Therapeutic Touch: Research, Practice and Ethics

Touch is essential to human life. From the earliest writings by Ashley Montaqu (1971) who discussed the importance of nurturing touch to help babies thrive physiologically and emotionally to a recent study lead by Nathalie Maitre at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio that demonstrated the significance of sensory experiences in early life on brain development— physical attention during a baby’s development, during our entire lives in fact, is important—the more you hug and cuddle your babies, the more their brains grow.

According to Maitre, our sensory system supporting touch and bodily sensation is the earliest to develop in human beings; further, it forms the basis for other sensory development as well as our cognitive and social development. Maitre’s study established that nurturing touch is essential for infant development with study outcome demonstrating that positive proper touch increased brain activity while negative touch (pin pricks, tube insertions) decreased brain activity.

As human beings, we crave touch. There’s an instinctive need to feel another—be it a lover’s hand, a mother’s breast. The soft fuzz of an animal’s fur, even the gristle of a father’s beard can create pleasurable sensations when contact is loving and supportive. As body psychotherapists, many of us acknowledge the value of appropriate touch in the therapeutic setting—of course within proper boundaries and acceptable containment and with the client’s permission. As therapists, we must be clear about why we want to integrate touch, discuss what kind of touch, and for whose purpose the touch is occuring (certainty not to make the therapist feel better!).

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Defne Dinler

SPT is pleased to introduce our newest columnist: Defne Dinler from Denver, Colorado, USA. Defne is a licensed somatic counseling psychotherapist, specializing in body psychotherapy. She has degrees from Naropa University and Washington University, in St. Louis, USA. She also earned her professional diploma in hands-on healing from the Barbara Brennen School of Healing where […]

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What is your relationship to your defenses? Can you name them? Can you name your self-destructive habits? Maybe notice where you keep feeling helpless or stuck?

From a psychological perspective, defenses are survival skills that resulted from negative childhood experiences—when our external environment threatened our internal sense of safety and wellbeing, be it overwhelming feelings such as abandonment, fear/terror, feeling unloved and unlovable and so forth. In response, we created survival skills to endure destructive emotional, physical and spiritual experiences. Due to our codependence on our caretakers, our defenses truly become survival skills.

The most mainstream defenses include denial, rationalization, repression, dissociation, projection, manipulation, caretaking and even humor. Although these skills allowed us to grow from child to adult, I often wonder about our relationship to our defenses as adults. A great survival skill for a child may not serve you as an adult.


Register now for the USABP Fall Conference: The Science of Connection

The portals are ready! We can now register for the USABP Fall Conference at Pacifica Graduate Institute, at their Retreat Center.

The pre-conferences on Thursday, November 1, 2018m are offered by Rae Johnson, Aline LaPierre and Lawrence Hedges. All three presenters are proven to offer excellent information and current insights in our field.

The conference, entitled,The Science of Connection, is November 2-4 beginning at 8 am! 

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USABP Webinar April 19

“Letting go” has long been a central concept in the psychological process of healing. It has been cast/seen as an essential step in getting unstuck and moving forward. Over the years of working with clients through Transformative Touch, the bodies of our clients have opened us to another consideration. In order to let go of something , you first need to be holding on to something. When this is the case, “letting go” makes sense and works. However, we have found with some clients , another scenario has registered in their body- that of something having a hold of it. Letting go in this instance will not work, and will actually increase frustration and self-judgement.

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Can you help a doctoral student’s research project?

“I am researching perspectives of self-disclosure and comfort level using self-disclosure amongst professionals in the field of psychology with different amounts of clinical experience. The study will take no more than 15 minutes of your time. The study involves completing a short demographic and clinical questionnaire, and four open-ended short response questions. All participants who choose to participate will have an opportunity to win one of two $50 Visa gift cards!

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Corporeity in Psychotherapy

I wondered a few years ago how it might be possible that the fetus could know “the flavour of the relationship with the mother” while immersed in a liquid environment, given that the introduction of sweet substances into the amniotic fluid led to an increase in deglutition (swallowing), while the intro- duction of bitter substances led to a reduction.

