Somatic Education


Somatic Education relies on experiential learning and bodily-based self-awareness for mediating between formal and informal practices, and elaborating innovative methodologies and good practices for special needs. It can provide a transitional space for articulating a dialogue between the different actors of care in the social field, between institutions and communities, professional therapists and patients.

Drawing both from formal knowledge (transmitted throughout specific teachings and principles, referring to traditional therapy, psychotherapy, neuroscience, phenomenology, etc.) and informal knowledge (experiential learning, body-mind awareness, dance techniques, art and creativity), Somatic Education represents a transversal model of care, whose strength stems from the acknowledgment of the levels of diversity that builds communities, towards a shared expertise and participation.

Somatic Education can become a double resource, both:

− for professionals of the health system seeking pathways for understanding and interpreting the multidimensional expertise of the patients, accessing the expression of their special needs and identifying the accurate responses to them;

− for the subjects of care that look for other means of extending their illness expertise beyond the confinement of “deficit”, toward a new conception of health, set upon an integrated and non normative perspective of psychophysical well-being.

Somatic Education sees functioning and disability as a complex interaction between health conditions of the individual and the contextual factors of the environment, as well as personal factors. We focus on the person in his/her world, placing the emphasis on function rather than condition and disease, on health as a process of becoming rather than a fixed state. All aspects of a person’s life (development, participation, environment) are incorporated strength of individuals, including social context and relationships. Community members (family, peers, caregivers) are sought as crucial partners of expertise, witnessing and co-constructing life quality: care creates communities, as well as communities create care.

Somatic Education was first formalized in the United States during the 1970s, through the initiative of the philosopher (and, later, somatic practitioner) Thomas Hanna, who collected under this name practices existing already from the beginning of the 20th century. He defines the ‘soma’ as “the body observed from the first-person viewpoint”, the body “felt from within” (Bodies in Revolt, 1970). The BMC approach stems from the field of Somatic Education in the interval between formal disciplines (institutional medicine, hygiene, care), and empirical forms of knowledge, and promoting a specific culture of the body. BMC is an integrated approach to movement, body and consciousness; an experiential study based on the embodiment and application of anatomical, physiological, psychophysical and developmental principles, utilizing movement, touch, voice and mind. Like other Somatic Education methods, BMC explores qualitative and relational aspects of movement and expression, bringing forth the singularity of each individual’s sensorimotor and perceptual experience and intelligence. This approach has been developed by Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen, an occupational therapist and dancer based in the U.S. For more than 35 years, she has been studying movement and touch from a developmental perspective, discovering and organizing a wide range of underlying principles and techniques that bring to an understanding of body and mind interrelation. Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen, who participates in the project as teacher, shares her vast experience in working with children with special needs.

In addressing special needs issues, the BMC approach to Somatic Education emphasizes:

– Kinesthetic empathy as the base of inter-subjective relation, beyond challenges of verbal language and communication, providing essential skills for monitoring and identifying individual and collective needs;

– Modulation of creative spaces for meeting individuals at the level of their own expressive resources;

– Disability as different ability, recognized in the unfolding of creative potentials that are specific to each individual.

– Early movement development as foundation for nervous system development, and early learning processes as support for greater cognitive tasks and later social achievements;

– Fine tuning and listening of the tiniest shifts in the physical, behavioral, emotional and relational state of disabled people, as fundamental tools for promoting deep changes in their body and life comfort;

– Somatic awareness as a key factor that affects well-being and empowerment;

– Trust in the experiential knowledge and subjective expertise of family members and caregivers, that are included in the educational framework as primary actors in accompanying and supporting disabled people throughout their life-long learning and processes toward agency and autonomy;

– Non-invasive and non-manipulative touch as primordial relational resource for handling, holding and creating a safe environment, in the respect of individual dignity and self-esteem;

– Shifting perspective from pathology diagnosis to mapping life potentials and expanding the range of behavioral options: the emergence of new perceptual and motor affordances is encouraged through the opening of a creative field of exploration.

– Enriched sensorial environments for providing perceptual stimulations, through play, motivation and meaning.