CIIS Somatics Program

You can find up-to-date information about our program on the CIIS website. Here are some historical and personal notes.

Michael Kahn, CIIS Professor Emeritus, and I created the Somatics Graduate Program in 1983 out of the remnants of a program begun earlier by Will Schutz called Holistic Studies, then at Antioch University's San Francisco branch, which closed in 1989.  As the first such graduate degree program in an infant field, we were able to attract visting teachers from Europe and the US who were pioneers in exploring the relatonships between skilful approaches to breathing, sensing, movement awareness, and touch.  These included Lillemor Johnsen, Ilse Middendorf, Charlotte Selver, Marion Rosen, Peter Levine, Ilana Rubenfeld, Anna Halprin, Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen, Emilie Conrad Da'Oud, Stanley Keleman, Robert Hall, Gerda Alexander, Carola Speads, to name only the elders.

A unique quality of the program arose from the fact that both Michael and I had extensive training in group process, with Carl Rogers and other leaders at NTL and elsewhere. Will Schutz was the creator of group encounter. From the outset of our curriculum design we made collaborative learning a feature of our work—paying attention to the nuances of group interaction in lectures and discussions, having group projects, having community meetings and retreats. In the early years of the program, Ian Grand joined the program, who, like us, had been thoroughly imbued with the collaborative learning models of the 1960s at San Francisco State. This collaborative learning model has been carried through and refined down to the present, bearing fruit in many wonderful ways ranging from the warm spirit of our graduates and students, and several research projects. This quality of the program reflects a special contribution of Somatics to another aspect of the mind-body split which is the concomitant notion of the self as an atom, a monad encased in a private sensorium, with no avenues of immediate contact with others and the world. This notion of the essential individuality of the self is not simply an idea, but is embedded in our institutions and in our habitual feelings created in those institutions, leading to extreme difficulties in collaboration at every level of our lives, ranging from family relations to research projects to national politics.

Edmund Husserl and Maurice Merleau-Ponty offered a radical challenge to this view in their notion of intercorporeity, that we are born into a web of relationships, the flesh of the world. From that point of view, group process and collaborative learning represent a natural unfolding of our being-with one another in our movements, seeing, hearing, feeling—our common body. In this regard, Somatics from its very beginnings has had a sociocultural dimension.

In the early stages of our history, my college friend California State Assemblyman John Vasconcellos, invited me along with two colleagues from JFK University, to draft the second version of the protocols for MFT licensure. When it passed the legislature, it opened the door for licensed body-oriented counseling practices. We became the first, and perhaps still the only program that publically offers trainings in officially sanctioned integration of touching strategies into the practices of psychotherapy. Despite widespread rumors to the contrary, it is not against the law for a licensed MFT who holds a degree from our program to touch clients, following the standards of ethics and professional practice. Our program operates within the guidelines of California consumer protection laws: we state publicly that we train psychological counselors in the appropriate, ethical, and psychologically sophisticated use of touch. Our curricula and training standards are open for public scrutiny at all times.

After the closing of Antioch SF, we were invited to CIIS which was like stumbling on an oasis in the desert. Its faculty, administration, staff, and students are all people who have immersed themselves in transformative practices from many parts of the world, who support deep inquiry based on these practices, and best of all share that unique kind of humor that comes from a sense of the immensity of the real within which we are but tiny beings. The Institute supports us as more than just a financially viable program, but as providing an essential component of graduate level integral studies, where body practices are seen as situated within a worldwide network of methods connected with the cultivation of spiritual wisdom.

Our program curriculum is designed to prepare graduates for academic and clinical eligibility for the California State license in marriage, family, and child counseling. We also have a training clinic, The Center for Somatic Psychotherapy, where trainees and interns receive regular clinical supervision and advanced education. Our graduates have among the highest rates of success in passing the licensure requirements of the State of California for the MFT.

Ian Grand and I have formed a Somatic Research Center. After many years of our field developing without any legitimate research being accomplished, we are finally moving ahead with two full-fledged studies. The first, under the direction of Luba Botcheva, a Stanford research fellow, is measuring the effectiveness of our clinic. The first pilot was completed in early 2010; the second pilot will be finished in June, followed by a major study based on what we have learned from these pilots. The second study is being done by a group of recent graduates who are working with women in recovery at Options in Oakland, studying the effectiveness of somatic strategies in a 2-yr-long recovery program. Ian is also working with several pilot studies.

We are particularly interested in applicants who are seriously engaged in transformative body practices who are motivated to deepen their knowledge of the psychological relevance of these practices in the context of an officially sanctioned clinical practice with individuals, groups, and institutions.