Bloch Healing: an effective approach to therapy for people with disabilities*
What is Psychotherapy?
Psychotherapy is a general term used to describe a therapeutic intervention between a therapist and an individual, and sometimes a couple, family or group with the aim of helping a person to increase their sense of well-being as a result of a better relationship with themselves and with others.
A better relationship with ourselves is generally thought to mean that we are more accepting of who we are as a person and free to pursue our own path in life. A better relationship with others usually means that we find ourselves more able to enter into relationships with greater openness, warmth and intimacy.
There are many different ways of conducting psychotherapy, reflecting different theories about the causes of human suffering and about the most helpful way to help people with these.
What is ‘Person-Centred’ Therapy?
Person-centred therapy is probably the most influential of the various modern therapeutic models. It is based on the evidence from scientific research that shows that when genuine and deep relating takes place between therapist and client, then the client becomes gradually more able to “be themselves” in the relationship and to risk relating more openly with the therapist. Many studies have shown that psychological health depends on these abilities.
Although the opportunity to talk through problems is often helpful, all of the evidence shows that it is the quality of the relationship that develops between therapist and client that is the most important factor in successful therapy. Therapists that foster trusting relationships with their clients are generally those who are the most worthy of trust (they tend to be genuine, empathic and kind in the therapeutic relationship) and are the most open to relating deeply with their clients. For these reasons, relational person-centred therapists are at all times seeking to become as worthy of trust and as open to deeper relating with their client in the healing relationship as they are able to be.
The problem with talk therapy for people with certain disabilities
The traditional psychotherapeutic relationship may involve a range of ways of communicating, including touch, gesture, facial expression and so on. However, the most important means of communication is generally considered to be the words that are spoken. This can present a challenge to the nearly 10% of people in developed countries who are thought to have significant communication difficulties including speech, language and hearing disorders.
In addition, some people with cognitive difficulties can find it hard to benefit from a therapy that requires that they are able to frame ideas with words, and are not always considered to be good candidates for psychotherapy.
For people with certain physical disabilities, talk psychotherapy cannot directly address the relationship between the person and their physicality. And where pain, discomfort or physical limitations are experienced as a major part of a person’s suffering, a description of the client’s experience is not always sufficient to represent them to the therapist in a way that allows the therapist to meet with, experience and acknowledge them.
The advantages of touch therapy
Touch therapy has some advantages over talk therapy for any client. The conventions of dialogue with language - thinking, analysing and explaining - are bypassed by the directness of touch. And many people find it easier to allow the open interpersonal contact necessary for relational healing when they do not feel that they must explain and define themselves until they can feel sufficiently understood and accepted to trust the therapist. There is something fundamental about touch that allows people almost immediately to be touched in a therapy session in a way that permits a level of relating that might take months, or even years, in talk psychotherapy.
For people with communication or cognitive disabilities, touch therapy has obvious advantages. For people with physical disabilities, the sensitivity of the therapist to their physical nature, including muscle tone, posture, balance, etc, can be very important. The skilled touch therapist is able directly to experience much of the physical aspect of the client’s difficulties. Some clients have said that they have been waiting all of their lives to be touched in this way. For those who have experienced physical abuse, the therapeutic contact my be experienced as a direct ‘antidote’ to the earlier injury and abuse of trust.
For the therapist also, touch has many advantages. It is well known that words lack the compass and uniformity of meaning ever fully to convey the near infinite layers of information that may potentially be communicated to another person. With touch, communication is in a form more comparable with music in its potential for both immediacy and complexity.
How is Bloch Healing different from other touch therapies?
With Bloch Healing, communication between therapist and client occur primarily through the medium of a subtle and sensitive touch. There are some other types of psychotherapy that use touch, but these generally include doing something to the client, whereas in Bloch Healing the only goal of touch is to facilitate a deep communication between therapist and client. This makes it easier for people to allow the quality of relating that leads to the benefits of relational therapy.
What happens in Bloch Healing sessions?
Sessions last for 40 minutes. Everyday, comfortable clothes are ideal for sessions, and none need to be removed. Most sessions take place sitting in a chair, although clients can use a therapy couch if this is more comfortable. The therapist places their hands on the client in a manner that is gentle and non-intrusive and the atmosphere of sessions is informal and relaxed.
What are the benefits of Bloch Healing?
Bloch Healing has similar benefits to relational ‘person-centred’ therapy, which include an increased ability to access and to trust in one’s own thoughts, feelings and values, free from the interference of others, to make deeper connections with other people and to engage more with the world. Clients become open to new experiences and develop a more flexible outlook.
A key additional benefit of Bloch Healing is an improvement in posture, mobility and balance. Movement becomes an opportunity for a fuller and more complete expression of who the client is as a person, and of their thoughts and feelings at that moment, and this frequently leads to relief from the commonest forms of musculoskeletal pain.
Is Bloch Healing suitable for everyone?
Most people who are suitable candidates for psychotherapy are able to benefit from Bloch Healing. In addition, people with physical, communication and cognitive disabilities, even profound disabilities, are likely to be able to benefit from this approach. However, Bloch Healing may not be helpful to people with certain psychoses or personality disorders, or to people who dislike being touched.
*This article has been published in slightly different forms in newsletters and on websites for people with disabilities.