The Best Somatic Psychology Graduate Programs
If you are interested in studying somatic psychology, what are your options? Well, the answer is, that depends.
If you are interested in gaining licensure as a mental health professional, and would like to become credentialed at a Masters level – there are basically just a handful of places, that I know of in the United States that offer this kind of training. There might be others elsewhere, so if you know of others, reach out and let me know.
I taught at some of these institutions, and I have faculty and friends who have taught at all of them. Here are my general impressions about licensure training programs.
“The Big Three”
The California Institute of Integral Studies is one of the center points of somatic education in the United States, if not the world. It houses probably the largest population of students who are studying for licensure in somatic psychology, congregated in one program. The faculty are dedicated, caring and committed, though frequently in programs of this kind there is a bit of wear and tear that happens to faculty. There is a great amount of care that is put into supporting the health of the cohort, although due to the intimate nature of the program, there is occasional intra-cohort conflict. Compared to other programs, students at CIIS tend to skew slightly younger, and appear in the main to be more academically/intellectually oriented than elsewhere. Some students are fresh out of college, though others are returning students after having had an alternate career. This school also places social justice considerations near the center of its curriculum – more so than other institutions – and would be a good fit for students who want to blend their somatic work with social justice issues or concerns. It is located in San Francisco, and so there is the energy and bustle of city life, with all of its rich diversity, price tag, and challenges that come from urban living.
Naropa is another somatics program with a long and storied tradition the field. It is known for having a separate Dance Movement Therapy track in its curriculum. For students who are particularly interested in this intersection of somatics and dance/movement, it would be a strong choice. It is located in Boulder, Colorado and has a very quaint, aesthetically pleasing campus. It seems more contemplatively oriented than its Bay Area counterparts – more like pure transcendent mountain energy. It was founded explicitly in a meditative / spiritual tradition. It seems to be a continuing solid program, carrying on in the tradition of Christine Caldwell, the founding director of the program. Her method called the “Moving Cycle” continues to permeate the program and forms a strong foundation for understanding and organizing somatic work.
John F. Kennedy School of Psychology is another historically solid training program, although it has recently been absorbed into National University. Nevertheless, many faculty continue on in the tradition of somatics at JFK – which has a long and well-respected history within the field. It is a holistically-oriented educational program – designed specifically for adult learners who might be holding down a job while also attending university. Students in this program tend to be a bit older than at CIIS or Naropa, as it is explicitly designed for adult learners. Students are more typically “working class” – and their desire for learning is pragmatic. The atmosphere is less intellectually rarefied than at other institutions, and it is, in the main, more focused on the pragmatics rather than the politics of somatics. It is located in Pleasant Hill, and has more of a suburban energy feel to it. Classes are typically in the evenings or late afternoons – though they are increasingly moving to an online format.
In addition to the “Big Three”, there are some other newer programs. Antioch University has a new program, and it seems to be a decent enough one. Antioch has a long tradition in the experiential education sphere. Meridian University also has a program – I once met a student in their program – I believe she was pursuing a PhD in somatics – and she seemed happy enough. I think that Meridian has more of an upstart reputation, and there are some administrative bumps that I think are to be expected along the way. They also have some kind of agreement with the Tamalpa Institute, which might be attractive for some. Lesley University has a program that is, I believe, centered around dance and movement. Prescott College has an online counseling program with an emphasis in Somatics – Davida Taurek who runs the emphasis is well respected. There might be some other programs out there. Somatics is certainly up-and-coming so, these are cropping up.
For students who are not able to relocate to the United States for their educational experience, there are other opportunities for learning. For example, this particular platform, Somatopia, is actually made up of many of the top current and former faculty members from “The Big Three” and intends to make a somatic education possible, even at a distance.
The Somatic Psychology concentration emphasizes coursework aligned with professional practice in contexts such as somatic education, psychotherapy practice, health coaching, employee wellness programs. The approach to learning somatic psychology at Meridian University is rooted in the transformative learning paradigm at the heart of Meridian’s programs, with a particular emphasis on embodied approaches to teaching and learning.
