By Sonya Joyce

“What Did I Do?” is an incredible dissertation that explores the inner experiences of child and adolescent psychotherapists when touch arises in the playroom. Sonya submitted this thesis to the Children’s Therapy Centre in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts in Creative Psychotherapy (Humanistic and Integrative Modality) in May 2020

This paper explored the subject of the inner experiences of child and adolescent psychotherapists when physical touch occurs in the playroom. The study was borne out of real- life occurrences, where the researcher was left wondering “What just happened?” when touch arose during play therapy sessions with vulnerable and traumatised children.

Research proved that both internationally and nationally, it appeared obvious that touch occupied an ambiguous area for practitioners working in the field of child and adolescent psychotherapy. It also came to light that it was an area that tended to be “swept under the carpet” because of fears of judgement, litigation and general unease. The researcher speculated about what other therapists did when children sought physical contact, whether consciously or unconsciously? The empirical component was based on interviews with international experts in the field of child and adolescent psychotherapy. To glean evidence from an Irish context the researcher used autoethnographic methodologies, a narrative ethnography and a reflexive, dyadic interview and creative piece with a respected practitioner in the field. Both these elements of the research included creative means such as drawings, journal entries, sand-tray to extrapolate meaning from the realm of therapists’ inner experience.

The research showed three main concepts which permeated all areas of the study, and these were safety, danger and vulnerability of both therapist and child. These concerns struck an uneasy balance with current research, and the belief of most practitioners that touch is beneficial. Despite controversy through the years, it cannot be denied that touch has great healing potential when used with care and introspection, especially when working with attachment disruption and early developmental trauma. The research revealed that there is denial that touch happens in the playroom, however, thankfully there appears to be growing commitment and determination to shine a light on it and bring touch out of the shadows. This is a necessary unveiling and is in aid of safe practice for our most vulnerable clients. It is also in aid of safe practice for the therapists who walk the road with them towards healing.

Read the full dissertation here: sonyajoyce-MAdissertation2020.pdf