Touch in Therapy I: The Ethics of Touch in Psychotherapy & Counseling

Course materials are available as articles, and audio with transcripts.

This intermediate level course reviews the importance of touch for human development and healing practices, describes the application of touch in psychotherapy as adjunct to verbal psychotherapy.

It opens with 4 audios (text transcripts are provided for all audios) and one article. The articles look critically at the prohibition of touch in therapy and examine its historical, professional and cultural roots. Sexualizing most forms of touch combined with psychoanalytic and risk management guidelines are reviewed, as they present the main obstacles for the clinically appropriate use of touch in therapy. Issues of power, gender, history of abuse, dx and context are also discussed. Finally, detailed clinical and ethical guidelines for the appropriate use of touch in therapy are provided and description of ethical decision-making and a summary of California law in regard to touch in therapy are also presented. Additional resources and references are provided for further study, but they are not part of the course.

Disclaimer: This course is purely educational and does not intend to serve as a license (or permission) to mental health professionals to prescribe or practice any of the approaches discussed in this course unless they fall within the scope of practice of your profession. Check with your licensing board about the scope of practice of your profession to make sure you practice within that scope. It also does not serve as a permission to title yourself in any specific way.

Educational Objectives

  • Review the importance of touch for human development and healing practices.
  • Outline the objections for using touch in psychotherapy.
  • Review professional organizations' codes of ethics on touch.
  • Review and update California laws and regulations which are relevant to touch in psychotherapy.
  • Utilize ethical decision-making regarding touch in psychotherapy.
  • Discuss ethical and clinical guidelines for touch in psychotherapy.


  • The importance of touch
  • Research on infant massage
  • Touch culture and bonding
  • Touch, ethnicity, region, class and sexual identity
  • Type of touch in psychotherapy
  • The prohibition of touch in psychotherapy
  • Beyond verbal communication
  • Touch in context
  • Patients' perceptions of touch
  • Touch and the therapeutic alliance
  • Surveys on touch in therapy
  • Clinical orientation on touch in therapy
  • Definitions of sexual and non-sexual touch in therapy
  • Body-Centered Therapies
  • Touch with special populations
  • Medical and psychological effects of massage
  • Psychoanalytic prohibition of touch
  • On power and touch in therapy
  • Risk management prohibition of touch
  • The slippery slope argument around touch
  • Ethics codes regarding touch in therapy
  • Ethical decision-making regarding touch in psychotherapy
  • California law and touch in psychotherapy
  • Guidelines for the ethical use of touch