I believe the answer lies in Ludwig Jacobson’s (1813) vomeronasal organ, which is situated just above the incisors and is capable of transducing the aroma of substances in liquid solutions into taste in the embryonal-fetal period. This organ atrophies after birth, but, during our intrauterine time, it permits us to know the flavor of the primary object relationship, which is ‘a mirror taste’, which is to say that it already informs us of a primary intercorporeity that may prepare the ground for later subjectivity and intersubjectivity, and even psychopathology.

This sense of a primary intercorporeity lead me to consider corporeity’s place in general in psychotherapy and how it interacts with what I consider to be the two main ingredients in the psychotherapeutic setting, namely the relationship (between therapist and client) and therapeutic embodied activation.

What is Corporeity in Psychotherapy?

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The Reflective Parent

Some say that it takes a village to raise a child into a well-functioning adult and it probably does. But without an entire village of free childcare, we are often left with books to fill in the gaps. Today hundreds of books claim to outline the “right way” of parenting. This often leads parents to listen to conflicting advice which is not only confusing to the parents but also to the children. Author of The Reflective Parent: How to Do Less and Relate More with Your Kids, experienced psychiatrist and founder of the Center for Reflective Communities, Regina Pally, comes from a more ground up approach to parenting. She argues that “there is a lot more leeway in parenting” (xi).

As a young parent raising her three children, she had read all the parenting books and was left “feeling less confident than before” (xi). Through her pediatric, psychiatric and psychoanalytic training, clinical work, studies in neuroscience and personal experiences, Pally “learned that a parent’s reflective capacity is the factor most closely associated with healthy child development.” (xi) Throughout this book, ideas and skills required for reflective parenting are interwoven with what we know today about child development, the neuroscience of human social relationships and parent-child relationships. The Reflective Parent is a practical and easy-to-read guide for anyone looking to build stronger relationships with their children.

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SPT Winter 2018 is now digital

We’ve just posted our Winter 2018 issue on so our readers can access our articles digitally. And you can pay for a print copy as well.

Our Winter issue deals with  addiction. Drugs, alcohol, sex, gambling, shopping, food, social media, digital games, movies, whatever the ‘substance’ the effect is the same—numb out, dissociate, flee from the perception of pain (be it physical, psychological, emotional, spiritual). The number of people who are considered addicts has reached pandemic proportions—no one place, no one race, no one culture is free of this infectious disease. But, is it a disease or is it a reflection of our inability to self and/or mutually regulate our affective state? Are these behaviors, labeled as addiction or addictive, are these monikers—addict, addicted— accurate? Or, do labels simply shadow deeper manifestations motivating people to reach for something to quell their emotional fluctuations, to smooth the ups and downs in their bodily being?

These questions and more are considered in our Winter issue. Our contributors share their thoughts on addiction, on behavioral patterns that become ‘stuck’, automated, reactionary in the face of overwhelm and affective arousal. Possible physiological causes are considered—think trauma and all that comes with that terminology—and potential interventions are pondered.

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#MeToo: Survivors of sexual violence as counsellors and psychotherapists

Introduction. This new edited collection will explore the practise of counselling and psychotherapy by self-identified survivors of sexual violence/abuse: #MeToo for psychotherapy and counselling. It will show:

• That sexual violence/abuse is widespread rather than rare – so widespread, in fact, that all contributors to this book about it have experienced sexual violence/abuse;
• That victims/survivors are more than victims/survivors – including that we can be counsellors and psychotherapists;
• That pathologising and objectifying victims/survivors – something which often happens in ‘mental health’ settings – can be challenged….

We’re aiming to make a rich and nuanced contribution to #MeToo, a significant political intervention for psychotherapists and counsellors, qualified and in-training. We are interested in exploring a wide variety of potential contributions to the book…

Structure and content. An initial chapter will offer an introduction to social, cultural and political understandings of sexual violence for counsellors and psychotherapists. After some notes about the ethical underpinnings of our project, the main body of the collection (with space here for approximately 12 main contributions) will be original (previously-unpublished) chapters about working as a therapist and being a survivor (or however you prefer to term yourself) in a variety of counselling and psychotherapy modalities. There will be at least one chapter concerned with supervision; and there will be exploration of activism beyond the therapy room.

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