Exploring the Mind–Body Connection

By Vanessa Kensing, LMSW

For centuries humans have explored the connection between our mind and our body. Early philosophers hypothesized about the difference between mental and physical properties, and what effect one had on the other.  Later psychologists would examine what effect consciousness (or lack thereof) had on our mental properties/mind, and what this meant for its relationship with the body. While the modern Western medical model conceptualizes the mind and body as connected, it also supports treating them separately.

Seeing this unnecessary divide, and how it has impacted myself and many of my clients, I was inspired to explore the mind-body connection in psychotherapy. Somatic psychotherapy is defined as a “holistic approach, incorporating a person’s mind, body, spirit, and emotions in the healing process” (goodtherapy.org). From this approach a therapist may provide education, understanding, processing, and healing using the mind-body connection. This connection can be viewed from both the perspective of the present and the past.

Mind-Body Connection in Present Time
Our body sends us physical symptoms and/or signals in present time. For example, when we encounter a real or imagined threat our mind and body can go into “fight, flight, or freeze.” Some of the bodily experiences may include: dry mouth, tight chest, increased heart rate, shallow breathing, sweating palms, pit in stomach, etc. Learning one’s physical symptoms allow an individual to understand how to self-sooth (instead of suppressing, repressing, unhealthily distracting, or numbing these feelings), and begin to examine the root of the issue(s) that cause this response. Similarly, our thoughts not only impact our bodily expression and experiences, but also how our DNA is expressed (Lipton).    

Mind-Body Connection from the Past
Somatic therapy posits that trauma can also be “stored” in the body and thus is in need of release. In these instances therapists work with the client to begin to connect to their bodily experiences that they may be dissociated from, or aid the client in working with bodily experiences that "contradict the helplessness, rage, or collapse that results from trauma" (Van Der Kolk,). This allows clients to begin to explore how posture, breathing, visualization, grounding, and bodily movement can begin to slowly release the trauma and fully embody healing.

Because this is a very cursory exploration of the topic, the following books are valuable in exploring the mind-body connection in further detail. 

  • The Divided Mind, John E. Sarno, M. D.
  • The Body Keeps the Score: Bessel Van Derk Kolk, M.D.
  • The Biology of Belief: Bruce H. Lipton, M.D.
  • A Symphony in the Brain: Jim Robbins

Other References:

Vanessa Kensing is a therapist at Cobb Psychotherapy. If you would like support in prioritizing and taking care of your mental health, contact Cobb Psychotherapy and see how therapy can help.