Since I last made any new entries in this blog, each of the 5 tools, which I am now referring to as “practices,” have gone through an evolution both conceptually and experientially. I have taught an intensive training-- Body Mind & Beyond-- twice and have learned a great deal from the participants. I have continued to learn from my clients and from my own study. The power of each of the five practices when integrated into the IFS Model has at times astonished me. I want to share this in more depth in future writings. I begin with the practice I have not given its due—the practice that recently has captured imaginations--Attuned Touch.
I have noticed in my teaching of Somatic IFS that there never seems to be enough time for the practice of Attuned Touch. Whether I am teaching a three hour seminar or a fifteen day training, the first four practices take most of our time. We experience each of the practices personally, and then explore the clinical applications. Somatic Awareness is foundational, of course. We need to first honor our parts that have learned to block awareness, and then allow for the awakening of the inherent awareness of the body. Breathing is also crucial. It involves both accessing core beliefs through habitual breathing patterns as well as introducing many powerful techniques for restoring Embodied Self. Somatic Resonance takes us into the rich realms of relationship and the potential for reciprocity of healing. The practice of Mindful Movement is vast and provides a powerful path for unleashing the story locked up in the body’s systems. Recognizing that each one of these practices deserves and, indeed, requires a lifetime to adequately master, I tend to borrow a little time from each successive practice until we have to rush through Attuned Touch to allow time for completion.
I am curious about my neglect of the practice of Attuned Touch. Of all the five practices that lead to embodied Self energy, I claim the most mastery in the practice of touch. I studied and practiced various forms of bodywork for over twenty years. I have experienced the tremendous power of touch in healing wounds of body and mind for myself and countless clients. My experience both as a body worker and as a therapist have reinforced my understanding of the inseparability of psyche and soma. The neglect of this practice cannot simply be attributed to flawed time management.
I realize I have held fears and assumptions about the role of touch in psychotherapy. I have assumed psychotherapists regard touch as either dangerous, inappropriate, unethical, or irrelevant in their clinical work. I have feared their lack of interest, or worse, their judgment. A part of me has taken on the cultural burden that places things pertaining to the body and the earth lower on the hierarchy. The taboos against touch in western culture bring a level of tension and complexity that I have wanted to avoid, and have assumed that my students would be in agreement.
Instead, especially recently, it is the practice of Attuned Touch that has been drawing the most attention. Participants in my trainings have asked for further training in the use of touch in their practice and have given feedback that IFS is on the cutting edge of psychotherapy, and Somatic IFS is on the cutting edge of IFS. I have been approached by Courtenay Young, the founder of Body Psychotherapy Publications, about reprinting my blog on Attuned Touch in his forthcoming volume About Touch and Body Psychotherapy. Deb Dana (www.debdanalcsw.com), a colleague of Stephen Porges who developed Polyvagal Theory also was drawn to the importance of touch as a vagal brake. As a result we have entered into an exciting collaboration. These validations and more are helping me to regard this practice which lies atop the pyramid as the crowning expression of embodied Self. Perhaps Attuned Touch is the bridge that can join the two fields of body and mind.
There has been a significant body of research about the value of touch, thanks mostly to Tiffany Field who established the Touch Research Institute. Her work and others’ has demonstrated both the potential for touch in healing a vast array of issues, and that the possibility for harm is not prevented by regulatory agencies’ policies prohibiting touch. Rather it is clear that touch violations between therapist and client are caused by practitioners who have not resolved their own wounds of neglect of touch or touch abuses.
If, as a profession, we want to include Attuned Touch in our therapeutic interventions, the practices on the pyramid that underlie it are crucial so that the touch is from Embodied Self. For those of us who have been wounded by touch, we first need to work to heal the burdens that will prevent us from Self-led touch. Without healing these burdens, even as the touch is ethical and boundaried, the burdens will likely be conveyed through the touch to the person receiving the touch and at the least will not be be helpful.