Somatic Attachment Therapy (SAT)

Somatic approaches are used to engage the relationship between mind, body, brain, and behavior. 

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Somatic Attachment Therapy (SAT)

SAT is a trauma therapy developed by Ann Weiser Cornell and Barbara McGavin based on the focusing techniques of Eugene Gendlin. Focusing is a means of accessing our inner bodily knowing. This kind of knowing is not the same as empirical knowledge of the external world through science. Rather, this concerns what is most true in our emotional lives. SAT teaches that we learn to suppress, override, and disconnect from our inner bodily knowing by the parents, teachers, coaches, and other adult authorities who tell us what we should feel, what we should think, what we should value, and how we should act in every day situations. This results in self-alienation with a phony overlay of feelings, thoughts, values, and behaviors that do not match our true selves and that keep us from authentic experience of ourselves, others, and the world.

Self-alienation is not an inevitable aspect of growing up. There are parents able to meet the needs of their infants and toddlers for safety, security, love, holding, validation, and encouragement. Self-alienation occurs when the infant/toddler reaches out for these responses and receives them only rarely and inconsistently. Once the psyche of the infant/toddler splits she becomes lost and lives in a disembodied way. She loses trust in her inner knowing. Instead of needing, wanting or doing what her gut tells her, she follows the directions of others.  She acts on automatic pilot and is not present for or in control of her life. Sound familiar? 

While IFS talks about a Self and parts, SAT speaks of a Self-in-Presence and partial self states. We can come to know and relate to our partial self states when we use our consciousness to focus inwards where sensations and feelings dwell.  We have many different partial self states, often opposed, with some wanting and others not wanting to engage in activities, have relationships, get married, have children, hold jobs, and acquire or discard possessions. Rather than judge ourselves as defective for being divided, SAT bids us to get in touch with our partial self-states, to learn to live with them and accept them, and to be OK with having an inner community where debate is normal and there may be no clear answers. The SAT approach is to meet our parts through immersion in the sensations and feelings that live in our bodies. When we connect with parts SAT bids us to convey an attitude of welcome, acceptance, curiosity, and compassion.


The idea of Self-in-Presence is to inwardly sense our parts with neutrality, to give them the space and time they need to tell their story, to develop a relationship with them, and come into a state of gratitude for them as the building blocks of our identity. We give ourselves a gift when we say YES to what arises in us during a focusing session. Our willingness to tolerate and even accept our inner diversity is what paves the way for our parts to trust us. This movement from alienation to trust and connection allows trapped energy to flow and enables us to use living forward energy instead of staying stuck.

SAT is like mindful meditation in advocating quiet, stillness, and slowing down. However, SAT goes further. SAT is far more than a means of relaxation or anxiety reduction. SAT is a means of trauma healing. A crucial part of this healing is resourcing. We resource when, with the help of a companion, we sit with our sensations and feelings and allow them to be as they are. A good companion will say things like “something inside you feels scared or overwhelmed,” which reminds the focuser that she is not pure fear or overwhelm but rather a complete person who has one or more parts experiencing those emotions. Although the companion helps us feel safe during the process we also rely on “safe places” within our own bodies where there is peace, calm, and an absence of fear or pain. No matter how afraid we are there will always be a place where there is no fear.

At first these safe places may be small, few, and far between, but over time they grow. Resourcing enables us to listen to our hurt parts with empathy and reassure them instead of manipulating or silencing them. We reach a point where we can let them know it is okay to feel and believe exactly what they feel and believe and that they do not have to change for our benefit. The focuser’s companion helps this transformative inner journey along by empathically mirroring the focuser’s statements and paraphrasing or asking a question to help her deepen the process.

Another important aspect of SAT is patience. SAT describes a place called the edge where we encounter inchoate, fuzzy sensations and feelings that we cannot identify. The longer we can stay with these and the more times we come back to them the clearer they get and the more we discern their message. As we do this, we strengthen the most primordial form of human awareness, embodied awareness. All our lives we will have parts that do and do not want something. The question is can we understand, accept, and honor them in a state of freedom. We are free when we can thank our parts for letting us know what they do and do not want and then come to a choice that satisfies us even though it may not be favored by some of our parts. Not letting a particular part run our lives is a manifestation of balance.