What is the uniqueness of your approach?
Let me start by giving you very specific examples that both will explain how soma therapy can benefit you as well as explain its uniqueness.
The first three examples below are:
- Interoceptive Prescription
- Sleep Prescription
- Soft Tissue Prescription
These are fundamental “prescriptions” that all soma therapy clients start their healing process with. These prescriptions focus on correcting the work of fundamental systems of the human body. Unfortunately, modern medicine ignores these fundamental systems and with this misses an opportunity to help the patient. Please be aware that the presence of the word “prescription” by no means implies that we prescribe medications.
Interoceptive dysfunction underlies many physical and mental health conditions. The interoceptive system is one of the major systems of your body. I will explain what it is a bit later. For now, just think of it as one of the major systems of your body.
Interoception is a hidden key to treating and reducing symptoms for a number of medical and mental health conditions. Unfortunately, you are not going to hear about interoception from your physicians. Does this mean that the interoception and its effect on the disease are non-sense?
On the contrary! The public tends to think that clinical medicine uses up-to-date knowledge in treating patients. This might be pretty close to reality for pharmacological treatments. And this is unfortunately absolutely wrong for non-pharmacological treatment methods. There is a big gap between clinical medicine and state of the art medical research.
Pharma companies aggressively push results of modern clinical drug research to clinicians. At the same time, there has been an upsurge in non-drug medical research, but unfortunately, it will be decades before your physician will learn about this research and you will start benefiting from it!
Because there are no multi-billion dollar companies aggressively pushing this research into clinical medicine. And scientists do not have funds to educate the clinicians. Interoception is the perfect example of clinical medicine dramatic lag behind the medical research. Recent research publications expose the connection between interoceptive dysfunction and medical and mental health conditions.
Taking advantage of this cutting-edge scientific research, soma therapy creates effective clinical interventions that correct function of the interoceptive system. Once the interoceptive dysfunction is resolved, many symptoms of medical and mental health conditions decrease or disappear altogether.
So, what is the interoceptive system?
The interoceptive system comprises neural receptors spread out throughout your entire body. These receptors register physiological state of your body. They are intimately involved with self-regulation of your physiology and emotions. When this system dysfunctions, your physiological, emotional, and psychological systems start collapsing, like a house with a faulty foundation.
Another useful analogy for understanding interoception is a car with internal sensors. Modern cars have many internal sensors. These sensors register a variety of factors reflecting the internal state of the car. The most familiar example is your fuel gauge. It measures how much gas you still have left in your car. Now, imagine that this sensor is malfunctioning. You are driving as usual and suddenly…
Boom! Your car just stops!
Your mind comes up with hypotheses:
- Oh, maybe it is something with the engine!
- Or maybe it is the electric system!
This is what we oftentimes observe with so many of our clients. They come with a variety of official medical diagnoses. They come after years of taking drugs. Yet, the thing that was dysfunctional was their interoceptive system. And once this system is stabilized, the symptoms decrease.
The key concept here is that the interoceptive system cannot be treated by pharmacological means! There is just no miracle drug that will cure your interoceptive system. To better understand how interoception works and how soma therapy improves its function, please read two of my articles:
As far as I know, the term “Sleep Prescription” was coined by Professor of Neuroscience and Psychology at UC Berkley, Matthew Walker, Ph.D. in his recent book “Why We Sleep” Coincidentally, Mattew Walker and myself were working at the Division of Sleep Medicine at the same time. “Sleep Prescription” beautifully and succinctly describes what soma therapy has been doing for years: prescribing sleep to any and all patients! In his book (which I highly recommend everybody to read!) Professor Walker encourages clinical physicians to literally prescribe patients sleep.
He emphasizes that this does not mean prescribing patients sleeping pills, as sleeping pills do not induce healthy and natural sleep. Instead, they sedate you. And sedation is very far from natural sleep. But here is the trick! What if you have insomnia or poor sleep quality? It is well known that sleep quality declines with age. So, how can you prescribe sleep if most people above 35 already have sleep problems?
And this is where soma therapy comes in. We have a very effective non-pharmacological method to dramatically improve your sleep quality. This is why our programs start from healing two foundational systems of human physiology: interoceptive system and sleep system. We don’t just say to our clients: “You need to start sleeping for 8 hours a day! And you better have good quality sleep!”
