This was a my contribution to a debate on the AlexTech forum questioning the validity of an approach known as Therapeutic Touch.


I don’t know what Therapeutic Touch is but I would say the phrase itself, without the capital letters, is expressive of something that happens to most of us on a daily basis. I have a wife and children: we touch each other a lot; this is definitely therapeutic. We also have two cats, who may be mysteriously selective about the approaches they make, but whose contact almost invariably leaves us feeling better. I even have chickens in the back garden who sidle up against me and to whom I respond in kind with a brief bit of feather stroking.

Such touch is presumably therapeutic without meaning to be. Formulated touch, as I suppose Therapeutic Touch must be, might work less well for being partially contrived. Evaluated touch, as in any testing of TT, would be so bound up with other concerns – primarily, success or failure – it might not have any effect at all; but we should hardly be surprised, nor necessarily dismissive of its value, if it doesn’t.

Why do we touch other people, or animals, anyway? I think the short answer is, we do it out of love, in order to connect. Leaving the question of TT behind, I have always found the most unfortunate aspect of the Alexander Technique to be the use of the hands. This is so fraught with problems, I’m surprised Alexander pursued it, particularly as he had taught himself in quite a different way.

The main problem with touching is that any instructive quality in the teacher’s hands (along with any facility for learning in the student) gets mixed up with and runs the risk of being overwhelmed by the extraordinarily powerful human instinct to connect on a non-instructive level through the same means. The result is that during a typical Alexander lesson far more is likely to be happening than meets the eye, or the hands, of even (or particularly) the most experienced teacher.

It is this aspect of what we do, largely without intending to, that we have no explanation for and occasionally go so far as to deny the existence of. Of course, it is actually not a part of our work at all but only the inevitable consequence of teaching manually. I believe this fosters a number of ills, amongst them an inordinate dependence on fresh imput from a teacher, leading to an extension of the learning process to sometimes farcical lengths; a craven subservience to the wisdom of the hands that often seems to result in a freakish parady of good use; and of course the widespread notion that our work is something that is administered rather than learned.

I don’t think there’s much point as Alexander teachers trying to explain what happens (other than what we intend) when we touch each other in a way that is professionally okay because it’s a learning situation but that is undeniably intimate in the sense that it’s to everyone’s advantage to be less than ordinarily defensive; but I do think we should accept the common ground we have with all other "hands-on" approaches, particularly the less active sort. We may think their explanation for what they do is ludicrous – it may well be – but that doesn’t mean the consequences of their touch won’t still be far greater than they – or we – will be able to understand.

None of this need matter to us as Alexander teachers if we could only learn to stop using our hands. Whether some invisible force or energy passes to and fro between people when they touch would become supremely irrelevant from the point of view of learning inhibition and direction if we could devise new ways of teaching what is, with all due respect to Alexander’s psychophysical whole, primarily a mental discipline.

I believe for this reason reports of the work of those such as David Gorman who, even if he no longer claims to teach the Technique, looks to remain far closer to Alexandrian principles than any "hands-on" approach I can think of, should be warmly welcomed, if only to encourage others to investigate and experiment in their turn.


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