Earlier this evening, psychotherapist Alison Crosthwait (from The Good Therapists) and I, had an interesting Twitter chat on the subject of ‘Connecting in therapy – do touch and love have a place?’. The ‘story’ of our chat can be found here:
I’m grateful to Alison, as ever, for her open and honest views and the way in which she shares them. These are tricky subjects which can arouse strong feelings among both therapists and clients, and even within our small discussion and those who joined it, there was a divergence in theory and practice. However, ultimately, as Alison very helpfully commented, “It is crucial to remember that therapy is two human beings. Theory is only concepts”. Even where therapist and client differ on these subjects, the quality of the relationship can outweigh those tensions, and the therapy can still be successful.
We ended the chat with numerous ideas for the next occasion, which we plan will be on a Monday in July. Further news on that in due course, but in the meantime, I hope you enjoy our chat!
March 7, 2017 at 12:18 pm
Touch is a very complicated issue (note my understatement). Sexuality is the part that receives the most attention, but a hug vs. being held raises additional concerns. Here are a few that come to mind: how long before the embrace becomes uncomfortable (and to whom) what happens when the client wants it with a regularity that the therapist believes inappropriate and how is this determined, at what point does it begin to feel to the client like an entitlement (with strong reactions if it is then limited in some way by the therapist), what if the client talks to another client about it (perhaps a friend who is also in therapy with the counselor), etc. I’m not saying touch must be ruled out, but it is not necessarily an unalloyed “good” and presents some potential difficulties.
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March 7, 2017 at 6:51 pm
I think touch in therapy is a very individual thing, both for the therapist and the client. I can understand some of the concerns that drgeraldstein raises above but equally, if handled with common sense and within clear boundaries (professional and personal) then it can be a huge power for good for the client.
when I first started having therapy it is not something I would have even considered accepting, i’m generally very selective about who is allowed to touch me and how it is done. but I’ve been seeing the same therapist for some time and she knows me well, and over time (a couple of years) occasional touch (hand on shoulder or back when leaving a session), and even (very occasional) hugs, have become a part of our relationship but are only ever offered and never just given, and usually in the context of a difficult session successfully concluded. I have never asked for them, wouldn’t occur to me to do so. and possibly that’s why they are offered? who knows?!
but for me the touch and hugs have always been welcome, even while not craved, and have added a layer of healing to the session that stayed with me often beyond the words, I often forget the words. I wasn’t touched much as a child, other than spankings, live on my own now so get little in the way of touch elsewhere, and sometimes the touch of another human is kind of life affirming, reminds me I am human and worth something despite the best efforts of my mind to tell me otherwise.
interesting debate, but am glad I have a therapist who can be herself (i suspect she’s a naturally huggy person normally!) and offers touch, albeit limited, within both the boundaries of her profession and within my own personal boundaries.
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March 9, 2017 at 12:18 am
I think touch has been vilified in the psychotherapy community and many therapists are now scared of its implications. The profession as a whole seems to have become terrified of the possible negative (?) implications that may arise from touch or holding a client. I think it’s an issue that has been analysed to death, so much so that many therapists feel like it’s better just to avoid it.
For me, touch has been one of the most healing aspects of my therapy, whether it’s just a quick hug at the end or 5 or 10 minutes of being held while very upset. Even just having my hand held has proved to give me comfort and help me while dissociated.
I knew I needed and wanted the option of touch in my therapy so deliberately looked for a therapist open to it. I knew I’d only possibly want that if the relationship felt safe enough and that I clicked in that way with the therapist. I haven’t always been able to tolerate touch and I am also selective about who can touch me. I just knew I wanted the option of being held while regressed and upset.
I don’t think touch should be forced on therapist or client. If the therapist isn’t a huggy person then that’s okay, but it should also be okay if a therapist IS a huggy person and comfortable with holding a client and I get the feeling that as a whole it is looked down on, seen as a boundary breach or something else negative.
Issues may very well arise from holding a client, there may be ruptures even, but as far as I’m concerned all those issues are still therapy, still grist for the mill and something positive can come out of it. And I’d be willing to bet that for the most part, those issues that arise and are attended to with compassion are far less damaging than having an overwhelming need for touch or holding and being constantly denied it or having it withheld from probably one of the few people you love and trust in the world.
If a therapist is clear about the therapeutic value of holding/touch and it is about meeting the needs of the client and not the needs or countertransference of the therapist, then I think touch is a fabulous and deeply healing and very normal behavour and tool for healing.
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