Therapy vs. therapeutic

Relevant to recent discussions of touch in therapy:

Boundaries in psychotherapy are crucial for it to be psychotherapy. Otherwise, it becomes one of number of other wish-fulfilling relationships we could have (friend, physical therapist, hair stylist, parent, bartender, etc.). Just because therapeutic (read: helpful) things happen in a relationship doesn’t make the relationship therapy. For therapy to have impact beyond what these other relationships can have, it needs to be something different from what these other relationships can be.

I have had a few clients who have requested touch or some kind of physical contact. They explain that they see me as a parent figure and that it would be healing to experience non-sexual touch. I gently explain that we need to talk about feelings rather than act on them. Expressing feelings is not an end in itself as catharsis but it is a means of bringing about awareness and self-control. Gaining control over urges and feelings is the reason that they are seeking my help so it would not help for me to move in an opposite direction. Acting on feelings runs counter to the objective of understanding them and finding strategies to contain them. This has been effective with more rapid results than in experiential therapy (e.g., the client on the CNN segment – 3 years and running.)