The Dialogue of Touch

Inspirations from Psychotherapy after Forty-Five Years of Rolfing® Structural Integration
Pages: 21-24
Year: 2018
Dr. Ida Rolf Institute

Structural Integration – Vol. 46 – Nº 2

Volume: 46

This article has four interrelated subjects:

  1. Insights, precautions, and strategies from psychotherapy that I use in my Rolfing Structural Integration (SI) practice.
  2. How the unconscious and/or cell membranes of the client control when and if connective tissue and emotional change will take place.
  3. Invitation for all Rolfers and Rolfers- in-training to seek out psychotherapy for increased self-awareness.
  4. A film I have made, which gives Rolfers tools to use when clients re-experience traumas from their childhood.

This article is based on my experience, discoveries, and findings working as both a Rolfer and a psychotherapist. I had two years of psychoanalysis before becoming a Rolfer. Soon after becoming a Rolfer, I felt a need to be more comfortable with the emotional releases of my clients so I completed my training as a psychotherapist. For sixteen of the twenty years after becoming a Rolfer, I was a client with three different psychotherapy modalities: Gestalt, Jungian, and transactional analysis.

It was only after moving to Denmark in 1991 that I began working as a Gestalt psychotherapist. From 1992 to 2008, I co- ownedandco-led Gestalt Terapeutiskinstitut. My private practice with Rolfing SI and psychotherapy has been a wonderful ride of satisfaction as the clarity of my awareness and consciousness has created more safety for my Rolfing clients to make profound connective-tissue and life changes.

I have experienced that Rolfing SI and Gestalt psychotherapy supplement and benefit each other as long as there is a clear contract with a client as to what s/he wants during any particular session.

Insights, Precautions, and Strategies from Psychotherapy

Early in a first meeting with a client I say, ”One purpose of this first meeting is to decide if we meet again.” The psychotherapy model values making explicit that which is implicit in the practitioner and client relationship. It is easier for the client to say s/he wants to find another Rolfer in the first session if the client is given the opportunity to express expectations for the session. It makes it easier for me to stop after the first meeting if I think s/he will benefit more from another Rolfer who has more specificity for the client’s presenting topics.

Psychotherapy emphasizes the need for a contract which clarifies the motivations of the client and gives the Rolfer an opportunity to build a therapeutic relationship around meeting the client’s stated needs. I have received Rolfing SI from twenty Rolfers and most of them looked at me front, side, and back, then told me where they will work. In this context, the Rolfer takes most of the responsibility and it is more chance if the result meets the real reason that motivates the client to come. A contract creates a relationship for shared responsibility and often reveals the client’s real motivation in coming. These two factors stack the deck in favor of satisfaction, success, and referrals.

To set the stage for building a contract with a client, the Rolfer needs to ask a question. I have experimented with many initial questions and have settled on: ”How do you want to change with your Rolfing session?” or ”How do you want to benefit from your Rolfing sessions?” These questions are open. The client may respond with how s/he wants to change physically and/or with a narrative that focuses on his/her life story.

Most of my clients reveal a motivation beyond the ’home-page’ description of Rolfing SI. Here are five examples of clients that came to me for Rolfing SI and received Rolfing SI without any psychotherapy:

  1. An elderly woman from Munich, wanted to lift her teacup to her lips without shaking so much that she spilled the tea.
  2. A man wanted more openness in his meditation. Some thoughts distracted

him about thirty minutes into his meditation.

  1. A woman who was going for artificial insemination wanted her body and mind to be more receptive so she could get pregnant.
  2. A fifteen-year-old girl who was active with multiple sexual partners wanted to have one partner.

A writer wanted more flow, more acceptance of creative ideas when he sat down to write.

