NeuroAffective Touch® (NAT)
Touch is at the foundation of our relational experience. Scientific evidence has shown that attuned, caring touch is critically important for normal brain development as well as for healthy emotional and cognitive maturation.
What is NeuroAffective Touch®
NeuroAffective Touch® is a professional somatic training that introduces psychotherapists and bodyworkers to touch as a vital therapeutic bridge to body-mind integration. The training addresses attachment, emotional, and relational deficits that cannot be reached by verbal means alone. NeuroAffective Touch® was created by Dr. Aline LaPierre, clinician, author, teacher, and Vice President of the United States Association for Body Psychotherapy (USABP).
What does the term "NeuroAffective" mean?
Neuro. Touch is a form of nonverbal communication that reaches deep into our inner personal space. Therapeutic touch not only touches the surface of the skin; it also touches thousands of sensory nerve receptors in the joints, muscles, connective tissue, and organs. These sensory receptors are nerve endings that carry information directly to the brain…hence the term “neuro.”
Affective. Touch has a strong emotional impact. During touch work, clients often said: “It’s like you’re touching my emotions.” The nervous system and emotions are deeply intertwined and cannot be separated…hence the term “affective.”
Is touch in psychotherapy taboo?
The taboo imposed on touching clients in psychotherapy has no legal basis. It is a prohibition established in times long past, a taboo that is currently being reevaluated in light of growing scientific research. The incorrect belief that using touch in psychotherapy is illegal obstructs its acceptance as a valuable psychotherapeutic approach and interferes with the restorative healing potential that therapeutic touch offers.
Neuroscience gives solid evidence of the critical role of the body in cognitive and emotional development. There is now reliable research indicating that attuned touch is critically important for normal brain maturation and for socio-emotional and cognitive development. Touch has proven particularly important in helping to repair unfulfilled preverbal needs.
NeuroAffective Touch® is a way to communicate through sensation that engages the language of the body at a level where we all have received our first imprints. NeuroAffective Touch® therapists begin by addressing the three essential states necessary for secure attachment and the healthy foundation of self: “I exist,” “I am loved,” and “My needs are important.”
By addressing what to do when there are no words, when words are not enough, or when words get in the way, NeuroAffective Touch® transcends the limitations of talk therapy for healing early relational wounds.
Why is it important to include the body in psychotherapy?
The body cannot be touched without engaging the mind, and the mind cannot be engaged without affecting the body. Continuous loops of information travel bottom up from the body to the brain-mind, and top down from the brain-mind to the body. An important focus in NeuroAffective Touch® is the support of this bidirectional flow of information.
Bottom up. The term bottom up refers to how what happens in the body affects the brain-mind. Bottom-up bodily processes are involuntary and unconscious. By connecting directly with the body’s bottom-up, nonverbal sensations and emotions, NeuroAffective Touch® speaks directly to the body in its own language.
Top down. The term top down refers to how the brain responds to the information it receives from the body, and the behavior generated based on that information. Top-down responses are voluntary and conscious.
Bottom-up bodily processes and top-down brain-mind mental processes form a whole. One is incomplete without the other. The lack of reciprocity can be likened to a relationship in which only one partner participates.
Rather than privilege top-down processes as does psychotherapy, NeuroAffective Touch® invites the mind and body to participate as active partners in the mind-body information loop. By highlighting the importance of the body and emphasizing its equal importance to the mind, NATouch™ invites a conscious collaborative dialogue between body and mind.
Why is touch
important in therapy?
Statistics show that before the importance of touch was understood, one-third of infants in orphanages died because of lack of touch, and half of the rest suffered from mental illness*. In the weeks following birth, an infant must be touched frequently and in a nurturing way in order to thrive.
There is now documented evidence for the critical role of touch in human psychology and biology. Research conducted by Tiffany Field, director of the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami School of Medicine, shows that touch is at the foundation of relational experience. It is a fundamental mode of interaction in the infant–caregiver relationship. Loving, respectful touch is essential to healthy growth, and vital to the process of integrated wholistic development.
NeuroAffective Touch® addresses early touch deficits by communicating directly with the body to nurture clients at the nonverbal level where they received their first imprints.
Touch, neglect, and abuse
Studies on the causes of mental health problems suggest that some form of touch abuse or neglect is at their root. It is a known fact that parents who neglect, molest, or beat their children were themselves, as children, touched in traumatizing ways.
Many psychotherapeutic models postulate that touch is contraindicated when abusive touch was a component of the trauma. However, experience shows that gentle, supportive, and nurturing touch offers a profoundly restorative experience that brings back hope to a body in despair that has never experienced respectful healing touch.
How is NeuroAffective Touch® different from bodywork?
The term bodywork refers to hands-on techniques that address relaxation, body posture, and function. Bodyworkers learn to deliberately manipulate the body in order to obtain physical benefits. However, bodyworkers are not trained to address the emotional responses and cognitive issues that accompany their physical manipulations.
NeuroAffective Touch® invites the mind to collaborate as an active partner while engaging the body on its own terms, at the deepest biological level. By paying attention to specific layers of the body — skin, connective tissue, muscle, nervous system, organs — and by following existing rhythms and lines of force, a therapist trained in NATouch™ attunes to and assists clients in becoming consciously present to their neuroception. This teaches the mind and body to develop a conscious, compassionate relationship.
The therapeutic use of bottom-up touch and bodywork in conjunction with a top-down invitation to the cognitive self to participate helps clients understand how their thoughts, emotions, and body function collaboratively as one organism.
By combining a hands-on neurobiological regulating contact, together with a caring relational presence, NeuroAffective Touch® therapists bring a special focus to working with childhood emotional and relational trauma. The therapeutic resonance established within the therapist-client dyad offers a new relational imprint that brings hope to the work of repairing developmental breaches and attachment ruptures that underlie much of life’s suffering.