Haptonomy – the science of Affectivity – observes studies and explores human behaviour in social interactions and affective relationships.
The human person is considered in his whole being. Haptonomy proves that men in our over rationalised world of effectively lost more and more the disposition over fundamental faculties of affective-confirmative inter-human contacts. They stayed undeveloped, became atrophied or callous, or even totally lost.
Haptonomy shows how to develop them and bring them to their full potential.
In our current medical professional counselling and care culture there is an increasing tendency to professionalize the care professionals by means of protocols. Hereby the type of care the individual patient needs is not taken into account anymore. The protocol establishes the treatment, protects us against complaints and insurance claims, and if we do not observe the protocol this will have certain consequences.
Haptonomy is an approach that is focused on the individual person on the basis of which an instinctive understanding can be obtained of the way in which a person perceives life and on which motivations his behaviour is based.
It is as it were a voyage of discovery that the patient can make within a trusting contact, within an intimate proximity, whereby an exchange may take place of the inner experiences. In such a contact the personal involvement and the way in which the counsellor is present is of essential importance. Within such a relationship the counsellor acts as a person, that is to say, somebody who is responsible and can bear the consequences of his actions, who can be present, somebody who is himself and perceived to be reliable.
It is an appeal on personal growth that is also greatly promoted in the authentic Haptonomy approach. In this way the therapeutic relationship that includes a psycho-tactile contact can create an opportunity for personal growth and self-development of the patient.
In our life and the world around us we take part in a multitude of contacts and interactions whereby there is a permanent confrontation whether or not consciously take personal decisions or formulate viewpoints. In current society with its focus on production, whit its education specifically aimed at adjustment, it is not so obvious to listen what we feel and perceive deep inside and to take those decisions that are important for ourselves and suit us. It is only all too often that we are inclined to take decisions on the basis of what we think that our environment, for example parents, teachers a.o expect of us or seem desirable. It is not easy to listen to what is important for ourselves when we have learned from a very early age onward that it is important to meet the expectations and demands of our environment. Taking decisions based on that what is expected of us may be such a natural thing to do that many people actually think that this is the proper thing to do and also organise their life accordingly. Decisions that are taken on what we think is the proper thing to do or because we think that it is expected of us may be an important cause of disorders in our personal functioning and wellbeing, as we do not base these decisions according to our opinion (perception) and therefore ignore ourselves systematically. A person may experience disorders because he does not know or listen to what he really wants to do, because he does not dare or is not able to take initiative, or because he only wants to do good and finds it difficult to receive from others. In more serous situations this may result in, for example a fear of failure or even symptoms of a depressive nature. In society, which focuses in particular on effect and performance, we have many contacts in our daily interactions with each other, as stated before. However, they often concern functional contacts, for example expressing one’s appreciation of the other by a pat on the back as a reward for a positive end result. Haptonomy does not really focus on this form of functional contact, but more on the emotional contact that affects our whole being. These affective contacts in particular determine the self-fulfilment and personal wellbeing of people.
If this affective confirmation has been more or less absent in or during the process of growing up, this may affect a harmonious development of one’s emotional life. In this case the person in question will not have learned to develop his own abilities to start affective relationships. This may mean that he will have to operate in society and in relationships in a rational way, which takes a lot of energy. If this is the case, this implies that he will always focus on matters of which he thinks that other people regard as important, even though he would like to focus on other matters. However, the need to be confirmed by others means that he ignores his own feelings. This conflict in him, that is to say, always wanting to meet the so-called demands of others is a struggle that takes a lot of energy. One of the reasons that this behaviour occurs is that his welfare largely depends on how and to what extent he has learned to use his capacity to start affective relations and contacts.
The patient is approached by Haptonomy on the basis of a interpersonal affective confirming attitude and faith. He is invited and a concrete psycho-tactile appeal is made on him to apply his (emotional) abilities and to base his own life (path) on them. The haptonomic phenomenology of contact is differentiated from other forms of contact by a tactile approach which has an explicit and prominent quality which – due to its specificness – is called psychotactile. This contact, of an existential affective-confirming quality, differentiates itself in every respect from the objective touch which is used in medical examinations corporal methods, techniques and therapies, social-professional contacts, etc.. Haptonomy is neither a method nor a technique but the Art of Being Human!
When man is approached by the psychotactile affective-confirming haptonomic contact it generates in him pre-rational, specific anticipatory reactions of integral physical tonus, which includes muscular tonus as well as the tension of ligaments, the turgescence of tissues and organs, arterial tension as well as psychtonus: existential and actual psychic tension.
The haptonomic phenomenology distinguishes and puts this unity of physical and psychological tonus to work. This unity, undivided, of an integral tonus of individual existence, is called in Haptonomy: the tonus of representation. It expresses the presence and the quality of the self-presentation of an individual, namely, the way he faces up to the world.
