28 August 2019
Keeping ‘in touch’
Sally-Ann Dunn is a WPF trained psychotherapist and writes about her recent experience of presenting a paper at an interprofessional conference considering ‘touch’ in therapy held by Essex University.
The main focus of this conference was the use of physical touch in various therapeutic and caring professions and I was given the opportunity to speak from the psychodynamic therapy perspective, in which we express keeping ‘in touch’ and ‘being touched’ in different and non-physical ways. I was asked to present the findings from my MA dissertation in which I wrote about what happens and what it might mean when the therapist experiences a tearful response in a session with a client as result of ‘being touched’ by their narrative. For the purposes of the conference I focused on how a tearful response by the therapist can illustrate the difficulty of being ‘in touch’ with the client at the most difficult moments whilst retaining a containing therapeutic stance. Very little has been written on the subject of the therapist’s tears, and what contemporary literature there is mainly originates in North America. What is confirmed is that a tearful response, whilst a rare occurrence, happens to the majority of therapists, and in a 2016 study the figure was of 87% of those interviewed having experienced the response. In the aftermath of the response what is most important is how it is used in the ongoing work with the client.
For the dissertation I reviewed the available literature and undertook a small research study in order to confirm and challenge the reflections that had resulted from my experiences of having had tearful responses in my clinical work. At the conference I presented what I had discovered, which was generally in line with the findings from the literature, and then the delegates had time to discuss and share their own experiences which led to some interesting and lively exchanges. The overall theme was of wanting to normalise this form of keeping ‘in touch’ and ‘being touched’ by talking about it more openly, particularly in training settings. In this way potential fears around experiencing tears, and perhaps feeling unprofessional for having done so, could be mitigated.
The conference was a full and stimulating day with workshops and presentations by four other speakers. Two were psychoanalytically trained occupational therapists and two were lecturers from the University who were trained in speech and language and nursing respectively. The interprofessional approach gave a good variety of perspectives on the topic and a sense of how helpful it can be to come together in this way and have the chance to learn from each other.