The im­por­tance of touch in psy­chother­apy work

Ge­orge has been us­ing touch in his ther­apy prac­tice for over 25 years now. He says that use of touch could be stated as the hall­mark of the so­matic/body psy­chother­apy modal­ity.

Living Now - - Contents - by Ge­orge Gin­ti­las

Ge­orge has been us­ing touch in his ther­apy prac­tice for over 25 years now. He says that use of touch could be stated as the hall­mark of the so­matic/body psy­chother­apy modal­ity.

Body psy­chother­apy has been gain­ing a lot of at­ten­tion and cred­i­bil­ity in the last ten years as it has been proven to be very ef­fec­tive and ex­cel­lent for heal­ing two ma­jor prob­lem ar­eas: 1. Phys­i­cal trauma and what arises from this – high anx­i­ety, panic at­tacks, fears, phobias; and 2. Child­hood trauma and what arises from this – feel­ings of aban­don­ment, ne­glect, emo­tional re­ac­tions, lack of con­fi­dence, de­pres­sion and over weight. Body psy­chother­apy is mind­ful­ness­based and that in it­self makes it a very strong and ef­fec­tive modal­ity, but the ‘body’ in psy­chother­apy also refers to the as­pect of touch. Heal­ing trauma is rapidly en­hanced when ap­pro­pri­ate touch is care­fully in­cor­po­rated into the treat­ment.

Why is this im­por­tant, es­pe­cially when most coun­selling, psy­chother­a­pies, all of psy­chi­a­try and all of psy­chol­ogy do not al­low any touch what­so­ever in treat­ment? How could they have it so wrong?

Heal­ing phys­i­cal trauma

The sim­ple an­swer is that in fully heal­ing the ef­fects of a phys­i­cal trauma (e.g., car ac­ci­dent, bad op­er­a­tion, bul­ly­ing at school, phys­i­cal abuse, sex­ual abuse, high im­pact fall, to name a few) we now know that the body re­acts with the fight/flight/freeze re­sponse and, for that to thaw out and re­lease, re­quires com­plet­ing the move­ment for pro­tec­tion that didn’t hap­pen at the time of the event. For that move­ment to re­lease ef­fec­tively, hands-on touch is of­ten re­quired to as­sist in that move­ment re­lease to oc­cur.

For the fight/flight - that of­ten means help­ing the client with un­fin­ished push­ing, pulling, grip­ping or punch­ing with the arms that couldn’t hap­pen at the time to ‘save you’ from the trauma. Or un­fin­ished flight – run­ning, kick­ing, rolling, twist­ing, to ‘get away’ from the event.

Heal­ing child­hood trauma

The ba­sic an­swer as to why touch is so ef­fec­tive with child­hood trauma is that, with­out enough touch and at­ten­tion, a baby or in­fant will die. There are some hor­ror sto­ries and cases in the past that have shown this to be the case. A child feels and un­der­stands a sup­port­ing car­ing touch much more than words, es­pe­cially in the first five years of life when the in­tel­lect brain is not fully de­vel­oped yet. In those ini­tial years, touch is the key to growth and feel­ings of care, love and safety in the world. The tac­tile skin con­tact is what in­forms a child’s ner­vous sys­tem that all is well and the environment is safe and car­ing.

Of­ten in ses­sions, one touch (usu­ally gen­tly hold­ing a client’s hand) while they are ac­cess­ing their in­ner wounded child) can pro­duce enor­mous safety and re­lief and the feel­ing that some­one is ac­tu­ally ‘here sup­port­ing and un­der­stand­ing me’, when there wasn’t at the ac­tual time. One ap­pro­pri­ate touch at such a point can re­place the need for dozens of ‘ talk ther­apy’ ses­sions.

There are many types of touch used in body psy­chother­apy. The type is de­ter­mined by the in­ten­tion be­hind the touch. (I can name up to eleven dif­fer­ent types, but that’s for another ar­ti­cle.) I’ve trained all my clos­est friends to hug when we meet and hug again when we say good­bye, rather than just a hand­shake or ver­bal hello/good­bye. Touch is more real and present. It’s not a thought form. It’s the most fun­da­men­tal need we all have from the day we are born. Your skin is the big­gest or­gan of your en­tire body and the more lov­ing touch it re­ceives the more your whole body, in­side and out, thrives.

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