Somatic Studies Specialization

Students in the Somatic Studies specialization integrate the insights of depth psychology with a somatic perspective in order to bring body and soul into the evolving conversation about what it means to be human. Focused on real world issues across a range of academic and professional domains, students develop new understandings and create innovative practices with the potential to transform the communities in which they live and work.

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About the Somatic Studies Specialization

In a disembodied world at risk of losing its soul, there can be no more crucial task than reclaiming the sensual mystery of our bodily selves. Long recognized in indigenous cultures, the lived experience of the body is experiencing a renaissance within Western world views. From neuroscience and medicine to traumatology and the expressive arts, scholars and researchers are rediscovering the integral role of the bodymind in healing, learning, and social transformation. The program incorporates an interdisciplinary range of practices and perspectives held within eight subject area streams. Within these streams – including Integrative Health and Wellness, Somatic Depth Counseling and Psychotherapy, Community Development, and Embodied Depth Leadership – students articulate unique fieldwork projects and dissertation research that allow them to work at an advanced level in their chosen fields. Students may also pursue qualification as a Registered Somatic Movement Therapist® or Registered Somatic Movement Educator® through an articulation agreement with the International Somatic Movement Education and Therapy Association (ISMETA ). Students in the Somatic Studies specialization go on to publish books, start community non-profits, or develop consulting practices. Graduates may also choose to pursue academic careers, teaching in higher education or engaging in post-doctoral research. Each in their own way, students bring a highly developed understanding of the body/psyche intersection to the work they choose to pursue.
“I am the poet of the body. And I am the poet of the soul.”
Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass

Learning Outcomes

The emerging paradigm for the 21st century requires individuals who can think across professional and disciplinary boundaries, who can fully embody a holistic and integrative perspective in their chosen area of interest, and know how to harness their vision and energy to tackle real world problems. In particular, we believe that leaders in this new paradigm will have the capacity to work through the body to tend the soul of the world. The Somatic Studies specialization positions our students to create and fulfill these leadership roles. We do this by:
  • Providing them with foundational knowledge in depth psychology and interdisciplinary somatic studies.
  • Engaging them in transformative practice and fieldwork projects specifically tailored to their interests and expertise.
  • Teaching skills that strengthen their professional effectiveness, and supporting them to identify and research issues with the potential to change how we live in the world.
Students will:
  • Read, interpret, and critically reflect upon the theories and traditions of depth psychology, remembering the body and recalling its voice.
  • Develop the capacity and skill to maintain awareness of and connection to the unconscious.
  • Learn techniques and practices of dream work, body movement, and active imagination as transformative practices.
  • Develop literacy in the emerging domain of neuroscience as it applies to depth psychology and the mind/body connection.
  • Develop skills in research and writing that support their efforts to articulate and promote new theoretical directions and practical applications.
  • Participate with interdisciplinary scholars and practitioners in an emerging field of study.
  • Create a professional portfolio to enhance existing career skills.
  • Engage in transformative practices and fieldwork projects with the potential to change how we live in the world.

Marion Woodman Scholarship

The Marion Woodman Scholarship Fund is for the Somatic Studies Specialization of the M.A./Ph.D. Depth Psychology program. A number of scholarships are offered to newly admitted students in the Somatic Studies specialization based on financial hardship and academic excellence. See the Marion Woodman Foundation for more information about her.


The Somatic Studies specialization in the Depth Psychology program at Pacifica Graduate Institute is an Associate Member of the International Somatic Movement Education and Therapy Association (ISMETA). Selected courses in the Somatic Studies curriculum are pre-approved toward independent track application to become a Registered Somatic Movement Educator or Therapist® with ISMETA. Please contact Pacifica for a list of current pre-approved courses and contact ISMETA for additional information about the independent track application process. This curriculum is not necessarily intended to meet requirements for any particular state clinical licensure; applicable state regulations should be consulted.
Somatic Movement Education and Therapy

Somatic Studies

What “Somatic Studies” Is

The term “somatic” was coined by Thomas Hanna, an existential phenomenological philosopher, in the early 1970s.  Although many of the approaches now considered ‘somatic’ predate this term by several decades, they share a common focus: working with the lived, subjective experience of the body. From a somatic perspective, body experience is always understood holistically, as part of a larger context in which that experience becomes meaningful.  For example, a particular sensation or body movement may be considered in relation to the psyche, to physical health, to interpersonal and interspecies relationships, to natural or constructed physical environments, to social and cultural contexts, and to spiritual domains. “Somatic studies” is an umbrella term that includes somatic psychology (working with the experience of the body to support mental health), somatic movement therapy (working with the experience of the body to promote improved movement functioning), and many forms of complementary and alternative medicine.  A somatic perspective also flourishes within the fields of education, philosophy, sociology, anthropology, performance studies, and dance.

