Somatic Therapy Q & A with Nicolette Gibson

Somatic Therapy Q & A with Nicolette Gibson

We spoke with somatic therapist, Nicolette Gibson to learn how somatic therapy can help release trauma and stress from the body. We discuss the mind body connection, and how gentle movement can help to release chronic tensions and patterns. Nicolette also talks about the importance of getting out of the thinking mind and into the feeling body as a way to let go of the “old stories” that keep trauma stored within the body. While traditional mental health therapy can trigger traumas in the nervous system by bringing a person back to a challenging or painful experience, somatic therapy guides the patient to focus on sensations as they revive old traumas, giving the body an opportunity to change its response.

Nicolette, can you tell us a little bit about your background and what you do?

I am a somatic movement therapist. My work lies in educating people how to more harmoniously inhabit their bodies so that they can more fully experience their living. I have been dedicated to studying the life of the body for over a decade through various movement forms. What was always of interest to me is the connection of our emotions and our bodies. As in the experience of myself and what I saw in others, is that body movements give rise to feelings. I am a trainee of the Feldenkrais Method, a form of somatic education, and in many ways a transpersonal psychology method. This is a four-year training rich with learning.

What is somatic therapy?

There are different methods and forms of somatic therapy. Ultimately, somatic therapy is the approach that body centered therapy is the way forward. By having one connect to bodily sensations through gentle movement experiences, chronic tensions and patterns can let go, and the body can find another way to be. This is exciting as it encourages us to be more present to what is, not what should be, or what was. Movement is the language of the body. Shifts in our way of being arise with self-awareness which is a function of feeling. The promise to continue feeling is to continue fully living.

What kinds of modalities are used during somatic therapy?

The various forms of somatic therapy are connected to body mind connections. There can be breath work, movement, visualization, body work, dance, meditation, and grounding practices. It’s so wonderful to realize that somatic therapy can be found in many different ways if we enhance our awareness of ourselves. This is what sets apart somatic practitioners from fitness, style, and wellness (which indeed has a place). With somatic education it’s not about the movement, it’s about the learning to learn, so that there is no limit to improvement. We are ever evolving structures. 

What is transformative touch and how can it assist in the healing process?

In the Feldenkrais Method we use a transformative touch in the Functional Integration hands on body work. The touch is to inform the individual about themselves, it’s a listening touch and noninvasive. It is the primary means of communication. The Feldenkrais teacher to student (I say student because the client is learning about themselves) touch informs the student how they organize their body and actions. This real time awareness reflects holdings patterns. Through the experience of pleasurable movement and transformative touch; one becomes more aware of body sensations, thus resulting in the positive changes one may seek for themselves.

What kinds of conditions can somatic therapy treat? 

Through somatic therapy one can develop a deeper connection to their body, what it means to listen to their body, and how the body is communicating its wants and needs. By attending to oneself in this way, one can live more presently, getting out of the thinking mind and more into their feeling body. This releases “old stories” so that stagnant traumas can let go and freedom and movement is restored in vibrant health. 

How is somatic therapy different from traditional mental health therapy?

In talk therapy, we typically hear the “tell me about childhood”. This approach can trigger traumas in the nervous system by bringing the person back into challenging and painful experiences. With body centered therapy, the patient is guided to focus on sensations as they revive memories of traumatic experiences. By paying attention to the physical sensations that arise, there is an opportunity to change the response of the body through guidance of the somatic practices. This helps the client better interpret their feelings and how they are experienced in the body, resulting in positive changes forward in their life which is a freeing feeling.

Can you walk us through a typical somatic therapy session?

In the Feldenkrais method, the movement method is called ‘Awareness through Movement’. In a session one experiences gentle subtle movements to enhance awareness of parts of themselves. Unlike yoga, one does not have to be flexible to enjoy these movements. It’s about doing less; there is no practice to perfect postures. Rather than repeating postures, one is exploring pleasurable, small, gentle, and novel movements.  While experiencing these movements one begins to learn more about habits that might be causing tension and pain in the body. By enhancing one’s self-awareness through these gentle movements, one finds themselves relieved of holding patterns and tensions. When tensions are released, grace is the natural result.

Can somatic therapy be done remotely?

Somatic movement therapy can certainly be experienced remotely, and it works wonderfully. At the time being, I teach a group class twice a week on zoom platform and privately one on one sessions via zoom. 

How many sessions does it take for a patient to begin noticing results?

One senses their structure evolving through the entire lesson. The power of the method is learning through distinction and contrasts, therefore sensing the changes after every movement through rest is a key part of it. The individual feels more like themselves after every lesson, including the first! Feldenkrais said, “There is no limit to improvement”. This is a lifelong learning and experience about ourselves.