We actually train clients’ physiology and nervous system to have deep and rejuvenating sleep. To read more about sleep and its connection to the interoceptive system, check out the following article:
Soft Tissue and Pain Prescription
Clinical Medicine ignores interoceptive dysfunction. Clinical Medicine ignores the tremendous healing effect of sleep.Soft tissue dysfunction is the third factor that practically every physician ignores. Soft tissue dysfunction is just as ubiquitous as interoceptive and sleep dysfunction. You can ask anybody above age 25 and they will tell you that they have muscle tightness or pain.
It could be regular Headaches,
Or Back Pain,
Or plantar fasciitis,
Or tennis elbow,
Or carpal tunnel…
How do physicians deal with pain?
They first make sure that the pain is not caused by serious medical conditions such as cancer, and then…. They prescribe painkillers. This is one of the reason, we now have an opioid epidemic. Some physicians may refer you to a physical therapist. This is a good news on one hand, but don’t get too excited.
While physical therapy education is improving, physical therapists, by and large, are not educated on working with soft tissue. Believe it or not, we have a medical specialist for almost every single system in the body; We have endocrinologist for the endocrine system.We have a cardiologist for the cardiovascular system.
But there is not a single professional whose specialty is soft tissue.
This is why we have so much soft tissue pain in our society and very few medical professionals know how to work effectively with pain. One of the major focuses of soma therapy is on restoring the health of the soft tissues. Just like restoring the health of interoceptive and sleep systems have a profound positive effect on the entire health, in the same way resolving pain and muscle tightness leads to dramatic improvement in health and well-being.
You may wonder: Why?
There are many answers and here I will quickly explain just one reason. Your soft tissues house interoceptors, the neural receptors which as we discussed above are absolutely essential for your physical and mental health and well-being. The relationship between soft tissues and the nervous system is similar to a relationship between lake and fish.
Fish live in a lake. When water is clean, fish are healthy. When lake water is contaminated with chemicals, fish get sick.
In a similar fashion, neural receptors live in soft tissues. When soft tissues are healthy, the nervous system is healthy. But when soft tissues accumulate dysfunction, when they become hard and knotty, the nervous system dysfunction follows. When your soft tissues are tight and achy, you have a feeling of discomfort that you try to suppress. To sustain suppression, you need to invest energy. This is how you start losing resources and energy. On the other hand, when you heal the soft tissues, your nervous system acquires a healthy environment to live in and you free up energy as you no longer have to waste it on suppression!
Physiology Over Mind
Our culture tends to place the mind at the head of the table. And physiology is something secondary. Let me give you a couple of examples. There are so many people who have been going to a psychologist or psychotherapist for years or even decades. Or they go to one coach, then another coach, they learn a great deal about themselves, but the core problems do not change.
I have been there myself.
Talk therapy engages your rational mind. And while the therapist engages the rational and emotional parts of your brain, you might be suffering from poor sleep quality, dysfunctional interoceptive system, muscle tightness, and pain. Do you remember the last time you tried to have a rational conversation with somebody who is in pain or sleep deprived? Exactly, when our fundamental needs for sleep, food, and safety are not satisfied, our rational mind is no longer so rational!
The same thing happens with most people seeking talk therapy. They suffer from multiple physiological dysfunctions (poor sleep, pain, tension etc…). They learned to suppress and ignore these dysfunctions pretty well, but these dysfunctions still interfere with healthy functioning of their rational mind.
These foundational and physiological factors affect our entire being on such a deep level that no talk therapy can get in there and make any positive impact. And still, when things are not working out …When you want to achieve something and you fail…People go to a psychologist. Others go to a life coach. Executives go to an executive coach. But no matter who you go to, you end up talking!
Now, roughly speaking there are three sections in our brain:
- Rational and thinking brain
- Emotional brain
- The ancient brain that controls the nervous system and self-regulation.
Do you see that something is missing here? We are trying to solve things by appealing to our rational brain via talking… And we end up ignoring our physiology! In our culture, we tend to think that if somebody has psychological issues, they need to see either a psychiatrist who will prescribe pills or psychotherapist who will talk to you.
Antidepressants and many other psychiatric medications are valuable and definitely have their place in medicine.But! They are wildly over-prescribed to people who do not need these medications! These people then start suffering from a multitude of side effects these medications cause. Psychotherapy is a much healthier choice.
