So what touch is Therapeutic?
The times when touch can be profoundly healing is when a client is connected to a previously dissociated affective state and his/her natural response is to withdraw from connection, bringing the clients awareness to this response and encouraging the client to stay in contact in the here and now can be transformative. This changes the pattern of neuronal activity and creating a corrective action with new neuronal activity and a new set of beliefs such as “ when I am feeling sad it is possible to connect with another and be seen, heard and witnessed without being hurt and shamed”.
This therapeutic dyad can be amplified by touch in the form of the therapist placing some light touch on the client in a caring and supportive way with permission which is completely different to the experience of the original wound in the client. In Tantra Counseling or Tantra bodywork sessions there is a much stronger emphasis on touch and requirement of touch from the therapist onto the client as part of the therapeutic interaction.
Body Armoring and Neuroception
Because trauma originates in the body, there is clearly a place in the healing process for touch and bodywork. Bodywork helps trauma sufferers to heal because it can stimulate a healthy, safe discharge of trauma. Trauma discharge can manifest in sweating, laughing, sighing, yawning, crying, shaking, flushing, breathing and tingling—these are all symptoms of good release.
The groundbreaking work of scientists like Wilhelm Reich (who discovered and coined orgone energy and character analysis) and Peter Levine (who wrote the book waking the Tiger and healing trauma and who also set up the Somatic Experiencing Institute), came from their belief that when we experience trauma and can not share this experience with a supportive caring witness and process it in a healthy way, this trauma is then stored in our body.
Trauma is stored in the fibers of our being and it lays dormant in our body like a trapped muscle which disrupts the flow of life force energy and may even cut off completely the flow of energy in a particular part of the body such as many adults of childhood sexual abuse have stuck energy in the pelvis area as a direct result of the trauma and it is how the body remembers the traumatic event. Reich stated, “Armoring is the condition that results when energy is bound by muscular contraction and does not flow through the body”(Reich:1936).
He saw that there existed character armoring which, he defined as “the sum total of typical character attitudes, which an individual develops as a blocking against their emotional excitations, resulting in rigidity in the body, and lack of emotional contact ”. He defined muscular armoring as “the sum total of muscular (chronic muscular spasms), which an individual develops as a block against the breakthrough of emotions and organ sensations, particularly anxiety, rage and sexual excitation,” (Reich:1936).
Body De-armoring is an important part of the therapeutic process and the Tantra therapy room can be a powerful space to explore this work. This is where touch is a very powerful healing modality, by placing light touch which may or may not be of an erotic and sexual nature in order to stimulate pleasure in the body with the goal of circulating sexual / life force energy around the entire body and releasing the muscular tension and the body armor.
In Tantra bodywork sessions the dormant energy held by the body armoring may be reawakened. When this happens it is important to hold a safe space for the client and ensure them that they are safe and they can safely release the trapped energy through breath, shaking, making sound or in whatever way the client feels drawn to.
When choosing a Tantra Therapist
When considering entering therapy of any kind including Tantra bodywork, massage and Tantra counseling, it is important to understand the ingredients necessary for the potential of successful treatment outcomes. Considering that much of the traumatic experiences, resulting attachment blueprint and characterology leading to specific behavioral, relational and /or somatic symptoms which brings the client to seek therapy in the first instance, remain in implicit memory, the unconscious and within a specific body armoring.
The ways in which to bring about positive change will include working with the armoring and making the unconscious conscious. So it is very important for us to have a therapeutic framework to facilitate this ardent work and within the framework a negotiation of strong boundaries. These boundaries within the therapeutic framework should outline specific fee structure, specific session times, specific session duration, therapist availability outside of session, what specifically the session will involve, what are the possible dangers of this style of therapy etc.
In order for us as therapists to work in a healthy therapeutic way with a client it is essential that we are familiar with the concepts discussed above of transference / countertransference re-enactments and boundary setting whether its psychotherapy, somatic therapy and particularly if it’s a Tantric massage, Tantra bodywork or Tantra counseling as it involves a much more intimate relationship between the therapist and client in a much shorter time period due to contact, touch and the nature of the work involved.
The Therapeutic Framework
Lack of Ethics, boundaries and contractual criteria with Tantra therapy and the therapeutic relationship including inside and outside of therapy sets up a collusion of poor boundaries, a blurring of the relationship required for successful transference to take place. In a way we the therapists need to be a blank canvas so that the client can project and transfer onto that which allows for important material to surface can then be worked with within the therapy. This is set up by the dynamic of therapy which is the client shares intimate details about him or her self and we as therapists listen but do not share information about ourselves, although self disclosure is often debated topic in psychotherapy, generally it is best to only disclose if by not doing so will disrupt the therapeutic relationship.
“Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it.
Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy
—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable.
Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.”
― Brene Brown
The procedure of acupressure through the vagina always builds on earlier sessions of acceptance through touch, which again come after sessions of emotional healing, trust, and holding, and always beginning with “love and care” for the patient.
This knowledge of healing life — improving health, quality of life, and ability in one integrated movement — is well known and described in a number of books from the cradle of medical sciences on the island of Cos around 300 BCE, known as Corpus Hippocraticum. Hippocrates was held to be the best physician of his time and father of the first scientific system of holistic healing. It is interesting that massaging the pelvis through its openings was an acknowledged method in ancient Greece and was in
normal use throughout Europe for centuries.
This necessitated the very stringent medical ethics that were founded precisely by Hippocrates, probably with the purpose that he himself and his many pupils could give this kind of treatment as mentioned above. Massage of the pelvic structures of a woman through the vagina and anus could, among other things, heal disturbances in the female energy system known as a disease called “hysteria” (from the Greek word for uterus, hystera). The treatment was in use in most of the western world until the industrial revolution, when it was condemned as pornographic and no longer an acceptable medical treatment.