This tonus of representation appears in an easily verifiable way, under the forms of variable modalities and stable, well defined modes, which express the actual participation of the human interaction, thus revealing his nature, the intensity and the veracity of the contribution and the relationship of the person to these interactions. The phenomenology of the tonus of representation of characterised by adaptations which are remarkable and very specific to the haptonomic approach. Adaptations and regulations which are controllable, renewable, reproductible and scientifically verifiable.
Touching is an important part of the communication in the daily contacts with each other. It is much more important than we realise or are aware of. The sometimes unconscious, touch often includes a message, it expresses something, even thought we are not always aware of the message. We usually do not reflect about what this touching means to the other and we often also do not realise it. However, if we would listen carefully to ourselves, we would definitely experience certain feelings with regard to touching, for example that it feels good or is a nuisance, or that it evokes emotions such as anger or sadness. In a certain sense we ‘know’ these feelings and incorporate them in daily life. However, we are not used and have not learned to reflect about these feelings. We touch each other hundred times a day, and in another context, use objects and deal with them as if they are en extension of ourselves, for example when parking our car. We ‘know’ the car exactly, without thinking whether the car fits in the parking space or not. The sample also applies when we are writing with a pen and drying a glass. We ‘know’ exactly how much pressure should be exerted in order to write with the pen or to not break the glass. It can be conclude that we focus our feelings when being in contact whit materials in such a way that we know exactly what and how much we should do tot take care that things will not go wrong. In other words, this contact involves an active attitude, listening, understanding, empathising, sensing, feeling compassion and ‘having a feeling’ for the object or the subject. However, this feeling when it applies to contacts with other people requires a greater precision. Touching has everything to do with feeling; having a feeling for and focussing one’s attention on the object or on the other. Touching means: relating and connecting to an object or to a person. We can also be touched by feelings of recognition, of joy, but also by feelings of pain or by traumas. In this case we do not refer to the touching itself, but to being touched by one’s contact with the other, by the interpersonal contact. Touching is an important means for information, exchange and communication. It is a form of communication that is very important for living and surviving. Touching is essential in our life. To put it more strongly, without touching we cannot live.
In haptonomic counselling it is particularly important how the problem is perceived and how the feelings of the patient can be incorporated. If a patient has gained an instinctive understanding of his problem, he can start to examine according to which pattern he approaches his problem(s) and how he tackles them. Affective perception implies experiences, observing, sensing, meeting and feeling; however it goes beyond the experience itself. It is an innermost perception, an encountering and sensing of experiences, events, and adventures, ups en downs both from the distant past, the recent past and the present.
Affective perception goes deeper; it has a deeper appeal and leads to a more complete and deeper perception than what a mere experience entails or evokes. It is a very deep encounter with oneself. It means being nourished with one’s innermost feelings, that is to say encountering what moves or has moved us deep inside and inspires us, often unconsciously, to act. It is our inner motivation that corresponds with our vital libido (joy of living) and vital intentionality (meaning of living). Daring to open ourselves to listen, and sense and notice what inspires and moves us innermost, will bring us into contact with our Self. If we dare to convey what we can hear deep inside ourselves – which often has an emotional impact because it touches our heart – we can understand ourselves better. In this way we can shape and direct our actions in a more personal way.
Meeting ourselves means: clashing with oneself, discovering oneself, becoming acquainted whit what we perceive deep in ourselves.
An essential exchange takes place in the psycho-tactile and affectively confirming contact. It is an affective exchange that is essential for our development into a psychologically balanced person. Apart from the affective level, the direct psycho-tactile contact takes place on a pre-logical and pre-verbal level. In order to genuinely empathise it is necessary to feel with the patient in a real sense. As a result of the subtle signals of emotions, which can hardly be observed with the eyes, it is possible to observe how a person retires from participating, isolates or abandons a problem, has an obliging attitude, shows a slight hesitation or restrains himself etc.. On this basis it is possible to intervene and reflect and perhaps offer a verbal account of the reaction of the patient to the discussed problem and explore what this could mean for him. Through the psycho-tactile contact it is possible to empathise in a penetrating way in which the patient is touched, how this affects him and how he handles this. In the affective proximity contact it is of essential importance for the patient that the counsellor is unprejudiced, can listen and that he has a participating presence in his contacts. It should create such a resonance that the patient can feel straight away that there is a real contact and involvement. This does not require a mere rational-psychological know-how. But it is essential to know about interpersonal communicative affective perceptions and developmental processes.
The maturity and experiences on the basis of the own inner life of the counsellor are therefore of essential importance. It is this growth process, this emotional maturity that is the focus of the approach in authentic Haptonomy. In order to archive this maturity it is necessary that a person develops an ability to establish contacts and apply them. In this way he can obtain essential information about his environment, about people and about opportunities to realise a contact that inspires confidence. This will make it possible for him to understand in what way and with whom he has established a genuine contact. In this way it is possible to have an – emotional – knowledge of one’s own uniqueness. Being touched by one’s emotional feelings and coming into contact with oneself through the other can create opportunities for psychological growth and become a more complete, more autonomous and free person.
Touching as a psycho-tactile confirming contact is therefore an essential element to professional care.