, b) the science of biological regulation, and c) an energy psychology, can create a greater capacity in clients to process and complete the intense psychological experiences that can arise in the course of craniosacral therapy. Integral Somatic Psychology (ISP), by providing a model of the energy body that is more proximal to the physical body involved in stimulating psychological experiences in it, can help craniosacral therapists transform the higher-order energies usually worked with in biodynamic craniosacral therapy into specific forms of energy to better manifest concrete psychological experiences. ISP can also help to improve the ability of craniosacral therapists to work psychologically with their clients through affect therapy that is part of the curriculum.
Why is Emotional Embodiment Important in Therapy?
When we help clients to build a capacity for tolerating emotions (affect tolerance), not only can it help them to resolve their current symptoms but also help them to be resilient in the face of difficult emotional experiences in the future (Stolorow). Capacity to tolerate opposites in experience is necessary for individuation (Jung); and for spiritual development (Shankara). When emotions are unavailable, poor behavioral outcomes follow (Damasio). When emotions are not embodied, cognition is compromised (Niedenthal). While it is important to ensure that the body remains regulated during emotional work, excessive regulation of the body through tracking body sensations or other means during emotional work can destroy the very emotional experience one is working with.
For a more detailed paper on this subject read How to Improve Outcomes in All Therapies Through Embodiment of Emotions? by Dr. Raja Selvam.
How does ISP Work with Emotional Embodiment?
Incorporating all of the above insights, Integral Somatic Psychology™ (ISP™), using the knowledge of the physiology of emotions and attachment in the brain as well as the body from scientific sources and body psychotherapy traditions, and of the science of biological regulation from medicine, offers a number of ways for working with emotions with greater effectiveness in all therapeutic modalities. Integral Somatic Psychology, in addition, offers ways of working with emotions in the deeper energy body of an individual from Eastern energy psychology approaches.
How does the ISP Professional Training complement Exposure Therapy?
Integral Somatic Psychology™ (ISP™) can help clients undergoing exposure therapy to cope with the intensity of experiences during prolonged exposure using their body as a container. ISP utilizes the science of a) the physiology of emotions and of b) the physiology of biological regulation to regulate the brain and body physiology to create a greater capacity in clients to cope psychologically and physiologically with the intense emotions that can arise in response to the stimuli employed in Exposure therapy. The increase in capacity to manage intense emotional and physical responses during exposure can decrease the chance that any client undergoing Exposure therapy would decompensate or quit treatment and increase the chance of a successful outcome. ISP can therefore be a valuable adjunct to those all who practice Exposure therapy.
ISP can also help therapists deal better with difficult emotional and physical reactions that arise in the countertransference, something that research shows can make therapists reluctant to practice Exposure therapy. From ISP, therapists can also learn how to develop and utilize inter-personal resonance through their body and use it to regulate unbearable experiences in themselves and in their clients.
What is the Basic Premise of Focusing Therapy?
The basic premise of Focusing therapy is that improving a person’s awareness of the felt sense, defined as the totality of a person’s experience generated in interaction with all aspects of one’s environment, can improve cognitive, emotional, behavioral, and other psychotherapy outcomes by increasing the person’s access to the implicit knowledge embedded in the felt sense.
A person’s access to the felt sense can however be compromised by physiological defenses that often form in the body to shield the person from difficult life experiences that are hard to cope with. This can constrain a person’s awareness of life experience to limited areas of the body. Or the physiology can become dysregulated forming psychosomatic or psychophysiological symptoms. Such defenses and symptoms cannot often be undone, at least not fast enough for the client’s purpose, just through therapist’s empathy and implicit trust in clients’ ability to regulate their physiology and undo their defenses through their own process and awareness, hallmarks of the person-centered psychotherapy approach that are also characteristics of Focusing Therapy.
How does the ISP Professional Training complement Focusing Therapy?
Integral Somatic Psychology™ (ISP™) can help improve outcomes in Focusing Therapy or Focusing-based Psychotherapy by actively identifying and working with defenses against unbearable experiences and with dysregulation in the body to enlarge and deepen the felt sense. Specifically, ISP utilizes the science of a) the physiology of emotions and of b) the physiology of biological regulation to regulate the brain and body physiology to create a greater capacity in clients to cope psychologically and physiologically with intense emotions and other physiological and psychological experiences that can arise in the course of any therapy, without destroying the very experiences the client is working with through excessive regulation often done through tools such as micro tracking of body sensations, spontaneous movements, and energy discharge, a weakness in some recent body psychotherapy approaches popular in mainstream psychology. ISP can therefore be a valuable adjunct to all those all who practice Focusing or Focusing-based Psychotherapy.
ISP can also help in improving outcomes in Focusing Therapy and Focusing-based Psychotherapy in other ways. The pursuit of the felt sense, the totality of the organism’s response to the environment, can at times be compromised in the tracking of individual components of explicit experience such as sensations, feelings, thoughts, and behavioral impulses. Tracking of such individual components and trying to sense them altogether to arrive at the felt sense might not be as deep or as optimal as expanding and tolerating the generalized ‘affective’ experiences that underlie all components of explicit experience in the form of more general but meaningful tendencies that are closer to the felt sense. ISP offers this additional possibility of a better grasp of the felt sense by working with all levels of affect (primary, secondary, and especially the more common sensory-motor or tertiary affect) and embodying them in as much of the body as possible.
According to Dr. Gendlin, “Your physically felt body is in fact part of a gigantic system of here and other places, now and other times, you and other people–in fact, the whole universe. This sense of being bodily alive in a vast system is the body as it is felt from inside.” The comprehensive ISP model of the psyche, with individual physical (gross) and energy (subtle) bodies, dynamic collective physical (gross) and energy (subtle) bodies, and the absolute collective body of pure awareness, with simple strategies for connecting the collective bodies to the individual bodies in everyday experience, offers Focusing and Focusing-based Psychotherapy practitioners further possibilities for enlarging and embodying the felt sense of whole through the physical body of the person.