Book Review of The Ethics of Touch

American Society for the Alexander Technique
AmSAT News Winter 2006 Issue 72
by Jane R. Heirich

This book is a superb resource about an important topic, relevant for all Alexander Technique teachers, and particularly useful for trainees and new teachers. There are other books that are good resources for this area of our professional practice, but none so thorough as this one.

The book is well-written, clear, well-organized, thoughtful, and practical with plentiful examples and good questions for the reader to work through. It is organized in a useable format for discussion. The chapters raise essential issues concerning the ethics of touch—important issues to consider during training and probably even more useful as one accumulates teaching experience. I think that it is not easy to recognize oneself caught in some of the "slippery-slope" thinking/behavior patterns discussed in this book until one has been teaching a bit. For most of us, self-awareness of boundary issues and communication about them only comes with life experience.

Some brief comments follow to give a sense of the scope of the book. "Ethical Principles" contains an excellent values-clarification (or self-assessment) exercise. My favorite quote from this chapter: "A lack of psychological savvy is no longer a valid excuse for inappropriate behavior." (p. 14)

"Boundaries" describes many types of boundaries and how to recognize both subtle and gross violations thereof. The material is clear, with many examples to get us thinking about our relationships with colleagues and students.

"Dynamics of effective communication" is primarily devoted to communication about boundary issues and contains relevant examples. The importance of observing both verbal and non-verbal communication is emphasized.

"Dual relationships" can be a big issue for those in the helping, therapeutic, or teaching professions: A teacher has a student who comes for Alexander lessons and also has an additional relationship with the same person. In other words, there may be overlapping of social and professional roles. This section contains excellent analytic questions to consider before plunging into a dual relationship.

"Sex, Touch, and Intimacy" is probably the most important chapter in the book. There is a need for clear boundaries here to provide a foundation for safety and trust—qualities basic to the work we do as Alexander teachers. A biological fact we may already know, but I appreciated the reminder: the skin is derived from the same cells that become the nervous system. No wonder touch is such a powerful way of connecting to others.

Appendices include specific techniques for working with self-disclosed survivors of trauma and abuse. This material gives excellent, professionally astute guidance, especially for new teachers who have not been, worked with, or known survivors of abuse.

Two major bonuses: there are 15 contributors in addition to the two named authors, and every chapter includes case-stories taken directly from their experiences. Every chapter includes questions and exercises that could help the trainee/new teacher apply the material from the very beginning of setting up a teaching practice.

Last year, about halfway through the training years for my first group of trainees, we began discussing the material in this wonderful book with the help of two professionals: a veteran BioEnergetics therapist and an experienced music therapist. We will continue the discussions during the remaining months of their training. The book will then be a familiar resource for them during all their years of Alexander teaching.

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