When I first heard about somatic therapy many years ago, this form of therapy really resonated to me – integrating mind and body to heal mental and emotional issues. More recently, from my personal experience with it to what clients have told me, I witnessed how somatic therapy successfully addresses current challenges but also heal at a deep level.
In this blog post, I interviewed Erika Shershun, a Somatic Psychotherapist who specializes in treating relational issues, feelings of overwhelm, PTSD and trauma, including assault, sexual assault and molestation. She sees individuals and couples at her San Francisco financial district office. Prior to becoming a therapist Erika worked in a variety of occupations and traveled extensively while studying fine art, filmmaking, spirituality, bodywork, and psychology.
Caroline Vigery – Hello Erika. Today I am delighted to share your work with our readers. Can you explain what Somatic Psychotherapy is for those who are unfamiliar with it?
Erika Shershun – The term somatic is derived from the Greek word soma, meaning body. Somatic psychotherapists work with the whole of an individual – thoughts, emotions, and feelings, but also the nervous system, physical sensations, structure, mobility, boundaries, and energy because our minds and bodies are intimately interconnected. And coming into our bodies helps us to come into presence, where worry, regret, pain from the past and fear of the future do not reside.
Somatic Psychotherapy has been around for decades now, yet it is only in the last ten or so years that scientific evidence is available to back up what we holistic practitioners have know all along, that health emerges from an integration of mind and body. As a result many psychotherapist are now beginning to bring aspects of somatic work into their practices.
C.V. – How is somatic therapy different from traditional talk therapy?
E.S – Traditionally psychotherapy, as an extension of Western culture, has prioritized the mind as though it were a separate entity from the rest of our being, as though the body were merely an appendage of the mind. Yet the mind is not separate from our bodies or from our relationships, it both arises from them and regulates them.
Similarly our brains are interconnected and interdependent with the whole of our bodies through the nervous system and the body’s physiological processes. So healthy minds and brains emerge from integrated nervous systems, and integrated relationships. To support this integration therapy needs to include the body.
C.V. – I know you have extensive training in bodywork, including massage therapy and Reiki. Do you use these modalities in your sessions, or any other modalities?
E.S. – My training in bodywork helps inform somatic observations and interventions, and Reiki is an always-present foundation in the background of my work. I bring in many other psychotherapy modalities, including but not limited to Mindfulness, Attachment Theory, Focusing, Internal Family Systems, Narrative and Art Therapy.
C.V. – What are some of the presenting issues that people come to you with?
E.S. – The majority of my clients are young professionals and artists who want relief from symptoms of overwhelm, anxiety, including social anxiety and panic attacks, and trauma ranging from assault to developmental trauma due to neglect or miss attunement with a parent or primary caregiver. I also work with individuals impacted by a family member’s addiction or mental health diagnosis.
C.V – Am I correct in saying that your work as a Somatic Therapist is to help your clients deal with present challenges, but also guide and support them in a deeper healing work? Could you give us an example?
E.S. – I usually begin sessions by asking what is present; we work with what the client brings into the room because really that is all one can work with, what is present. This directs us to deeper work; one informs the other. At the same time I am weaving the present work into the theme of each clients overarching goals.
Due to confidentiality, I can’t share a specific example, but many clients come in with one goal, such as to seek relief from anxious feelings. As our work together deepens, not only do they gain understanding and relief from or lessening of their symptoms, they also gain an expanded sense of connection with themselves, with colleagues, with friends, and with loved ones. This goes back to the point I made earlier about health emerging through integration.
C.V. – What does a typical session look like?
E.S. –Every session is unique. How we focus our attention can transform the brain’s structure, so awareness and practice are key. One week we may do a lot of work with the body, such as bringing awareness to sensations, grounding, breath work, support, boundaries, gestures, and exploring the range of possibility available, then in the next session we might spend more time in dialogue, although still bringing awareness to what is present bodily. After a time, it’s rewarding to witness clients bringing in mindfulness and somatic awareness without any prompting.
C.V. – How long do your clients typically stay in therapy? Do they, and do you notice change rather quickly? Does the frequency of their visits change overtime?
It varies from one individual to the next depending on the presenting issues, goals, and available resources. Clients usually report some change within one to three sessions, yet this is a starting point. We are working with patterns of organization that have served the individual on some level for years, so we want to introduce alternative ways of organizing slowly. The goal is to generate embodied integration, not a quick and temporary fix.
I’ve had a number of clients end therapy feeling that their goals were met after about ten sessions. It’s more typical for individuals to stay longer as one goal is met another arises and the work deepens. The state of flux we live in is another factor informing the frequency of the work. Some individuals cut back to every other week after their initial goals have been met, the majority prefer to continue weekly.
C.V. – I understand that the trust between a Therapist and client is crucial to do healing work. Do you offer a free consult to see if you and your client are a match?
E.S. – The relational aspect of therapy is a vital part of the healing. We are wounded in relation, and it is through relationship with a kind empathic other that we heal. Finding a therapist that you’re comfortable with is essential. I offer a free 15 min. phone consultation to help get a sense of whether we’re match. I also suggest that potential clients take a look at my blog and the client testimonials on my website to get a taste of how I work.
Thank you for giving me this opportunity to share a little about my work with your audience Caroline.
To schedule a Somatic Psychotherapy session with Erika you can visit her website at www.erikashershuntherapy.com or call 415.570.9409.