What Makes This Program Unique

The program at Pacifica is in depth psychology, with an emphasis in somatic studies. This means that the program is grounded in the ideas and practices of depth psychology, with its emphasis on the unconscious, imagery, archetypes, and dreams. From that ground, we explore the intersections between the body and the unconscious psyche, connect image with sensation through active imagination, and the find the movement in dreams. We consider how physical symptoms may speak for the soul, and study the body’s role in the process of individuation. In some ways, the program here is more tightly focused, in that it works within a single approach to psychological inquiry, that of depth psychology. In other ways, it is broader. Working from the interdisciplinary umbrella of somatic studies allows us to draw from a range of ideas and practices not typically addressed in somatic psychology programs.

How Pacifica’s Somatic Studies program is different from counseling or clinical psychology

Most other somatically-oriented graduate programs are either in somatic counseling or somatic psychology. At present, Pacifica offers the only doctoral program in the broader discipline of somatic studies. As a research-based program, our degrees in Depth Psychology with an Emphasis in Somatic Studies do not lead to professional licensure as a counselor or therapist. Rather, students are given the opportunity to develop as scholar/practitioners – to become skilled in the teaching, research, and community service that engaged scholarship demands, and to take those skills into the world in a meaningful way.
Somatic Studies Family Tree

Dr. Rae Johnson, Program Chair, Explains Somatic Studies

Chair & Faculty

Faculty in the Somatics Studies specialization bring a passion for research and a wealth of interdisciplinary expertise into the classroom. Drawn from fields that extend the intersections of depth psychology and somatic studies, this dynamic group of scholar/practitioners includes psychotherapists, acupuncturists, social workers, anthropologists, yoga teachers, dance movement therapists, writers, and massage therapists.

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Frequently Asked Questions about Somatic Studies

What kinds of theories are students introduced to, and how do these theories work to build a comprehensive theoretical framework in somatic depth psychology?

Students are given a thorough grounding in depth psychology, including Jungian, Freudian, and archetypal orientations.  They are also introduced to the fundamentals of a somatic perspective, and how that perspective has informed scholarly and professional work across a range of territories.

What practical skills will I have when I graduate?

Although students are introduced to a wide range of professional skills over three years of coursework, these skills fall into a relatively small number of categories: strategies for accessing and identifying unconscious material (particularly in the form of dreams, body sensations, or physical symptoms), skills for transforming charged, undeveloped, or painful material (including dreamwork, movement, and active imagination), and strategies for containing and contextualizing material. Students are also taught scholarly writing skills, research skills, and teaching/presentation skills.  Perhaps most importantly, students learn how to think critically and strategically, and to synthesize material across a range of domains in order to create new ideas and practices.

What does the fieldwork component look like?

Beginning in the first year of study, the fieldwork component offers students an important opportunity to apply what they’re learning, and to become more deeply immersed in the issues and communities that they feel called to serve.  Each student is mentored by a designated faculty member to develop a project that harnesses their existing talents and interests to address a community issue or need.

Often, fieldwork projects are a combination of training, volunteering, and participant/observation within a particular setting.  Examples of current student fieldwork projects include the study of interspecies embodiment with rescue elephants in Cambodia, using homeopathy to treat autism, embodied archetypes in substance abuse treatment, and yoga with sex trade survivors in India. Fieldwork projects may also evolve into dissertation research at the doctoral level.

Dr. Rae Johnson Discusses Fieldwork

I understand that students complete 50 hours of depth transformative practice as part of their degree. What does this entail?

Many traditions within depth psychology understand the process of personal transformation as inherently relational, typically held within the container of a therapeutic relationship with a professional counselor or psychotherapist. These traditions are dynamically linked to the transformative nature of the course material contained within this curriculum.

