Book Review of The Ethics of Touch

Rolf Institute of Structural Integration
Spring 2005
by Karl E. Humiston, M.D., Certified Rolfer

Why, in the first place, are we doing structural integration, somatic education, or bodywork? To do good. Ethics comes from the same fundamental source of knowledge as does our professional work. Ever since Adam and Eve ate of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, that knowledge has lived in our tummies, in our heart and gut in a wordless form. To put that knowing properly into words has challenged mankind throughout the ages. When Moses was given some of those words directly by God, his face shone so brightly that it had to be veiled. This is powerful stuff, and these are two powerful books.

The Educated Heart is written by a former member of the Rolf Institute's Ethics and Business Practices Committee, a sensitive psychiatric social worker who went on to become a massage therapist, then a Rolfer, and now a Rosen Method bodyworker. To read and ponder her book is to feel inspired, guided, and protected by someone who knows from experience. Her discussion of professional boundaries is by far the best I have encountered; making it clear that a feeling of strength and safety, not of distance, is what the client needs. On p. 12, she quotes a colleague: "When I became clearer with boundaries, my work became easier and my clients went to a deeper level." Nina's only statement with which I disagree is on p. 125, where she says (as does almost everyone), "Sexual abuse and violation issues are about power. . ." From my own work with sex offenders I know that sexual arousal trumps other feelings and so can become a problem when a person craves more connection with others but doesn't know how to handle the full intensity of so doing. We practitioners need to discipline ourselves so as not to be distracted from staying tuned to the more subtle, though powerful, feelings of the heart and gut. Nina sums it up on p. 23: "To really serve our clients, we need not merely good hearts, but educated hearts."

The Ethics of Touch, written by two main authors and a talented pool of 15 contributing authors, was "a work in progress for a decade." Together they reflect the strength of their combined experiences in professional practice, writing, and teaching. Business Mastery, another book by Cherie Sohnen-Moe, has become assigned reading in Feldenkrais professional training programs. Fundamentally different from one written by a single author, this book is more like a well-organized curriculum at a school where skilled faculty teach in harmony with each other. It reminds me of the superb "History of Western Civilization" course that was required for us freshmen at Stanford University in the late 1940's. This book is indeed like a thoroughly excellent college course in its clear, consistent teaching of concepts. In fact, it is organized so as to be easily used as a textbook in a formal course in ethics, with well-done "chapter highlights" summaries and "discussion questions and activities" at the end of each of its nine chapters. In the three valuable appendices are sample forms useful in a well-organized practice, protocols for working with survivors of abuse and of mind control cults, and codes of ethics from a number of national bodyworkers' associations.

What can be gained from The Educated Heart is the feeling of having a wise mentor at your side. What can be gained from The Ethics of Touch is the confidence that comes from understanding the concepts and communicating in words what the ethics of our work is all about.

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