Touching: taboo in or a complementary aspect to professional care? - Haptonomy

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<blockquote>"Touching is an important means for information, exchange and communication. It is a form of communication that is very important for living and surviving. Touching is essential in our life. To put it more strongly, without touching we cannot live. A specific form of touching is the touch between air and lungs. If we cannot touch the air that surrounds us to breathe vital elements into our lungs, we cannot survive."</blockquote>

Touching: taboo in or a complementary aspect to professional care?

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In our life and the world around us we take part in a multitude of contacts and interactions, whereby there is a permanent confrontation whether or not to consciously take personal decisions or formulate viewpoints. In current society with its focus on production, with its education specifically aimed at adjustment, it is not so obvious to listen what we feel and perceive deep inside and to take those decisions that are important for ourselves and suit us. It is only all too often that we are inclined to take decisions on the basis of what we think that our environment (parents) expect of us or deem desirable. It is not easy to listen to what is important for ourselves when we have learned from a very early age onward that it is important to meet the expectations and demands of our environment. Taking decisions based on that what is expected of us may be such a natural thing to do that many people actually think that this it is the proper thing to do and also organise their accordingly.

in our personal functioning and well-being, as the proper thing to do and also organise their life accordingly.

Decisions that are taken on what we think is the proper thing to do or because we think that it is expected of us may be an important cause of disorders in our personal functioning and well-being, as we do not base these decisions according to our own opinion (perception) and therefore ignore ourselves systematically more or less absent in or during the A. A person may experience disorders because he does not know or listen to what he really wants to do, because he does not dare or is not able to take the initiative, or because he only wants to do good and finds it difficult to receive from others. In more serious situations this may result in, for example, a fear of failure or even symptoms of a depressive nature.

In society, which focuses in particular on effect and performance, we have many contact in our daily interactions with each other, as stated before. However, they often concern functional contacts, for example expressing one’s appreciation of the other by a pat on the back as a reward for a positive end result. Haptonomy does not really focus on this form of functional contact, but more on the emotional contact that affects our mind. These affective contacts in particular determine the self-fulfilment and personal well-being of people.

If this affective confirmation has been more or less absent in or during the process of growing up, this may affect a harmonious development of one’s emotional life. In this case the person in question will not have learned to develop his own abilities to start affective relations. This may mean that he will have to operate in society and in relationships in a rational way, which takes a lot of energy. If this is the case, this implies that he will always focus on matters of which he thinks that other people regard as important, even though he would like to focus on other matters. However, the need to be confirmed by others means that he ignores his own feelings. This conflict in himself, that is to say, always wanting to meet the so-called demands of others is a struggle that takes a lot of energy.

One of the reasons that this behaviour occurs is that his welfare largely depends on how and to what extent he has learned to use his capacity to start affective relations and contacts.

The following excerpt excellently describes the human capacity we are talking about.

The story comes from a novel by Laurens Van der Post: Venture to the Interior. Veldman Sr, the founder of haptonomy, often uses this excerpt to explain the phenomenon of haptonomic contact.

“I put my arm around him in that way managed to hold him up through the rest of the whole bloody business; and in this moment, for me, lies the real significance of that afternoon. For as I put my arm around Horobin, a stranger, in order to support him, I felt to my utter amazement how near he was to me.

There seemed to be no barrier between us; we might have been the same person under the same skin, and, in spite of the dreadful circumstances of the moment, a tremendous warmth and reassurance welled up within me”….

An outsider can objectively observe the changes that occur between a counsellor and a patient, but this does not mean that he is able to perceive, feel and understand what is really happening. For this he will have to observe in an affectively involved way. This affective involvement means that the observation gets a different dimension, which is of essential importance to understand the other in his perception.

In haptonomic counselling it is particularly important how the problem is perceived and how the feelings of the patient can be incorporated. If a patient has gained an instinctive understanding of his problem, he can start to examine according to which pattern he approaches his problem(s) and how he tackles them.

Affective perception implies experiencing, observing, sensing, meeting and feeling, however it goes beyond the experience itself. It is an innermost perception, an encountering and sensing of experiences, events, adventures and ups and downs both from the distant past, the recent past and the present. Affective perception goes deeper, it has a deeper appeal and leads to a more complete and deeper perception than what a mere experience entails or evokes. It is a very deep encounter with oneself. It means being nourished with one’s innermost feelings, that is to say encountering what moves or has moved us deep inside and inspires us, often unconsciously, to act. It is our inner motivation that corresponds with our vital libido (joy of living) and vital intentionality (meaning of life). Daring to open ourselves to listen, and sense and notice what inspires and moves us innermost, will bring us into contact with our Self.

If we dare to convey what we can hear deep inside ourselves - which often has an emotional impact because it touches our heart - we can comprehend and understand ourselves better. In this way we can shape and direct our actions in a more personal way.

Meeting ourselves means: clashing with oneself, discovering oneself, becoming acquainted with what we perceive deep in ourselves.