Embodied pedagogy draws on the scholarly research in education that understands the lived experience of the body as a legitimate but marginalized source of knowledge, and the cultivation of deeper access to embodied knowledge as an opportunity for students to develop a locus for authoritative knowing embedded in their own bodily experience. Because the body features prominently in the articulation of social difference, helping students become more attentive to the embodied interactions in the classroom also supports them to be more skillful in the navigation of power differentials in relationships with others.
Practices, methods, ideas, and topics engaged within this concentration’s courses, by way of example, include: Body metaphors, nonverbal felt experience, embodiment, historical trauma.
” … for that called Body is a portion of the Soul as discerned by the five Senses… “
Degree Requirements For Graduation
- Students must complete a total of 90 quarter units for the Ph.D. to fulfill the degree requirements for graduation. A minimum grade of C is required in each completed course. A cumulative grade point average of 3.0 must be maintained.
- Students must attend at least 2/3 of each course.
- During the second year of coursework, students must pass a written comprehensive examination. The M.A. degree is awarded when the exam is passed and: 48 units of first and second year coursework, and 50 hours of depth transformative practices are completed.
- Students must petition to proceed with the third year. Faculty approval is based on a comprehensive review of coursework, exam results, writing skills, and readiness to conduct research.
- Students must pass an oral examination at the end of the third year of coursework.
- Students must submit and defend an original dissertation accepted by the faculty.
Depth Psychology – Comprehensive Examination
The comprehensive examinations consist of a written portion at the end of the second year and an oral portion at the end of the third. The written examination is designed to assess knowledge gained in the first two years and is a requirement for the awarding of the M.A. degree. The third year oral examination consists of the student’s formal oral presentation addressing the ways the three years of study have informed and seeded their work leading to the dissertation.
The dissertation process involves the completion of Dissertation Development and Dissertation Writing courses. Students must have completed all requirements for the M.A. degree and have an approved concept paper before enrolling in Dissertation Writing. The Dissertation Committee is comprised of a Chair, a Reader, and an External Reader. Each member of the committee must possess an earned doctorate based in part on a dissertation unless this requirement is waived by the Program Chair.
Other Requirements: Somatic Studies Fieldwork and Practice
Students are required to arrange for somatic-based depth psychological fieldwork in their home communities or other settings during the first and second summers. A minimum of 70 hours of direct participation in a setting and 130 hours of related reading, writing, imaginal engagement, and reflection are required in the first summer. This is also true in the second summer, unless a student chooses to engage in somatic-based depth psychological research, in which case hours of direct participation may be less to allow for in-depth data analysis. This will provide students with the opportunity to integrate the theories, ideas, and experiences they have gained in their coursework, while furthering their own professional goals.
NOTE: The Depth Psychology Program and its specializations are designed to provide students with knowledge of theoretical traditions of depth psychology and its contemporary applications to personal, cultural, community, and ecological health and well-being. The program does not prepare students to become licensed or to practice psychotherapy. Although some students may wish to pursue licensure after gaining their doctorate in this program, the curriculum does not contain specific coursework aimed at any type of licensure, nor does it arrange or administratively support traineeships, pre- or post-doctoral internships, or other practice requirements related to licensure.
Naropa offers one of only a few programs in the country with somatic psychotherapy degrees. The Body Psychotherapy track in the Somatic Counseling concentration focuses on synchronized and integrative psychotherapy through experience and expression on physical, emotional, cognitive, energetic, and spiritual levels.
Naropa’s holistic psychotherapy degree program combines clinical mental health theory and practice with mind-body therapy. As you explore the relationship between mind, body, and movement, you’ll learn to grow, develop, and support the wellness and sanity in yourself and your clients using powerful somatic psychotherapy techniques.
This three-year cohort program is based on the belief that a functional unity exists between the mind and body and that therapeutic change occurs through direct experience of the present moment. Our graduates are prepared with theoretical, clinical, and professional skills, as well as contemplative experience, necessary to begin a compassionate, clinical practice as informed, effective psychotherapy counselors.