Somatics and the Term “Bodywork” (1999)

This is a letter I wrote to members of the Somatics/BodyWork community after the Somatics Congress in February, 1999. It states my position on the use of terms such as “bodywork” which furthers the body/mind split. It was edited and printed as a guest editorial in the SOMATICS SOCIETY Newsletter, Winter, 1999.

To My Colleagues and Friends,

I propose to our community a change that I think would have far-reaching, beneficial consequences.

In our various related fields the terms “body work” and “body workers” are commonly used. The true meanings of these simple words have always posed a problem for me. I have often introduced my students to my prejudice against those terms with the (really true) joke that “body work” is what I have done to my car.

I think any of you who attended the 1999 Somatics Congress, Body Wisdom, must agree with me that none of the work presented, nor the sentiments expressed, was really about “body work.”

People were not talking about just bodies, we were talking about affecting peoples’ lives, about healing work. We were talking about working with and being a party in healing the whole person. The work we are doing could more truly be called “soul work” than “body work.”

Certainly we can relate to the term that Elsa Gindler used for her work: Arbeit am Menschen – Work on the Whole Person.

Terms such as “bodywork,” etc., are very convenient and came to be used so people would know that we were not just working with the mind, which was the common case not too long ago. As we imply that the body is the major vehicle with which we work, I feel we are really lessening and limiting the true quality and explanation of our work.

We are reinforcing the very misconception we are trying to get away from – rather than placing the emphasis primarily on the mind, now we are putting the emphasis on the body, whereas in truth we are working for balance. Our work, the work of everyone I know in these various, related fields is directed towards the integration of the body and the mind. And when we work with the body, we address not only the mechanical, physical body, but the engaged body, the one that feels and connects us with our emotions, memories, our whole selves.

We do have a name that says it better, that speaks for how we work: SOMATICS. “Somatics,” describes working with the body as it is fully experienced, incorporating all our facilities. The term is gaining recognition. Interestingly enough, it was coined by none other than Thomas Hanna, specifically to impart that sense of full experience.

How about using it, or another term you like, that means working with the whole being as we really do? I would encourage conversation about your thoughts and the possibilities.

Over the past years I have presented my ideas to various colleagues about ceasing using terms like “body work.” The main resistance I have heard is “So many people don’t know what somatics means” or “I have to explain what the word means.” What a wonderful opportunity! To explain what the term somatics means gives us the opportunity to educate people about what we really do. Just this act might introduce many and help them enter this magnificent field as client or student, perhaps to join us as colleagues some day.

I use the term somatics all over the world and have received fine responses, especially from those who don’t initially know what it means. They are interested and grateful to learn something about the differentiation between the qualities and uses of the words, and the philosophy and meanings behind the words and work.

In fact, in certain international settings the term bodywork can be quite confusing.

In Russia, where I regularly teach, students in search of a partner with whom to work on the table are led to the phrase “I need a body (to work on).” That may seem relatively benign in English but in Russian the translation is “I need a corpse.” Perhaps these are clarifications we need to be concerned with as our field grows and earns more recognition?

My proposal is that we stop using these terms that, even though they are easy to use, limit the true range of our work. I know it will cause some of us inconvenience to change stationery, cards, even some names of practices and schools. I personally feel the short-term trouble will promote long-term understanding and far-reaching benefits.

As we step into the new millennium I invite us all to consider presenting ourselves and our work more clearly, more distinctly. This clarity could bring us new recognition and assist us in taking our important places in the world, doing work that is essential to the future and well-being of our society.

I would love to hear from any of you who have thoughts, experiences, or input on this subject. Perhaps we could start a substantial discussion on this subject and/or related items and engender another venue for more cross-communication in our field. Thank you very much for your considerations.


Judyth O. Weaver, Ph.D.