Touch comes before sight, before speech.
It is the first language and the last, and it always tells the truth.
— Margaret Atwood
“I’m seeing a new student tomorrow who doesn’t like being touched. What should I do?”
That’s how our exchange began. By the time we finished talking, my colleague was looking forward to the appointment. Here’s an overview of how the rest of the conversation went:
We talked about how, just because the person who made the referral said this person doesn’t like to be touched, it is important not to assume that this would be the case with you in this situation. For that reason, it’s best to start the same way you usually begin: by stating what you have to offer and then asking the person why they came for the lesson and how you can help them.
When a student doesn’t want to be touched, one option is to guide them through a personalized Awareness Through Movement® lesson. Doing this allows you to turn the questions we usually ask rhetorically of a class into conversation starters. This approach provides an excellent opportunity to get to know the person better and understand where they come from and what they’re experiencing.
Another choice is to follow what works so successfully in online Functional Integration® sessions: you can teach students to work on themselves. While an exceptionally effective way of applying Moshe’s method when working from afar, it turns out that this frame works equally well when you’re both in the same space. Indeed, it often turns out to be the crucial step to fostering self-reliance and self-care with students who like to be touched as well.
I also relayed what my Felden-mom and mentor, Edna Rossenas, said when I asked the same question many moons ago. She told me that when she worked with someone who doesn’t like to be touched, Edna placed the student’s hand where her hand would go, and then, feeling through their hand, she used it to guide and move them.
Over the years, indirect touch worked with folks who were nervous about seeing yet another “therapist,” described as being “tactilely defensive,” or who, for whatever reason, didn’t like or want to be touched. By respecting a student’s boundaries while, at the same time, demonstrating the teacher’s ability to adapt, this simple yet ingenious tactic served as a gracious way of making a connection and beginning to establish rapport. I hope you’ll find it handy as well.
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