Therapeutic relating embodied : an exploration of psychotherapists’ experiences of touch in therapy

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O'Keeffe, Delphine
Issue Date
MA in Psychotherapy
Dublin Business School
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Touch has been used within psychotherapy since the origins of the profession. Research shows evidence of the therapeutic potential of touch between therapist and client, highlighting a dimension of deep healing that cannot be accessed via discursive means. Contemporary neurobiological research bolsters arguments for the healing potential of touch within psychotherapy, and even for its necessity in healing some forms of trauma. Psychotherapeutic touch has been subject to much taboo and critique, however, and its use remains controversial. The potential risks of harm to clients are well-documented, including regression and re-traumatisation. This qualitative study presents in-depth insights into working with psychotherapeutic touch, through an Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis of the accounts of three experienced psychotherapists. Three themes emerged: the embodied, self-aware therapist; the power of touch: balancing risk and potential; and attuned relating embodied. It finds that the extent of the psychotherapists’ own embodied awareness is an important foundation and tool in their work, as well as bringing a deeper dimension and richness of experience to them as people. Working with psychotherapeutic touch also entails a conscious process of balancing potential and risk and working carefully and slowly within an established therapeutic relationship. The study sheds light on the refined level of attunement that can be enabled by incorporating the body and touch in intersubjective relating. Working with the somatic dimensions of transference and countertransference was seen as enhancing the psychotherapeutic process. Author keywords: Psychotherapeutic touch, body psychotherapy, embodied awareness, embodied self, somatic countertransference, somatic regulation, embodied interpersonal neurobiology, attuned intersubjective relating, relational body-mind, therapeutic relationship