Book Review of The Ethics of Touch

Somatics Society
Spring/Summer 2003
by Eleanor Criswell-Hanna

There are ethical codes--rules for appropriate behavior--for all professions. These codes are developed by different human services professional organizations, and are designed to protect both the client and the practitioner. The codes are similar, but they address some slightly different issues according to the nature of the profession or vocation.

The touch therapies bring in a particular set of ethical issues, because the touch experience involves deeper levels of many ethical issues, especially transference and counter-transference. Transference refers to the transferring of feelings, such as loving and other feelings for parental figures, from previous relationships to the present relationship. Freud's use of transference in psychotherapy was part of the process, and he felt it needed to be worked through in psychoanalysis. Transference particularly shows up in psychotherapy as the client transfers feelings to the therapist. Counter-transference refers to the feelings created in the therapist toward the client. Transference and counter-transference can be positive or negative, and boundary issues arise due to the intimacy of the therapeutic relationship.

The authors feel that ethics training is particularly needed by somatic practitioners. "These concepts are essential for all practitioners to understand. Practitioners must have a thorough understanding of the meaning of: the therapeutic relationship; power differential; transference; counter-transference; projection; repression; and denial. These concepts create the bedrock of ethical decision-making and responsible behavior in all professional and (as a bonus) personal relationships," say Benjamin and Sohnen-Moe.

The authors list the major elements in a therapeutic relationship, which include the client-centered orientation, fiduciary matters, structured time, a clear role for each party, a safe environment, and the power differential.

Chapters include "Ethical Principles," "Boundaries," "Dynamics of Effective Communication," "Dual Relationships," "Sex, Touch and Intimacy," "Ethical Practice Management," "Business Ethics," "Special Considerations in Cases of Trauma," And "Supervision." Appendices include "Forms," "Specialized Protocols," and "Codes of Ethics."

Written for somatic practitioners in all disciplines, The Ethics of Touch is a very comprehensive book. The fifteen contributing authors place a big emphasis on the issues of power differential and boundaries. Each chapter can be used for continuing education units (CEUs) from the National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork. The key terms defined are ethics, values, principles, morals, laws, and professionalism. Each chapter ends with chapter highlights. The book includes charts, diagrams, checklists, and questionnaires. There are discussion questions and activities. The "Special Consideration in Cases of Trauma" chapter shows a deep understanding of trauma and abuse and how the somatic practitioner approaches them. There are forms, specialized protocols, and codes of ethics from different disciplines. The authors include examples, models, and exercises. The book includes a "method for resolving ethical dilemmas." Ethical dilemmas are an ongoing presence in somatic practice and it is very helpful to have an approach to resolving them.

This is an incredibly valuable book for all somatic educators and practitioners. Not only is it a must-read, but the concepts need to be embodied by the educator and practitioner as well. Reading The Ethics of Touch provides a whole new sense of the ethical dimensions of somatics and how to relate to them effectively.

Ben Benjamin, Ph.D., is an authority on ethics and boundary issues in the body therapies. His doctorate is in education and sports medicine. He is the founder of the Muscular Therapy Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts and the initiator of the AMTA Council of Schools Professional and Sexual Ethics Task Force. His books include Listen To Your Pain, Are You Tense? and Exercise Without Injury. Since 1986, he as been a columnist for the AMTA Massage Therapy Journal.

Cherie Sohnen-Moe, a UCLA psychology graduate, founded Sohnen-Moe Associates, Inc., in 1978. She is a dynamic trainer, coach, and author. Sohnen-Moe a is healing arts practitioner, but her major focus is on writing and conducting workshops. Her book Business Mastery is in its third edition and is enormously popular among healing arts students and practitioners through the world.

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