What is somatic coaching?

Contributor: Joey Ra, Founder and Head of Faculty

· Coaching

Somatic coaching is an approach to coaching that integrates the body, mind, and emotions to help individuals achieve their goals and make positive changes in their lives. Somatic coaching is based on the fact that the body and mind are interconnected, as are physical sensations, emotions, and thoughts. In contrast to traditional models of talk therapy (from CBT to psychoanalysis) and basic coaching, which only involves the mind at the rational level, somatic coaching seeks to make use of the whole person.

One of the core principles of the somatic appraoch is that transformation does not happen in the realm of cognitive thoughts or beliefs. Transformation is an embodied process. To give a very basic example, having a client merely think that their speech is going to be great will not stop her heart pounding and head spinning the moment she steps on stage. This fear is embodied and goes beyond rational thought. To give another example, telling people to "think happy thoughts" when they are stuck in the grips of an anxiety attack does not work.

More accurately, it does not work by itself.

This is the same reason why many corporate trainings and leadership development programs fail. These interventions largely only target the intellectual part of people, and miss the fact that human beings are embodied beings. They have bodies that have huge influences on their minds and behaviours.

Somatic coaching reincorporates the body into the change process. At the most basic level, somatic coaches will use various techniques to help clients become more aware of their physical experiences and how much these experiences impact their behaviour and decision-making. The awareness of these physical experiences will often reveal more about what's going on in the subconscious body-mind than a purely cognitive approach.

Moreover, over time the client will build tolerance to the physical sensations that are the triggers to an non-ideal pattern (e.g. "I have this tightness in my chest and my heart pounds when I am worried, and I want to run away from this task" or "I feel a deep cavity in my stomach, my mouth feels dry and I want to have a cigarette"). This will help the client pause and pick a more ideal behaviour, rather than staying stuck in their old patterns.

With the help of a somatic coach, clients can also develop a range of tools on how they can use their bodies to create specific short-term and long-term changes in their lives. This might be certain physical triggers to tap into their inner confidence, goals or make space for certain emotions. Overall, clients will develop a closer relationship to their bodies, leading to greater performance, satisfaction and holistic wellbeing in their lives.

Somatic coaching can be helpful for a wide range of issues, including stress management, leadership development and even trauma, as trauma is stored and re-experienced mainly in the body. Leaders, who in our current society tend to be mostly intellect-driven, find it particularly helpful to learn more about how their body and emotions influence their behavior and decision-making, and how to use this understanding to make better decisions.

CCI's Connection-Centred Transformative Coaching Model is heavily influenced by somatic work, and our Founder Joey Ra and Faculty Helena Yan (master pilates instructor and trainer, yin yoga instructor and zumba instroctor) have extensive experience working with the body for transformation.

For other references in somatic work, we like the work of Strozzi Institite and Peter Levine's Somatic Experiencing.