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Mintz, E.E. (1969). Touch and the Psychoanalytic Tradition. Psychoanal. Rev., 56C(3):365-376.

(1969). Psychoanalytic Review, 56C(3):365-376

Touch and the Psychoanalytic Tradition

Elizabeth E. Mintz, Ph.D.

Psychoanalytic tradition, unlike other approaches to the treatment of emotional disturbances, places almost total interdiction on physical contact between therapist and patient. With few exceptions, this interdiction is taken for granted. Menninger,10 for example, states categorically that “transgressions of the rule against physical contact constitute … evidence of the incompetence or criminal ruthlessness of the analyst.” Among therapists who identify with the classical psychoanalytic approach, this taboo is seldom discussed, rarely challenged and presumably violated only with feelings of considerable uneasiness. This article attempts: first, to place the psychoanalytic taboo on touch in its historical framework; second, to discuss its theoretical validity; third, to offer a brief survey of some contemporary viewpoints; and finally, to discuss some of the various meanings of physical contact between therapist and patient, including an effort to establish some criteria as to when touch may be a valid therapeutic procedure.

Historical Background

In other cultures and other periods of history, it would be difficult to exaggerate the importance ascribed to touch. Mythology, magic, folklore, primitive medicine, religion-all emphasize touch for healing, for destruction, or for the communication of life force or personal power.

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