What happened to the term “psycho-somatic? For some reason it is no longer common parlance. What does the term mean? In popular usage, the term implied that the ailment referred to was “all in ‘your’ head.” The roots of the term are the Greek words psyche which means mind, and somato which means body; therefore a true translation would be mindbody. A psychosomatic disorder, for instance, can be described as “a disease which involves both mind and body.”1 I’m glad the term is not used in a derogatory way anymore, but I wonder why it’s rarely used at all. Perhaps we have retired the term because research has confirmed the mind/body connection.
Can an ailment be “all in your head?” Let’s think about it. Is there a part of the body that is not affected by our thoughts and feelings? Test anxiety may bring on sweaty palms. Chronic emotional stress can cause adrenal fatigue. Imagining hamburgers stimulates salivary glands. Depressed feelings can translate into slumped posture and fatigue. And researchers have discovered that even our DNA can be affected by emotions. “According to the new insights of behavioral epigenetics, traumatic experiences in our past, or in our recent ancestors’ past, leave molecular scars adhering to our DNA.”2 So trauma, and the resulting emotions, can change molecules.
Does this have implications for psychotherapy? As a body-centered psychotherapist and integrative healer, I’d like to propose that the best psychotherapy is embodied psychotherapy. Since emotions can have physical expressions, and since our bodies dialogue with our psyches, it makes sense for client and psychotherapist to tune into the body. Client and therapist can better understand and heal if we notice sensations in our bodies. Tuning in to our bodies helps us to access information below the level of consciousness. In the words of Candice Pert, “...the deepest oldest messages are stored and must be accessed through the body. Your body is your unconscious mind, and you can't heal it by talk alone” 3 By tuning in to the tension in your shoulders, you may realize that you feel the “weight of the world” and need to delegate responsibilities. By noticing a subtle pain in your jaw you may take account of the repressed anger towards your spouse. Your neck muscles may be tight for fear you’ll “lose your head.” You may be weak in the knees, dizzy with love, or live with a “pain in the neck.” Your hip may hurt because you feel “out of joint.” The body speaks in telling symbols. It behooves us to listen.
We are psycho-somatic beings -- and to me that means it’s not all in our heads. It’s also in our hips and our necks and our backs and our shoulders....
3 Pert, C. B. (1997). Molecules of emotions. New York, NY: Scribner.