In order to effectively support their transformative journey, students are expected to engage in a minimum of 50 hours of individual counseling or psychotherapy during their coursework. Students must have an approved proposal for these depth transformative practice hours by the end of the fall quarter of the first year and submit documentation of 25 hours of completed therapy by the end of the first year. The remaining 25 hours are to be completed in order to be awarded the MA degree.

Somatic Studies Program Components

I’m interested in the research component of the doctoral program. How are students supported to conduct research and write a dissertation?

The program includes a series of research courses that develop student’s literacy and skill in research methods, including those forms of inquiry most commonly used in somatic depth psychology. Courses in scholarly writing and dissertation development support students to engage in the task of developing a research question, conducting an original study, and writing a doctoral dissertation.

What kinds of students does this program attract?

Given the interdisciplinary focus of the program, students are drawn from the full range of somatic practices as well as from psychology.  Current students include massage therapists, yoga teachers, and bodyworkers; others are counselors, therapists, or coaches.  Acupuncturists, homeopaths, and physical therapists are attracted to the program for its inclusion of holistic health perspectives.  Students come from other backgrounds as well, including visual and performing arts, writing, public media, environmental studies, and community activism.

What kinds of work do graduates pursue?

Many of our students are already qualified to practice in a profession (such as counseling, health care, or education) that they further develop through their graduate studies.  They continue to practice within those professions upon graduation, but at an advanced level that may include training or supervising other professionals.  Other students use the program to cultivate current passions in order to apply them to a particular project, such as a community non-profit or a consulting practice.  Graduates of the doctoral program may choose to pursue academic careers, teaching in higher education or engaging in post-doctoral research.

Are there other key features of the program that I should know about?

Like the other programs at Pacifica, students in the somatic studies concentration learn in cohorts during three-day monthly residential sessions.  They rave about the beautiful natural surroundings of the Pacifica campus, the intimacy and warmth of cohort-based learning, the quality of the teaching faculty, and the opportunity to engage in somatic depth transformative practice while earning a graduate degree.

Do I need to move to Santa Barbara to attend this program?

Most of our students do not live in Santa Barbara. They travel from a wide variety of states and countries to attend nine 3-day sessions (October-July) each year. Pacifica has this unusual design to allow people to carry on their work , community, and family commitments in their home locations.

How long is the program?

Students attend classes for three years. Each year classes are held for nine 3-day sessions (Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday) on campus, and community and ecological fieldwork is conducted in a location that makes sense for an individual student’s area of interest. Classes are held mornings, afternoons, and some evenings. As indicated above, the M.A. is awarded after two full years of coursework, while the Ph.D. is granted after three years of coursework and the successful defense of a dissertation. Dissertation work is ordinarily accomplished in the 4th and 5th years and does not require on campus presence, except for the oral defense.

What is the general format of classes?

Most courses are a combination of lecture, discussion formats, and experiential activities. Some include a partial seminar format in which students make short presentations on topics they are researching for the course. Students can expect to encounter a variety of pedagogical styles during the course of their enrollment in the program.

How much work is required outside of class?

Class assignments consist of readings, papers, and/or projects. As a general rule, for every hour in class there is approximately three hours of work outside of class. However, the amount of time a given student invests in his or her course work can vary a good deal and depends upon a variety of factors such as learning style and study habits.

What types of financial assistance are available to students in the Somatic Studies Specialization?

Pacifica offers a range of scholarship and other funding opportunities. For more detailed information about the financial assistance opportunities available, including scholarships, feel free to contact the Financial Aid Office by phone at 805.969.3626 ext. 197 or by email.

Curriculum Overview

Students in the Somatic Studies specialization come to campus nine times each year for three years. Each campus session consists of three days each month during fall, winter, and spring quarters. During each residential session students attend lectures and seminars, engage in experiential and embodied learning, and have time for reflection and research in the Pacifica Library and Opus Archives. Students engage in off-campus fieldwork in the summer quarters of their first and second years of study.

Graduation Requirements

Degree Requirements For Graduation

  1. 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.
  2. Students must attend at least 2/3 of each course.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. Students must pass an oral examination at the end of the third year of coursework.
  6. 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.

Doctoral 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.

For information regarding Pacifica’s M.A./Ph.D. Somatic Studies Specialization, please contact the Admissions Advisor, at 805.879.7305, or at

All of Pacifica Graduate Institute’s degree programs are accredited by the Western Association of School and Colleges (WASC) and the Department of Education to offer financial aid.