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To Touch or Not to TouchIssues for Therapists (From Handbook of Sex Offender Treatment, P 70-1 - 70-41, 2011, Barbara K. Schwartz, ed. - See NCJ-243091)

NCJ Number
Jerry M. Thomas, M.Ed.; C. Wilson Viar III, B.S., B.A., B.F.A.
Date Published
41 pages
This chapter presents a sample policy developed by one program regarding the therapeutic uses of touch in a residential program for juvenile sex offenders.
It is not uncommon for professionals working directly with children and youth to consciously avoid either touching or being touched by them, believing that this is the safest and less risky approach in therapeutic interactions. One problem with this attitude is that it is a self-protective, risk-avoidance approach rather than a proactive consideration of how positive, therapeutic touching can improve treatment outcomes. This requires the thoughtful development of program components that address the screening, hiring, supervision, education, and training of staff, as well as the institution of safety policies and procedures that support a healthy touch environment. This effort responds to the increasing body of research that shows the importance of touch in the developmental process, as part of sensory learning and communication, in memory formation, and in behavioral normalization and healing. This chapter reviews the work of some of the organizations that have been examining the role of touch in our daily lives. The section of the chapter that discusses the etiology of juvenile aggressive sexual offending notes that unhealthy attachment, which by definition almost always involves either no, inadequate, or negative touch, is one of the most common features of sexually aggressive or abusive juveniles; however, regardless of the early experience of an individual, positive touch continues throughout the lifespan to have an impact on positive physical and behavioral development. The chapter presents resources for developing a curriculum that addresses different kinds of touch, the components of touch, the meaning of touch, and the physiology of touch. The chapter also outlines appropriate situations for using touch as a therapeutic tool, contraindications for touch, and questionable touch. 38 references and appended residential treatment center model policy for the use of touch