Today, after the sexual revolution in the 1960s and 1970s, some therapists again work through the vagina and anus with this kind of therapy, either by using their hand to cure sexual and other problems, or by using a vibrant penis substitute (a “dildo”) to cure incontinence or orgasmic problems. It is important to understand or realize that the procedure of acupressure through the vagina is the same exploratory part of the standard pelvic examination by the physician or gynecologist, but with acupressure done so slowly that the woman can feel the emotions held by the different tissues contacted by the finger of the therapist.
With the latest research in neuro-science we now know the essential ingredients necessary for successful sexual trauma recovery both inside and outside the therapy room. Leading neuroscientists such as Daniel Siegel, Bruce Perry and Jaak Panksepp show us what is happening inside the brain of an adult victim of childhood sexual abuse.
The work of clinical psychologists and psychoanalysts Richard Gartner, Patrick Carnes and Lawrence Hedges who have spent over 30 years researching and working with sexual trauma and sexual addictions in their clinical practice and the findings for brain repair through neuroplasticity such as the leading edge work of Norman Doidge outlined in his book ‘The Brain that Changes Itself’, all show that Somatic/Tantra body work is a vital component of sexual Trauma Recovery.
Here is something for you to consider from research – there are a number of ways in which childhood sexual trauma both overt, and covert trauma such as emotional incest can impact the interpersonal relationship of the adult abuse survivor.
Firstly the adult survivor of childhood sexual trauma may have huge difficulty in acknowledging their own personal boundaries which can lead to continuous abusive relationships and an inability to say NO which sets up a continuous repetitive pattern of the original trauma either through affect or through reenactment.
Secondly they may have huge difficulty in acknowledging, recognizing and honoring another person’s boundaries which again is a continuous repetitive pattern of the original trauma either through reenactment and/or projecting affect onto the other so that in an unconscious way the other experiences the dissociated feelings of the child experiencing the abuse. In Therapy and psychology, this behavioural phenomenon is called Transference.
Transference is the redirection to a substitute, usually a therapist, of emotions that were originally felt in childhood.
Transference is universal in all relationships, and successful therapy depends on the ability to both recognize and work with the transference. Very often it is the way in which the sexual abuse of the past is communicated in the present. Another way transference is used refers only to the loving feelings. Shorthand for what therapists call “erotic transference,” this is where the client develops romantic feelings for the therapist. It happens quite often.
Let me give an example – say we’ve got a client longing to be known, with a history of misunderstandings or rejections, and we sit them down with a professional listener and understander. Naturally there are going to be some positive feelings. Maybe even feelings or fantasies of “taking this exquisite understanding home, living every day with this understanding in peace and harmony and even merging with this understanding in an intimate, passionate way. The desire to connect with a caring person in a meaningful way is completely valid. But acting on it in a sexual way with a therapist is never an option.
What’s the problem with transference? Rather than connecting with the person, we’re relating to a template, which may be quite different from the flesh and blood in front of us. We know that as human beings we have an entire biological apparatus which is dependent and designed for us to sustain and maintain healthy relationships. We also know that this apparatus may be under developed in those who have experienced sexual trauma and that healthy relationships can be the cost of this.
Through the development of healthy relationships as an adult, these neuro-biological effects can be completely reversed and new pathways in the brain developed to allow the adult survivor of sexual abuse to thrive in relationships. I see the role of Somatic/Tantric therapy doing just this – building a healthy relationship over a period of time with the client and helping them working with any transference. I hold very strong very strong boundaries and engage in behaviour and attitude different to that of the original trauma, this is corrective action.
Adult clients of childhood sexual abuse both overt and covert abuse may be unconsciously driven to break boundaries, to collude in poor boundaries, to challenge boundaries, to test boundaries and to resist boundaries all in an unconscious way to reenact the original wound in order to heal.
Tantra bodywork has the potential to heal sexual trauma like nothing else. In this I am referring to the boundaries within Tantra therapy. Unlike most other psychotherapies the Tantra session is very different and usual boundaries of contact, ethics, and contractual therapeutic criteria is often absent. There is touch, where in other therapies it is forbidden and very taboo.
But the touch is not the problem. In fact touch is extremely powerful and in many pathologies touch is an extremely powerful healing modality as we are wired to receive touch. In Tantra bodywork, the touch is very much a large part of the therapy. Touch should always, always be mutual agreed upon at every stage of therapy.
“Our sadness is an energy we discharge in order to heal. …Sadness is painful. We try to avoid it.
Actually discharging sadness releases the energy involved in our emotional pain.
To hold it in is to freeze the pain within us. The therapeutic slogan is that grieving is the ‘healing feeling.’” ― Alice Miller
For a therapeutic relationship to be healing, it’s because the therapist has integrity, is not exploitative, and is sensitive, empathetic, consistent, and trustworthy. Assuming the therapist is well trained and experienced, it’s more important to consider whom the therapist is than what he does.
It’s certainly vital that you put your life story together as best you can. But huge gaps may remain in your memory of your childhood betrayal. Even so, you’ll heal if you experience a different, more positive relationship with your therapist than you had with your molester and with others who enabled abuse to occur.
If therapy goes well, you and your therapist together will create a bond that will change your ideas about what’s possible between two people. Throughout all this, your therapist should be able to establish and maintain a protected place for you to come and safely think and feel through things that have been out of your awareness or too scary to contemplate.