There are many wonderful forms of therapy that have been developed within the past 100 years. And now I am going to generalize for the sake of simplicity. What do psychotherapists do? They talk to you, they help you to become aware of things. Psychotherapy works primarily on your thinking and emotional brains. Once again, the most ancient part of the brain is not involved.
This is why in soma therapy, we start from resolving physiological issues. Physiology is the foundation for our thinking brain.In our practice, when physiology is not functioning properly, the mind will not function well. Why would we want to invest time and energy into talking to the mind, when the problem is in dysfunctional physiology? The result of our approach that we observe daily is beyond amazing.
In many cases, this bottom-up approach resolves problems that talk therapists have tried to resolve unsuccessfully for years.This is why if you come with any type of psychological problem:
- Conflicts at home or work
- Post-traumatic stress symptoms
We will always start from stabilizing your physiology first before venturing into talking. You will be amazed to see how many problems are resolved effortlessly with this approach.
Quality of Life
You may be shocked to realize this….But clinical medicine does not really care about the quality of your life…Medicine is not in the business of improving your life quality. A patient comes in complaining of symptoms, and the physician’s goal is to get rid of these symptoms, usually by prescribing medications.
Nobody comes in complaining: “Hey doc, I am not satisfied with my quality of life!” The doctor has a 15-min top for each appointment. She has no time to deal with the likes of “life quality” complains! In the best case scenario, you will be referred either to psychiatrist or clinical psychologist. The simple reality is that physicians are neither educated nor trained in improving your quality of life!
Have you noticed nighttime sleep conditions at US hospitals? At the time, when science has established beyond any doubt vital importance of good sleep quality for patient’s health including the immune system, sick patients are forced to sleep in hospitals surrounded by loud noises and with lights fully on!
You would think that physicians would care about their patient’s well-being….But this example demonstrates that unfortunately, they do not…They just do not know how to! Soma therapy, on the other hand, is focused wholeheartedly on your life quality. Relying on the latest medical research, we understand that the higher your life quality is right now, the better chances you have to overcome your disorders!
Moreover, good quality of life creates a protective barrier defending you from acquiring new physical and mental health disorders!And this is not all…Quality of life is the primary goal in soma therapy! You can describe the goal of soma therapy simply as helping you to maximize your quality of life. This task is not easy by any means! This is a hugely important topic, so read soma therapy philosophy article.
What is your treatment philosophy?
In the previous section, I gave five examples of how soma therapy is unique and different from standard medical care:
- Healing Interoceptive System
- Healing Sleep System
- Healing Soft Tissues and Pain
- Starting from Healing Physiology Before Working with Rational Mind
- Improving Quality of Life
There is something common to all of these five factors. Do you have an idea what it is?
All these five factors are pretty much skills…
For the interoception, this is a skill of observing inner body sensations and then learning to create pleasant inner body sensations. For sleep, this is a skill of training the nervous system to have rejuvenating sleep. The concept of skill or functionality goes to the core of what soma therapy is. Let me explain.
When a client comes in with a problem and a complain, this means that she is in a sub-optimal state of being and our goal is to move the entire system to the more optimal state. The human organism is a complicated system composed of many interdependent and interconnected subsystems.
Examples of these subsystems are:
- Physical Health
- Emotional Health
- Psychological health
- Social Health
Each of these subsystems is in turn composed of sub-sub-systems (you can read a more detailed discussion here: [link to philosophy article]. What is the most optimal way to shift the system from one state to another? We know that all of the subsystems are deeply interconnected (for examples, see [link to philosophy article]). Therefore, the most optimal intervention is the one that affects as many of the sub-systems as possible!
The key point is as follows: to effectively treat any disorder, the intervention should affect the entire system instead of one small element of the system.
Essentially, we are saying that in clinical practice (and for that matter even in theory), we are not yet so clever as to know which sub-system exactly we need to intervene on. The reason being – because when an organism is in a dysfunctional state, it is often impossible to say what is the chicken and what is the egg. Do you have a headache because you are stressed out? And are you stressed out because you have conflicts at work and home and maybe you lack conflict prevention skills?
Or do you have a headache because you are slouching and are sitting for 10 hours a day behind a computer? Or do you have a headache because you did not get enough sleep? Or do you have a headache for all three reasons above?
Clinical medicine takes an easy route. You come in complaining of insomnia. The physician gives you sedating sleeping pill which shuts down your nervous system. Boom! Done! You are in bed semi-unconscious, thinking that you are sleeping! But as a result, you don’t get natural sleep. You get sedated and this means that sleeping pills deprive you of sleep!
