What Are The Ethics Of Touch In Therapy And Why Should We Talk About It?
Are you a therapist who was trained to believe that touch between clinician and client was unethical? Do you touch clients, offer a hug or a hand of comfort, but feel like you have to keep that secret from other judging clinicians? Do you feel comfortable with the psychotherapeutic use of touch with your clients but still fear the possibility of litigation or crossing boundaries? Have you fully explored your own relationship to touch, and if so, are you confident that your own touch wounding is not impeding the therapeutic process?
Touch ethics in therapy can create many challenges for clinicians who simply want to provide the best care possible for their clients. For instance, you may not know how to refuse client-initiated touch without shaming the individual you’re working with. Or maybe you struggle to identify indications and contraindications for implementing touch with clients. Or it could be that you feel comfortable implementing touch into your practice, but you have no idea how to accurately document psychotherapeutic touch interventions.
Whether you just started your practice or have been practicing privately for years, it’s time to talk about the touch aversive stance of clinical culture. As mental health clinicians, we need to have a common language to adequately discuss physical contact and its place within the therapeutic container. My specialized training programs do just that.
Why Psychotherapeutic Touch Training?
The culture of the United States is, in general, a very low-touch (barring subcultures or mixed US cultures). Touch avoidant cultures run contrary to the human biological need for physical attunement and connectivity, which can greatly affect the potential for healing within our clients. Western approaches to mental health may acknowledge that touch is essential to a human’s social, emotional, and physical development and that it acts as an integral part of genuine communication and connection. However, Western approaches to psychotherapy typically leave that vital element out of the therapeutic relationship. Moreover, psycho-medical culture often fails to acknowledge the touch hunger that many of our clients suffer from (and perhaps that we, as healers, suffer from as well).
Our own personal influences, be they cultural, religious, familial, or educational (as it applies to the prevailing culture of psychotherapy), can all affect how we connect to our clients. When your own experiences of touch violations are factored in, it’s no surprise that the traditional approach to therapy is missing a crucial component of the healing process.
As professionals, we need to be able to address all aspects of wounding within our clients. Yet, how can we do that if we haven’t explored our own relationship to touch and the wounds we have suffered—be it touch violations or touch isolation?
We must take this most basic of human needs out of the shadows and openly explore how touch wounding lives within our clients, within ourselves, and how this affects our capacity to heal others.
Psychotherapeutic Touch includes within its framework a set of standards that defines the boundaries of appropriate touch within the safety of the therapeutic container. It also explores the area beyond physical touch, such as proxemics, and how that may impact therapeutic outcomes.
What Are The Benefits Of Psychotherapeutic Touch Training?
While the importance of connective, attuned touch in both childhood and adulthood has been clinically validated, most educational programs have failed to provide adequate education on the ethics and clinical use of touch in therapy. The trainings I offer bridge that gap in awareness and education and will create an understanding that can help you provide better care for your clients.
My training program creates a container, a safe space in which to objectively explore touch in therapy without fear of judgment or persecution. Our work together is designed to help you understand the ethics of touch and to be comfortable discussing your boundaries and touch policy in therapy with clients in a manner that still maintains your therapeutic relationship.
The Ethics & Fundamentals of Psychotherapeutic Touch Training is a comprehensive, 20-hour course that fills in many of the educational and professional gaps created by the inattention that touch has historically been given in clinical training. I will help clinicians to explore the various logistical and ethical implications of touch, especially as it applies to cultural, racial, religious, and gender differences. It also includes a deep exploration into your own touch history and how that influences your relationship to touch with your clients. This training is highly experiential, and a variety of touch interventions will be explored.
For the complete brochure on these trainings, click here.
Upon request, I also offer customized training opportunities that can specifically target your organization’s needs. I also speak at conferences and educational events as well as provide consultation on psychotherapeutic touch to both individual clinicians and mental health organizations.
Having been a massage therapist since my 20s, I know well the power that touch has to heal both body and heart. As a Licensed Clinical Counselor and Somatic Psychotherapist, I judiciously use touch in therapy to assist clients in their healing process, so I understand the challenges that your practice is facing.
This training will help you to explore your own relationship to touch and how that impacts your ability to help your clients heal. You will walk away from this program with a clear understanding of the indications, contraindications, and benefits of psychotherapeutic touch and arrive at an informed clinical opinion about how to best implement it into your practice.
I have a few questions about psychotherapeutic touch training…
What kind of specific skills can we expect to gain?
In addition to deepening your awareness of your own touch history, my training provides you with the skills for educating clients about touch, as well as skills for using touch interventions to heal relational wounding and to deepen the therapeutic alliance.
You will also begin the process of creating clear guidelines for your own touch policy based upon Psychotherapeutic Touch ethics. Moreover, you will learn how to communicate that to your clients as well as how to appropriately document touch interventions/interactions. This training is highly experiential and you will learn a wide variety of useful types of touch interventions (which may or may not include physical contact).
I don’t expect to use touch in my practice, so how can this be helpful?
Regardless of whether or not you are implementing touch in your practice, it is important to understand the role of touch in your client’s lives and how your stance on touch affects your clients. You will need to know how to avert unwanted client-initiated touch and how to appropriately document these interactions. If you are uncomfortable with touch, this course will help you to establish and discuss physical boundaries with grace. Furthermore, Psychotherapeutic Touch includes many elements that do not include physical contact such as proxemics/personal space and the use of intermediary objects.
This training benefits everyone. It offers clarity for clinicians who use physical contact, and it also gives those who do not wish to use physical contact a better understanding of the ethics and clinical documentation of touch.
I’m not sure about training now, but do you have a mailing list so I can keep in touch?
I would love to hear from you or your organization. If you would like to join our mailing list, please do so with via the pop up menu or go to the sidebar (coming soon) for the link. You can link here to see a list of upcoming training sessions. Feel free to contact me with any other questions you may have about my consultation services.
I Invite You To Explore The Value Of Psychotherapeutic Touch Training
The training I provide can truly help you clarify the intricacies of touch in psychotherapy, regardless of your stance on the practice. If you would like to know more, I encourage you to contact me to see how I may be able to benefit your approach to healing.
What Others Have To Say About This Training
Your workshop has opened up a new doorway in my practice that I have neglected. I have started exploring the relationship to touch with all of my new clients and many of my longstanding ones. Thank you.
C Silberstein, MD in practice 35 years
Touch in our culture is so fraught – I had parts come up in this training that need to be explored. Learning about what’s culturally and historically in the way of touch was insightful. Excellent training. Sabrina is clear, confident, informed and has a warm and nurturing presence.
Karen Grayson, LPC & Spiritual Growth Coach, 20 years in practice
Click here (coming soon) to read other participants’ experience of the training.
Resources & Article of Interest
- Article ~ Clinical Validation and Application of Touch as a Psychotherapeutic Intervention in Public Mental Health Settings ~ Sabrina Santa Clara
- Article ~ Ethical and Legal Aspects of Touch in Psychotherapy ~ Ofer Zur
- Article ~ To Touch Or Not To Touch: Exploring the Myth of Prohibition On Touch In Psychotherapy And Counseling ~ Ofer Zur
- Article ~Touch in Therapy and the Standard of Care in Psychotherapy and Counseling: Bringing clarity to illusive relationships ~ Ofer Zur
- Article ~ What’s Wrong with No-touch Policies? (page 6) ~ Sabrina Santa Clara
- Resource ~ National Professional Organizations’ Codes of Ethics ~ Sabrina Santa Clara