Touch & Holding in the Regressive Therapies

by Sam Turton

When we are conceived, our human biology is coded for our tiny, delicate selves to be protected and nurtured through gestation on, until our formation is completed in adulthood. As I have researched myself, and developmental psychologist, Aletha J. Solter concurs, compared to most living things, this longer period leaves a very large window for potential damage. This is why, I believe, human beings at this time in history carry more neurotic dysfunction than other species.

Young beings need to be protected and nurtured in safe holding in the most fundamental way. When the primary holder or protector fails (or even themselves attack or neglect) and allow the young to be hit with an unmanageable barrage of stimulus or starved with an unmanageable barrage of neglect, the biology of the young being does what the parents are not doing - it creates its own walls of protection in its brain and body. It finds alternate means of protection, nurturing and comfort which as substitutes, don't do as effective a job as the intended, parental full-being "protective embrace." Some of the results are addictive behaviours and substance abuse, in a being that is shut off - numb yet suffering - behind it's own wall of protection.

These self imposed walls and blocks create a lack of system flow that is detrimental to healthy adult functioning. After all, the walls were often created for a danger that is now past. But most often, people suffer with them throughout their lives.

Our biology, however, carries an "ideal" - the genetic code for a "proper" growth environment - proper parental protective nurture; and also for "proper healing" - a later circumstance for protective nurture. This later healing circumstance does not have to be with the parents, especially if they are the main locus for the damage. But this new situation, to be effective and allow the healing to happen, has to be of a truly protective nurture.

This environment cannot be created by another walled-off being (therapist or otherwise) who is unconsciously using other people as a source of comfort or distraction from their own pain - a predator of other people.

For a person to let down the walls they so valiently built as tiny infants, they need a new wall of protection - a re-creation of the very type of wall or embrace that the parents were biologically intended to create. If this protective area is created by a truly functioning, feeling, healthy human being or human group, the injured person will begin to test the security of this "emotional environment."

Little by little, if the wall holds and protects them, they will begin to feel safe enough to let down their self-imposed walls and do two things:
  1. Release the suffering feelings/memories held back inside the walls, and
  2. Begin to receive the nurturing sensations of life that they need, to feel human and fulfilled.

Ideally, the walls will eventually have no purpose and fade away. The biology always has its latent defense mechanisms, however, to erect new walls whenever it is abused and in need of them. To let walls down is not to be powerless.

This protective nurture does not coddle. It does not protect the healer from the release of old pain - the vomiting or release of the poison. It is not a new soother. Any good parent (or therapist) knows that "overprotection' injures in another way. To hold or embrace physically, in the right way, is a container, not an opiate.

The new protective nurture has to do this, and allow or show the healer how to find other healthy sources or relationships in the world-at-large to continue their feeding, growing, and living. To be effective, this is what a therapeutic relationship has to do. It can "do no harm" because harm causes walls which is the illness itself. It has to include safe, non-predatory touch because we feed through physical contact. To hold is to be human; to not hold is to be still another perpetrator of the the illness. That's how we got sick in the first place.

I want to define holding. Holding is not a physical embrace that involves abuse. That is not holding, that is abuse. Our problem is that, being insensitive, we cannot easily distinguish by looking, which physical holding is harmful or predatory and which is helpful. Many people, still neurotic and needy, go to school and university, learn with their heads, get pieces of paper and letters behind their names and begin to practice therapy.

As sick individuals, no amount of learning can help them much. They need to heal. But they can appear to be knowing healers and set up situations, in accordance with their sick needs, to lure hurting people into their environment, and offer what appears to be protective nurture. These patients will attempt to trust, and open up, only to be abused by the needy therapist in one way or another, causing further damage and an additional wall ("I'll never trust anyone again").

People with big sticks who say, "I'm gonna beat the shit out of you!" are not as much a problem. You know they are dangerous. It's the people who appear to be loving and caring that can do the greatest damage. I believe that is one of the valid reasons why some believe that holding in therapy can be dangerous.

The problem is that full healing cannot happen without that protective nurture appearing at some point. To be fully human we have to touch and connect back with our human community. We are not biologically intended, like badgers are, to be solitary. Isolation is just our own protective embrace.

The healing environment of protective nurture is as much a feeling in the air - psychic containment, if you will, as it is a physical one. The therapist exuding this level of protection does not have to hold in order for the healing to work. In fact, by far most of the work will take place without any kind of touch. But holding and touch at certain points (even hand holding or placing one's hand on a shoulder), is simply a necessary human communication, and will happen when a human "contacts" and is really with another human.

What we need to be doing as therapists is simply being fully engaged in the process of becoming more and more feeling - more and more human. A very feeling human will then, by necessity of nature, exude the behaviour and create the environment that can protect and nurture and be a place of growth for others.

I also believe we are animals, and that wild animals are wonderful models of clear, natural, un-neurotic behaviour. To me, to be fully human and feeling is to be wild. It is wild, fully feeling humans who maintain a healthy, happy womb, a safe loving birth, and warm caring family or tribe to grow and in which to be human.

Call them real therapists if you will, I prefer to call them real humans. Although it is necessary for therapists to train you can't train humans to be human. Anyone who wants to help other people to be free of this illness of separation, has to, first and foremost, be as free of the illness as possible themselves by engaging in a non-stop healing process - an adventure in growth that never ends.

Some people are concerned that holding in therapy will create bonds between therapist and client. What difference does it make if a bond develops between these two human beings? We need human bonds in this world.

The question is not "to hold or not to hold." We need to be held. We just don't need to be abused again in another sly way. The onus is on the "therapist" to be healthy, and to never stop on their quest to be more and more human. The one who is seeking a safe healing environment need not let down their walls too quickly (unless they're collapsing!). Take time. Check out this new, supposedly protective, nurturing person, and walk away if there is something that does not feel right.

To quote MIckey Judkovics:

Finally I do believe in the end that it is our loving presence which creates the healing.

And how we do that in action manifest this love is the question here. My suggestions are: 1) Keep the locus of control in the client. 2) As therapist, be aware of your own reactions. 3) Remember the physician's dictum "First do no harm. When in doubt do nothing."

Although I believe that in a functional therapeutic relationship it is the power in the client that chooses the therapy and directs it, I also experience that it is a dance, a miracle of what humans do together. We can't create hard, fast rules here. Rules of that nature are from the neurotic divisive mind. We have to be very, very aware - and careful.

In addition, the healing person is, in many ways, allowing themselves to be a child once again. Children never require sexual touch and a healthy adult does not need to have sex with a child. On the biologic level, alone, it does not make any sense.

So, a therapist, who is creating the protective nurture, need never be sexual for the healing to happen. That type of behaviour in a therapist is a serious sign of misplaced need - a using and abusing the client as a mommy or daddy pleasure comforter.

Since therapists are rarely at the end of their healing journey, the advice given most often by my mentors is, to echo Mickey once again, "When in doubt do nothing." To add to that, I urge all therapists, Don't ever stop doing the work. -- protect and nurture.

The author, Sam Turton, has added important material to his original article. See his present thoughts on the therapy of touch by regressive therapists on his website.

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