Question: I am in the midst of a deep therapy that involves extensive nonsexual touch and holding with my therapist. My therapist and I are aware that this work is highly experimental and controversial. I have not been able to find others who have engaged in such therapy and are willing to talk about it. I have read your on line book, Help Me I'm Tired of Feeling Bad, and realize that it was written almost 10 years ago. Can you add anything more about your personal experiences with touch and holding in therapy?

by Paul Vereshack M.D.
(Notwithstanding his M.D. Dr. Vereshack is not a licensed physician)

Answer: I am going to get a little theoretical, and then after that, I will talk about my personal thoughts and feelings.

With or without the label "therapy," I see two main ways in which growth occurs.

  • The first way is to feel our pain and stay in it. The feeling of our feelings draws deep psychological material forward into consciousness in a holistic way. This drawing forward into consciousness, combined with the releasing of the material out of our bodies, brings a thawing and untangling of material that was frozen and buried within our depths. In turn, this lessens body tension and lowers the pressure toward other illnesses. I believe that primally induced awareness and externalization of pain, and the consequent lowering of tension, leave us healthier mentally and physiologically.

    A client may do this work alone by self-primalling, but I think it is better to have a witness. To me, the presence of a witness helps to reverse the original denial in our environment more effectively than working alone.

  • The second way in which growth occurs is through touch and holding. I believe that physical presence in the form of actual touching and holding is a crucial catalyst to the unfolding of the healthy mind and body in the adult. When this needed touch and holding has not occurred during the childhood growth process, we can attempt to use touch and holding to trigger the catalytic growth process in therapy.

What I don't know is whether the adult, can truly re-open to the place they would have reached, if touch and holding had occurred naturally in childhood.

If we experience this physical contact late, as adults, will it take hold and actually grow the child within us, into adulthood? Or will we always slide back when we leave the therapy room because it is too late for this permanent growth to occur?

The truth probably lies somewhere along a continuum of growth versus backsliding, differing for different people. My fear is that despite the best of intentions and the deepest of physical connecting between therapist and client, only a limited amount of unfolding into adulthood will occur and will remain, without the continued physical presence of the therapist.

Now here, I run into very great difficulty in around sharing what I really think/feel about things.

In this area of healing, serious dilemmas arise.

Touch and holding seem to bring with them (as drugs bring side effects), two linked and very dangerous issues.

  • First, touch and holding can, and often do, turn on the mating processes in the brain. This can lead to the client falling very deeply in love with the therapist. The client (and sometimes the therapist) can become embedded in, and lost to, the "love/mating" process which can be triggered. Client and/or therapist then want to be together as lovers and marital partners.

  • Second, this therapeutic "interference", with the basic biology of life, stirs the primitive programming of related humans. Husbands become jealous, observers become resentful, and the "hungry ones", all around us become angry that a human sibling is getting more from life, than they are. In primitive people this can lead to all levels of response up to and including murder.

The problem lies in the fact that early nurture, and the lack thereof, are interwoven later in life with the adult mating/bonding/reproduction mechanisms. Deep and genuine confusion between touch needs, and sexual needs, can drive therapists and clients into becoming lost.

This is why society has such strong resistance to physical connecting between adults in so many, and not just in therapeutic situations.

As I said, the genetically programmed anger in the mate or lover of the held client, can threaten the therapy or even the life of the therapist and/or the client. The human species is preserved, or thinks it is, by this pressure to keep touch and holding within family commitments, protecting the safe rearing of children.

Looking at this as a man, and as a man who was raised in a boarding school and thus seriously damaged by lack of early natural exposure to the opposite sex, my views on this subject are suspect, but not necessarily wrong.

My view is, that for purposes of nurture, we should all be free to touch and hold, with direct skin contact, whomever and whenever and for however long, we please.

Thus, if a client needs touch, and while they get it they feel healthy, and when it stops they feel ill, then as far as I am concerned, let them come for it through their lifetime, just as the diabetic needs insulin forever, and the hypothyroid person needs thyroxine.

As far as I'm concerned, there should be licensed, "Touch and Holding" therapists, serving the general public for just that purpose.

Unfortunately, most members of our species are not yet at a place of development where they can give or receive such nurture without getting lost in it, and derailed by it.

However, I believe that some clients and some therapists are able to engage in touch and holding therapy without becoming diverted from the basic therapeutic purpose of the activity. We know little or nothing about what is going on in this arena because it is too dangerous for anyone to talk about.

Michelangelo would have been burned at the stake (take a moment to think how that really feels), if anyone had found out that he was dissecting a human body. Now, of course, we revere his works at least partly because they are anatomically accurate. The life threatening taboos of one age, may not be a problem for another.

Although touch and holding are actually a very small (but crucial) part of my practice (the primal work being so very important), those who have needed and received touch and holding have reported to me in every single instance that the experience is different from what they get anywhere else.

It seems that touch and holding with a "safe" person does actually access mind-body inputs that have much more to do with nurture than they have to do with sex or romance. Unfortunately, only a few husbands and lovers are advanced enough to really be okay with this happening to their partners in the partner's therapy. Once again, all this resistance is genetically engineered and may take millennia to dissolve.

So where am I with all this?

If a client wants and needs refueling touch and holding across their lifetime, and if their partner is comfortable with this coming from me (and the partner must be told about it), then I will provide it, as I would provide replacement enzyme therapy in someone who had lost their pancreas to surgery.

If all this weren't enough to spark debate, I have one last highly controversial thing to say.

This process must feel real. It must be a mutual nurture with the main flow of nourishment however, very definitely being toward the client. Please see Chapters Six and Seven in my book which deal with these issues in considerable depth.

One thing that is very difficult for me to admit, and yet I must say it, is that as a therapist, I can only give in this way if I am comfortable within the touch and holding relationship. My particular bonding requirements exclude people who are seriously overweight. I cannot hold these people, male or female, because of the negative feeling that it evokes in me. When I try, my own resistance precludes the establishing of the very real two way nurture flow that I mentioned above. Now, other therapists may be comfortable with those who are overweight, and if so, then they can work together.

I make no apology for this. As far as I am concerned, it is a biological template issue, as well as a psychological leftover from my relationship with my own mother, who was a painful person in my early life, and very overweight.

Let me close this article by saying very very clearly that, "Touch Is Life." Without it, infants die, and without opening to it, and receiving it, many adults attempting deep therapy, will remain in pain forever.

Paul Vereshack M.D.

Other pages on this website about Dr. Vereshack's writings include:

Book Review of Help Me -- I'm Tired of Feeling Bad
The Primal Page's Favorite Quotations from Help Me -- I'm Tired of Feeling Bad
The Primal Psychotherapy Page Interviews Paul Vereshack, M.D.

Return to Index of Dr. Vereshack's Questions

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