Book Review of The Ethics of Touch

The Journal of Alexander Technique International
October 2003
by Andrea Matthews

The authors of this book have tackled the complexities of professional and personal ethics in great detail in an effort to supply a comprehensive textbook for somatic practitioners and trainees. They also credit 15 contributing authors from fields including bodywork (with a heavy emphasis on massage), psychotherapy, nursing, law, and corporate human relations consulting, whose writings were adapted for various chapters of the book.

The book's design is both attractive and functional, aiding the reader in digesting the material, with adequate white space and readable type, with a nice balance between unity and variety of elements. The illustrations, though extremely sparse, are to the point. More would perhaps be distracting; instead, supporting quotations in the margins offer moments of rest and reflection for the reader along the way.

The authors' style of writing deftly avoids the density and dryness that might plague the discussion of such a topic, without lapsing into superficiality or cuteness. The organization of the materials is clear and straightforward, and the authors take the time to define and differentiate potentially vague terms such as ethics, values, and principles. They offer numerous "interactive" tools for the reader, such as a checklist of ethical issues, a questionnaire for assessing core values, and a six-step model for resolving ethical dilemmas. Each chapter closes with a bullet list of main points covered for easy review, along with suggested activities and questions for discussion.

Other pluses of the book include a summary of psychological issues in practitioner-client relations, such as transference and countertransference and power differentials, that are critical to understanding the full ethical responsibilities of the practitioner. Among the many topics covered are: boundaries; effective communication; dual relationships (relationships in which personal and professional interactions overlap); sex, touch, and intimacy; ethical practice management; business ethics; trauma; and supervision. The appendices offer sample materials such as a "client bill of rights," informed consent forms, a protocol for working with trauma survivors, and codes of ethics from several organizations such as the American Massage Therapy Association, the American Chiropractic Association, and the Feldenkrais Guild of North America.

One interesting inclusion, a "Model of Cult Mind Control," serves both as a caution against hijacking a student's autonomy, and primer for recognizing the destructive effects of cults in clients. As the authors point out, "Mind control techniques [such as hypnosis and thought-stopping] can be beneficial if they are used to empower an individual to have more choice, and authority for his life remains within himself. . . . Mind control becomes destructive when the locus of control is external and it's used to undermine a person's ability to think and act independently. . . The BITE model [for a cults' control of an individual's Behavior, Intellect, Thoughts, and Emotions] helps people determine whether a group is practicing destructive mind control and assists people to understand how cults suppress individual members' uniqueness and creativity."

The potential uses of this book for ATI (and the Alexander Technique in general) are many: as a textbook for trainees and teachers on a subject that is usually not so formally or exhaustively addressed in training, its relevance is undeniable. For our efforts to define and establish ourselves as a profession, this book offers a veritable checklist of issues for us to take into account: client privacy, working with clients of various ages or disabilities, involvement in promoting appropriate legislation, scope and standards of practice, finances, and legal issues. Although we stress student's responsibility for themselves and their experience to a greater extent than probably any other somatic modality, we too need to be aware of transference and power issues that naturally arise in teaching, especially teaching that requires such vulnerability and willingness "not to know" on the part of the student. The authors provide an excellent and succinct section on such issues. As noted above, the codes of ethics are also useful for comparison purposes, as we continue to refine our own. I was rather charmed that the AMTA's and Feldenkrais Guild's codes were so simple (yet not simplistic); I hope we can emulate their conciseness. While the book's understandably heavy orientation toward the "practitioner/client," rather than "teacher/student," model of practice needs to be taken into account and further reflection on issues particular to the Alexander Technique is advisable, The Ethics of Touch makes a fine jumping-off point.

I could not find a specific reference to the Alexander Technique in the book; Tommy Thompson tells me that Ben Benjamin requested a copy of ATI's code of ethics for inclusion in the appendix, but at the time we hadn't finalized our code and so it is absent. Tommy hopes it will appear in subsequent editions. Personally, I have concerns about being included in a book that could naturally associate us even more strongly with massage in the public's mind (as well as in those practitioners' minds!), and after some reflection I decided I was happier without our being specifically mentioned. Considering our recent struggles in New York and elsewhere to avoid being lumped together with and licensed as therapeutic massage, it seems preferable not to be.

Nonetheless, I think the book can be of great use to us, not only in clarifying and addressing ethical issues in our own practices, but also in helping us to see just how we differ from almost all other "touch" modalities. It is important that we keep those differences alive in our own minds, as well as in the awareness of the public.

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