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Physical Touch in Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy Transforming Trauma through Embodied Practice

5 Sep 2022 4:24 PM | Edward Novak

This groundbreaking book presents a new model for incorporating the human body, and specifically physical touch, into psychoanalysis and psychotherapy, particularly for patients who have experienced trauma.

Novak’s model of informed and disciplined touch articulates five categories of touch and three phases of therapeutic body work, all of which can help move the patient and therapist directly into bodily experiences that enable trauma mem- ories to be processed, and then analyzed and transformed. This transformation leads to patients experiencing their bodies in fundamentally new ways, both relationally and intrapsychically. The book also grapples with the risks and ethics of working directly with patients’ bodies, outlining theoretical and clinical ele- ments that help create a safe and sacred therapeutic structure. Novak’s model offers a continuum of touch from everyday physical interactions, such as hand- shakes or hugs, to more complex and complete ways of working with the body that are safe and meaningful and that create an integrated experience of the patient’s mind and body.


Ed Novak is one of the most exciting contributors to the field of transactional analysis in the world today. This latest offering – an integration of embodied therapy with psychoanalysis and transactional analysis is a wonderful, courageous, provocative invitation to extend the methodology of talking therapy into work that directly engages with embodied trauma. Novak describes the life-limiting embodied effects of trauma and introduces five categories of therapeutic touch, designed to help clients reclaim their ‘stolen body’. The book is written with enormous care and thought, including accounting for every type of professional or personal resistance to the idea of touch in therapy, and the style of writing mirrors the evident care, thought and generosity for clients that shine through in the many rich case studies.' 

Professor Charlotte SillsIntegrative Psychotherapist; Teaching and Supervising Transactional Analyst

'Ever since the mid-1950’s, when psychoanalysts began to discuss the "widening scope of psychoanalysis," the field has been beset by the challenges of doing deep and effective treatment with those whose core issues come out of unrepresented and unformulated experience, generally traumatic, with its dissociated or split-off content, often unavailable to memory, but inscribed into the body. Novak offers here a fresh and fearless contribution to the field with his clear, disciplined, and clinically focused approach to psychoanalytic work with the body-mind in which touch can be an essential component.'

David V. OrbisonPh.D., Clinical Psychoanalyst in Pittsburgh; Founding Member, KOWA

'Massage therapists interact with the powerful undeniable subject of transference and countertransference connections with our clients. Given trauma informed care is the new standard, we are instinctively aware of these connections, but have little information available on how to address them when they surface during a massage. In his book Novak shares his wisdom gathered over decades to expand our curiosity and give vital insight to a subject often viewed in a repressive, dismissive way in massage therapy education. Novak’s work opens a new horizon to engage the link between trauma and touch in massage therapy.'

Dorothy Adams LMT, Akron, Ohio

'I became aware of the healing power of touch for severely traumatized and dying patients during the AID’s crisis in New York. I learned that a hand resting on a shoulder or held for a few moments in parting or wrapping a young man in a blanket who is shivering with illness comforts but also evokes memories and feelings that are essential to good therapeutic work. Novak offers us, finally, a safe, systematic and developmentally grounded theory that integrates physical touch with psychoanalytic therapy. Rich with clinical process, the book is must reading for anyone in the mental health fields and everyone interested in how bodies that have been "stolen" can actually be recovered.'

Sandra KierskyPh.D., Faculty and supervisor, Institute for the Psychoanalytic Study of Subjectivity, New York

About the Author:

Edward T. Novak is a psychoanalyst in private practice in Akron, Ohio, who trained at the National Institute for the Psychotherapies in their National Training Program in New York. He has presented at international conferences and published numerous articles, including a number on touch in psychotherapy and psychoanalysis. He is the book review editor for the Transactional Analysis Journal and a member of the editorial review board.

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