Embodied experience: Somatic mindfulness in psychotherapy
Neuroscience, evolutionary psychology, and embodied cognition have been contributing to an emerging model of the human mind that is profoundly different from previous conceptions.
This emerging model is not just ‘top down’, focusing on the exceptionality of the human mind. Its attention to ‘bottom up’ processes stresses the continuity with other animals and other life forms.
The notion of 'bottom up' processes is very much intertwined with the notion of relationality. All life is interaction, so we better understand all life forms in terms of how they interact with their environment, as opposed to seeing them as separate units.
The convergence of somatic and experiential approaches that track embodied experience is happening in a relational context. Much of psychotherapy has moved from a medical model, in which a patient receives ‘treatment’, to an emphasis on relationality and the role of intersubjective experience.
The underlying assumption that life is interaction with threats and opportunities, and that much of our responses are implicit, modulated through the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS).
The visual model of the Window of Tolerance has been widely used to make sense of what we do in trauma therapy, in terms of tracking the activation of the Autonomic Nervous System. This visual model is often used in conjunction with the Polyvagal Theory. However, force-fitting the Polyvagal Theory into the visual model of the Window of Tolerance can be misleading. Here, I propose a different visual model. See: Window of Tolerance & Polyvagal Theory Diagram.
'Bottom up' means that relationality is embodied. Basically, in order to exist, all life forms need to be able to respond to the situation they’re in. This is not just the case for human beings, or for animals, but also for plants. The following provide two approaches to exploring these concepts in psychotherapy:
Edited by Serge Prengel
See related podcast: Somatic Perspectives on Psychotherapy