Teaching the course on body-oriented psychotherapy brings up a host of interesting thoughts, ideas and feelings in my mind and body!
It is a commonly held notion that psychotherapy does not involve touch. And for the most part, as in the way it is practiced by most psychotherapists it does not involve touch. Also the few psychotherapists that do use touch may not do so in all their sessions or even with all their clients.
The use of touch in psychotherapy is a very sensitive issue and not to be undertaken in a flippant manner. It needs to be approached carefully and considerately, recognizing and honoring the client’s boundaries.
I have found touch to be a powerful tool esp. when clients are very emotional. I have found that when clients are crying and/or grieving, they feel comforted when I place my hand gently on their back.
I always, but always, only use touch when I have taken permission from the client. And in each instance of using touch that is to say if a client gave me permission once, it does not mean that it is a blanket statement. So each time that I feel called to use touch I check in with them. If I am using touch in a different way or on a different part of their body I check in or inform them. If for any reason it gets uncomfortable I take a step back, always making sure that they feel in control of how much or how little touch they are getting.
Since I often feel in my body what the clients are feeling in theirs, I use those cues from my intuition to guide me in where and how to use touch. This ability comes from having done a lot of personal work, and by developing intuition through various meditation techniques and from the blessings from God and my Gurus.
Do I recommend that other therapists use touch? Only if they feel comfortable doing so and feel called to do it. I do recommend that they not be scared of ever using touch in psychotherapy, but also to use it with great care and sensitivity. Touch can be very soothing and healing and it is a powerful way to form a connection and build rapport.
In certain cases it can also be very provocative and in that case it is a judgment call on the therapist’s part, whether they consider it in the best interest of the client to elicit the material or not. Very often in the case made against the use of touch, it is said that clients’ who have undergone sexual abuse or molestation definitely should not be touched in any way. In my experience that has not always been true. These clients often also have a hunger for the good touch and respond very positively to respectful touch. And respectful, validating touch can become a tool to challenge their narrative about touch as well as their self-worth.
To conclude i quote the abstract of an article by Ofer Zur Ph.D. http://www.zurinstitute.com/touch_standardofcare.pdf
The question of touch in therapy has been debated since the inception of the field early in the last century. The main concern about physical contact in therapy has focused on the sexually exploitative therapists and the concern that a client may interpret touch as having sexual intent. Ignoring years of clinical and developmental research, many risk management experts, traditional psychoanalysts, consumer protection agencies, insurance companies and malpractice attorneys have promoted the notion that any touch beyond a handshake is clinically inappropriate, unethical or below the standard of care. Drawing on the faulty slippery slope theory that even appropriate boundary crossings are likely to lead to boundary violations, they assert that even scientifically proven, appropriate and clinically helpful touch is likely to lead to unethical, sexual touch. The aim of this paper is to clarify the relationship between professional, therapeutic touch and the standard of care. To achieve this goal the paper defines the standard of care in psychotherapy, and details the elements of the standard and articulates what the standard is and is not. It then briefly reviews the clinical research on touch in therapy and identifies the different types of touch employed in therapy. The paper then articulates, in detail, how non-sexual, clinically appropriate and therapeutic touch falls within the standard of care of psychotherapy and counseling. Additionally, the paper discusses issues, as they relate to touch in therapy, of theoretical orientation, codes of ethics, risk management, differences between sexual and non-sexual touch, and it reviews the idea of the slippery slope. Finally, the paper outlines how therapists, who appropriately use touch in therapy, can demonstrate compliance with the standard of care.