Sunday, June 13, 2010
A Complicated Sense
In class this week we explored the psychotherapeutic techniques of Virginia Satir, a renowned family therapist with a Midwest upbringing. She can only be described as overtly "touchy-feely" (I think one of my colleagues called it "handsy", clearly a very clinical term). We observed her working with a family wherein one son struggled with heroin addiction. Therapists call this the presenting problem, as the cheese never stands alone. There's always more to the story than one bad seed.
But the touching. It was enough to make many students gasp and snicker. Satir reached for clients' abdomens, embraced snugly the shoulders of the mother and son, had them standing, sitting facing each other, holding hands and kneeling. And she was in the mix in a way that would make most of us, well, uncomfortable.
Except for the fact that amazing breakthroughs happened on this tape. Perhaps not because of the touching alone but it was the touch that pushed assertions over the edge; confrontations into the open; tears down the cheeks. There's something about touch that many of us are averse to (one dear friend of mine refuses to get massages) that unlocks a vulnerability. It turns the question of whether we are connected into a statement: we are connected. You can't deny touch.
Of course, I'm speaking of touch when it comes from someone genuine. Not necessarily someone you know but a place you know to be honest and true. I sat with a young woman this week who has spent the past two weeks sleeping on a couch in her aunt's kitchen, under a roof that houses a total of eight people in three rooms. She is tired. Physically for sure, but she is depressed and anxious, unsure of who she is and "going crazy". We would have her on pills, talk therapy.
I talked to her, listened mostly. Agreed that she is in hell; that it's scary and it's survival. And then I reached out my hand to her and held hers for minutes as she convulsed in tears and an uprooting of shame and fear. The touch literally opened her up to heal. Well, I can only assume she had a little healing because there was a smile the next day.
Moving toward touch is hard for many. An upbringing without it might make it unnatural. But I'm convinced once one harnesses the power of touch and institutes it in their life that there is an opening for improvement. For change. We snickered at Satir's methods because society tells us that it's inappropriate and invasive to touch someone (and sometimes it is). But not outright. Think about how many times you thought to touch someone. . . and didn't. What if you had?