You come in complaining of pain. The physician gives you a painkiller. Boom! Problem solved! You have no pain, but all the factors that caused pain are still there! And this means this pain will come back! Clinical medicine does not try to dig into potential causes. It does not have time for this – physician gets 15 mins for a patient!
In Soma therapy, we aim to resolve the underlying causative factors by rebuilding the functionality of major body systems. But we know that it is clinically impossible to differentiate between chicken and the egg. So, what does it mean? This means that we need to work on as many factors as possible. Now, there are hundreds of different skills and functionalities patient may need to develop. Do we need to develop all of them at once?
This therapy would take forever!
This is why in soma therapy we have developed a hierarchy of skills. You can think of skills as trees. The root of the tree forms foundational skills. Once the foundational skill is developed, you are ready to develop second-order skill. Once the second-order skill is developed, you are ready to work on your third-order skills and so on.
We do not treat you!
.And this means that soma therapy does not “treat” you in the standard medical sense. Instead, you learn new skills. The skills that, unlike pills, stay with you for the rest of your life! soma system therapy aims to restore foundational functions and skills of the human body-mind. When these functions start working properly, many symptoms and disorders get naturally resolved.
Moreover, properly working foundational functions create a buffer that protects you from future physical and psychological disorders. There is an even deeper philosophical difference between standard medicine and soma therapy. No matter what type of medicine we discuss (allopathic western medicine, alternative, Osteopathy, Chinese, Ayurveda), the physician has an active role.
The physician is a lot like God who knows how to treat the patient. The patient accepts a passive role. The patient awaits some sort of a miracle from the physician. The miracle comes in different shapes and forms. For Western medicine, these are medications. For Chinese, this would be herbs and acupuncture.
Soma therapy is different.
The patient is no longer passive. The patient is no longer on the receiving end! On the contrary, in its spirit soma therapy is closer to an education process (e.g. athletic or martial arts training), whereby a student learns and then practices certain skills from the teacher. So, there is no “medicalization” in soma therapy. Instead of “medicalization”, we “educationalize”!
I find that in clinical practice this approach brings tremendous empowerment to the client. When people get sick or when things are not going as expected, many people tend to start blaming themselves. They start feeling disempowered as they have no control over their disorder! In soma therapy, we say: “you are sick because some of your skills have not been developed well. But this is not a big deal, because you can learn them!”
This is not the therapist who “treats” or “heals” the client. The therapist just creates a frame within which a student (as opposed to client or patient) learns and trains skills. At the end of the session, the student becomes aware of how much better she feels. It is at this time that the therapist asks: “Now, go back in your memory into what we have done today. And tell me who did this: me or you?”
And this is the time when our client-students get the insight – “I did this! Did this all by myself! Yes, under your guidance, but I did it! Oh my gosh, that means I can do this again!” This is a powerful victory for many people who have felt disempowered, oftentimes for years, due to the inability to control their state of health!
What is your relationship with Standard Western Clinical Medicine?
As I have already stated, soma therapy does not treat and diagnose in the standard medical meaning of this word. At the same time, soma therapy brings resolution and decreases symptoms for a wide variety of conditions. And, of course, soma therapy improves quality of life. Soma therapy is not a replacement for standard medical care. You still need to see your physician.
In fact, soma therapist will not work with you unless you have seen a physician. We do not specialize in medical diagnosis.
You need to come to soma therapy after seeing a physician, as we need to know that other serious conditions (such as cancer) have been ruled out. Therefore, standard medical care and soma therapy are quite complementary to each other.
Standard medical care does what soma therapy does not. After all, there is absolutely no good reason to do what so many physicians are great at! And soma therapy does what physicians cannot do. Soma therapy is the missing piece in modern clinical medicine.
I hope that soma therapy will pave the way for the medicine of the future. The medicine informed by modern non-pharmacological research and science. I hope that the medical community will realize the severe limitations of the approach to medicine that exclusively uses pharmacological means. In that sense, soma therapy tries to repair the severe gap between clinical medicine and advances in non-pharma scientific research.
Are you complimentary or alternative medicine?
I do not view soma therapy as an alternative modality. There is nothing alternative about soma therapy as it is based on solid western science. I would instead say that it is the clinical medicine that lags behind modern medical research.