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What is Somatic Coaching?

In this article we will give an overview of what somatic coaching is.

Written by Meryl Rowlands, edited by Sam Taylor

What is Coaching?

Coaching can be traced back to the humanistic movement of the 1950s, characterised by influential figures like Carl Rogers, Fritz Perls, and the principles of Zen Buddhism. Humanist thinkers critiqued psychotherapy’s overfocus on the past and on pathologising individuals, and wanted to shift the perspective to the client’s growth potential and own agency to change.

This set the stage for the evolution of modern coaching practices.

“Every client is naturally creative, resourceful and whole.” (International Coach Federation Cleveland, 2021)

As Humanistic Psychology is at the root of coaching’s foundation, coaches believe that everyone has the resources for understanding themselves, for changing their attitudes, beliefs and self-directing their behaviour. The idea is that every human has an ‘actualising tendency’ — a tendency to promote growth, direction and productivity.

There are many different schools of thought, modalities and ways to work with a coach. At The Somatic School we define coaching as follows:

“Coaching is partnering in a co-creative process of enquiry in service to the potential which is seeking to emerge in the life of the client.”

There are also multiple forms of somatic coaching. At The Somatic School, we offer a unique coaching framework called Body-Oriented Coaching which draws on a range of process-oriented ways of working including Focusing, Hakomi, Constellations, Organic Intelligence, Interpersonal Neurobiology and the perennial knowledge of the Wisdom Traditions.

This adds up to an effective, impactful and enjoyable integrative approach to coaching.

Coaching vs Psychotherapy

Many people ask ‘what’s the difference with psychotherapy?’ A great question. As a School, we explain it as follows.

Psychotherapy deals with how someone’s present life is influenced by their past. Psychotherapy is looking more for a diagnosis — finding the root of an issue.

Meanwhile, coaching focuses on someone’s present and how they might design their future. Coaching is ‘being with’ and ‘accepting’ and walking alongside someone’s sensemaking.

You might share memories in therapy and in coaching - however in coaching we are more interested in how the memory relates to the present moment and what it implies for the future that is emerging.

Ultimately, coaching is about supporting clients to make progress towards their full potential. Often coaching clients are enabled to make fairly rapid steps in this direction.

So what does a coach do?

Coaching in its most simplistic definition is really just a conversation, between a client and a coach, about the client.

“Coaching is simply a conversation where someone feels heard and gets new insights into their own stuff… The coach’s role is to facilitate someone else’s sensemaking, not to solve their problems.” (Claire Pedrick Simplifying Coaching)

In Body-Oriented Coaching we are not working in a space of solution focused coaching - we primarily work in what we call awareness focused coaching. This gives the client power of choice once they have awareness of the possibilities available to them. There is an emergent quality to the coaching sessions and it feels more like an intelligent unfolding.

There’s an emphasis on forward-moving growth leading to momentum around unblocking. We are aiming for it to feel spontaneous, improvisational, playful, experimental, empowering and hopeful.

Claire Pedrick shared this excellent metaphor: “As your coach I am there to steward your thinking, riding on the back of your tandem (which YOU are captain of). I will support your thinking with some pedal power whilst you steer us in the direction you need to go in.”

Right ok, so then what is Somatic Coaching?

The ancient Greek word ‘soma’ means body. At its core, somatic coaching is therefore a coaching modality that has a focus on the body. But the focus of the work is on the whole self, what we refer to as the ‘bodymind’. This weaves together different sources of knowing for the client: their thinking, their emotions, their sensations, felt sense, intuition and deeper wisdom. This differs from traditional coaching methods that predominantly focus on cognitive processes. In Body-Oriented Coaching, the attention is on both the thinking mind and what the rest of your body is telling you.

Western traditions of more talk-based therapy and coaching may keep us circling in our heady conceptual self-awareness (as opposed to embodied self-awareness). Over time, as a society we’ve developed an unhelpful distinction or sense of separation between mind and body. But - as the latest science shows - humans are in fact integrated neuro-psycho-biological beings. The body is a reflection of the mind, and the mind is a reflection of the body. To omit the body in coaching is to miss a critical part of the picture.

Fun science-y side note… In hemispheric neuroscience we understand that the conceptual mind is largely governed by the left hemisphere which is good at putting different parts together but not good at holding a sense of the whole (this is the role of the right hemisphere). The left hemisphere, in its role in emphasising the role of individual parts, loses touch with reality - and creates alternatives (both pleasant and unpleasant). It is of course useful for the conceptual mind to think abstractly, but, too often in our daily lives, the conceptual mind creates constructs (ideas built with words) that are disconnected with lived reality. And we get stuck there.

Ok enough of that…

In somatic coaching, the body is seen as a living laboratory. By learning to interpret bodily sensations we can gain a deeper understanding of ourselves.

By receiving somatic coaching, you will be tapping into the classes of sensory perception:

  • interoception: information from inside you (e.g. feeling hungry)
  • exteroception: information from outside (i.e. via sight, sound, smell, taste and touch)
  • proprioception: information about your body in the space it’s in (e.g. your posture)

This holistic approach recognises the vital role the body plays in our overall wellbeing. Our bodies hold valuable information and insights, which, when accessed and integrated, can lead to profound shifts in our lives.

The body has memory

Experiences, including trauma, can manifest in physical sensations, behaviours, and bodily responses. They are imprinted in the body’s nervous system.

Neuroscientific studies have even shown that traumatic experiences can lead to changes in the brain’s structure and functioning, affecting areas responsible for memory, emotion regulation, and stress response.

Through somatic techniques clients can gradually release this stored tension and access the body’s memory to promote a sense of safety and healing.

In light of the above, whilst you work on your self-development, exclusively focusing on the mind without incorporating your body’s wisdom seems like we’d be ignoring a large piece of the puzzle!

What you can expect in a Body-Oriented Coaching session

“How do we turn up the resolution on the senses to get granular on our perception?”

In a Body-Oriented Coaching session (on Zoom or in person) you will be having a spoken conversation like with any other coach. You will bring something going on in your life that you’d like to explore and your coach will be supporting you by asking exploratory and open questions.

During the session you will be invited to tap into what your body might like to reveal to you, which might not make immediate ‘sense’. But the invitation is to resist the cognitive bypass (and layer a ‘top down’ solution or explanation on what’s happening) and just to stay with the felt sense that is emerging.

A felt sense is that ‘gut knowing’ inside, when you have an obvious or a subtle sensation in your body that you might not fully be able to name but you can attach an emotion to it and ‘just know’ what it is telling you.

It’s more than ‘interoception’ (like hunger mentioned above), a felt sense implies movement and helps you shift from a conceptual to an embodied understanding of something.

You will be invited to explore those sensations and start a dialogue with your somatic intelligence to gain insights.

A Body-Oriented Coaching session is a safe and held space in which the places inside that want to be known can express themselves fully through the bodymind.

It can be a truly transformative experience to allow those places to take centre stage, and for them to be heard, explored and supported in the atmosphere of relational safety that coaching provides!

As these places inside are met with love and discovered, a flow of energy is released. The client’s life naturally starts to forward in the direction of their desires.