In his book Becoming a Person Carl Rogers discusses the concept of “fundamental attitude” within therapy. One of the basic ideas of Rogers is a belief in the value of the individual person and in the ability of the individual to handle his situation and himself.

“The important thing is to show a deep understanding of the conscious attitude of the client at present, when he is exploring new dangerous territory step by step, which he did not allow to enter into his consciousness until now. This basic attitude of the therapist is the interpretation of his views regarding people. It is rooted in the faith he has in the abilities of a person and in the importance he attaches to the way in which the client experiences himself and his world.” (Rogers, 1951 p. 35).

The patient is approached by haptonomy on the basis of a similar basic attitude and faith. He is invited and a concrete psycho-tactile appeal is made on him to apply his (emotional) abilities and to base his own life (path) on them. Touching is an important part of the communication in the daily contacts with each other. It is much more important than we realise or are aware of. The, sometimes unconscious, touch often includes a message, it expresses something, even though we are not always aware of the message. We usually do not reflect about what this touching means to the other and we often also do not realise it. However, if we would listen carefully to ourselves, we would definitely experience certain feelings with regard to touching, for example that it feels good or is a nuisance, or that it evokes emotions such as anger or sadness. In a certain sense we “know” these feelings and incorporate them in daily life. However, we are not used and have not learned to reflect about these feelings. We touch each other hundred times a day, and in another context, use objects and deal with them as if they are an extension of ourselves, for example when parking our car. We know” the car exactly, without thinking whether the car fits in the parking space or not.

The same also applies when we are writing with a pen and drying a glass. We “know” exactly how much pressure should be exerted in order to write with the pen or to not break the glass. It can be concluded that we focus our feelings when being in contact with materials in such a way that we know exactly what and how much we should do to take care that things will not go wrong. In other words, this contact

involves an active attitude, listening, understanding, emphatising, sensing, feeling compassion and “having a feeling” for the object. However, this feeling when it applies to contacts with other people, requires a greater precision. Touching has everything to do with feeling; having a feeling for and focussing one’s attention on the object or on the other. Touching means relating and connecting to an object or to a person.

We can also be touched by feelings of recognition, of joy, but also by feelings of pain or by traumas. In this case we do not refer to the touching itself, but to being touched by one’s contact with the other, by the interpersonal contact.

Touching is an important means for information, exchange and communication. It is a form of communication that is very important for living and surviving. Touching is essential in our life. To put it more strongly, without touching we cannot live. A specific form of touching is the touch between air and lungs. If we cannot touch the air that surrounds us to breathe vital elements into our lungs, we cannot survive. If we would not feel the touch of the air that becomes hot when nearing a fire, we would burn. If we would not feel an extreme cold, we would freeze. These trivial and extreme examples emphasise the fact that – in addition to the direct touch - we can also touch our surroundings. We are also in contact with our environment. You could say that the air around us is also an object, even though we do not experience it in this way. This shows that our entire life consists of touching and being touched. We have a permanent exchange with our environment.

Without this we would not even know that we are here, because in and through this exchange we experience our existence. The same and likewise essential exchange also takes place in the psycho-tactile and affectively conforming contact. It is an affective exchange that is essential for our development into a psychologically balanced person.

Apart from the affective level, the direct psycho-tactile contact takes place on a prelogical and preverbal level. In order to genuinely emphatise it is necessary to feel with the patient in a real sense.

As a result of the subtle signals of emotions, which can hardly be observed with the eyes, it is possible to observe how a person retires from participating, isolates or abandons a problem, has an obliging attitude, shows a slight hesitation or restrains himself etc.. On this basis it is possible to intervene and reflect and perhaps offer a verbal account of the reaction of the patient to the discussed problem and explore what this could mean for him.

Through the psycho-tactile contact it is possible to emphatise in a penetrating way in which way the patient is touched, how this affects him and how he handles this. In the affective proximity contact it is of essential importance for the patient that the counsellor is unprejudiced, can listen and that he has a participating presence in his contacts. It should create such a resonance that the patient can feel straight away that there is a real contact and involvement. This does not require a mere rational-psychological know-how, but it is essential to know about interpersonal communicative affective perceptions and developmental processes.

The maturity and experiences on the basis of the own inner life of the counsellor are therefore of essential importance. It is this growth process, this emotional maturity that is the focus of the courses in authentic haptonomy. In order to achieve this maturity it is necessary that a person develops an ability to establish contacts and apply them. In this way he can obtain essential information about his environment, about other people and about opportunities to realise a contact that inspires confidence. This will make it possible for him to understand in what way and with whom he has established a genuine contact. In this way it is possible to have an – emotional – knowledge of one’s own uniqueness. Being touched by one’s emotional feelings and coming into contact with oneself through the other can create opportunities for psychological growth and become a more complete, more autonomous and freer person. Touching as a psycho-tactile confirming contact is therefore an essential complement to professional care.