In these examples it was better for me to know their real motivation. Knowing their real motivation allowed me to both give more work to certain areas of the body and to focus my intention to invite them to integrate more permission to get what they really want. Drinking without spilling tea led me to include work with the arms in every session. With more openness to meditation I simply worked with ’no mind’, no expectations. When he came for his third session, he said, ”This is my last as those thoughts that distracted me have disappeared.” Getting pregnant with artificial insemination cued me to give extra work in a supportive way with her abdomen and solar plexus, hoping to release some of her ambivalence about getting pregnant. Wanting to have only one sexual partner was helpful information. I treated her with the utmost respect, for example, asking her permission each time I touched her in a new place and often asking her if she wanted more pressure or less pressure. And the client who wanted his writing to flow needed to find ease in his body, so I gave extra time to his sacrum / fifth lumbar and his atlas / occiput. These elements were the real measure for their satisfaction and gave me direction to meet their real needs.

Requirements for a good contract are:

  1. To be intrinsic – meaning that the client wants the change him/herself and not because a lover threatened to leave if he or she didn’t do Rolfing SI.
  2. Positive language – encourage the client to name something s/he wants rather than something s/he wants to get rid of.
  3. Make it measurable – so the client has a way of evaluating if change is taking place.

A good contract makes it easier to identify success or disappointment. Success leads to referrals. If the session has a trend of disappointment I refer to the contract and either make a new contract or stop the session.

A contract is two sided and the Rolfer needs to verbally accept the contract. It is helpful to refer to the contract when evaluating the success of the work. Examples of when I do not accept a contract are usually because a partner or a parent is telling the client s/he needs the Rolfing SI session. When I decide to stop after the first session, I do not charge for the session. Often the client returns in a few months under his/her own motivation.

Sometimes one client’ s experience influences my procedure with subsequent clients. An example is a client who had orgasms when I touched her sacrum. She said, “Oh, don’t worry, I should have told you that in the beginning.” From this experience, I began to ask the question, before beginning the table work, “Is there anything else I should know about you?” This question often creates an opening for the client to tell something from his/her family or personal background that affects how I orchestrate where and how much time I spend working in different parts of the body.

A number of research studies conclude that the primary criterion for success of psychotherapy is the quality of the contact between the therapist and client, including the motivation of the client. Success is not linked to the modality of the therapy. A psychotherapy client can choose Gestalt, behavioral, Jungian, cognitive, transactional analysis, or psychoanalysis. Success is correlated with the quality of the contact between therapist and client, plus the client’s degree of motivation.

I am convinced that the same is true for Rolfing SI. If the Rolfer does not meet the client with full attention, undistracted awareness, and warm, unconditional acceptance building toward a relationship in which the client feels safe, then the client will not release his/her inner control mechanisms (sometimes called defense mechanisms), which reduces the potential connective-tissue change.

A Jungian psychiatrist from Toronto invited me to work with some of his clients. A woman about twenty-eight years old had intrinsic motivation for change. She presented a clear contract that she wanted better sex with her partner. Just before suggesting moving to the table work, I have learned to ask the question: “Now we have talked for some minutes, do you feel safe and ready for me to touch you?” There was an extended pause. She said, “I am not sure. I do not really feel safe for a man to touch me and yet I believe you can help me.”

This was the therapeutic moment. I encouraged her to listen to her “no” feeling and instead of touch work we talked about her ambivalence and her touch history with men for the rest of the first session. The next time I came to Toronto, I saw that her name was again on the schedule. She said “My saying ‘no’ to you was so profound. I have talked about this with my psychiatrist and now I feel ready for you to touch me.” I assert that if I had proceeded with the Rolfing work in the first session, her ambivalence and emotional resistance would have greatly reduced the connective- tissue change.

There are many paths for Rolfers to develop their capacity for quality contact with clients. For example, it can be of value to try an extended process of meditation, journal writing, tai chi, or psychotherapy. For me, the most cost-effective way has been psychotherapy. I have benefitted from being with a therapist who would support me when I was vulnerable and confront me when I had more ego strength for insight and transformation.

The Role of the Unconscious and Cell Membranes

In the mid-1980s while doing Rolfing SI work in New York City, I noticed that many clients after a series of sessions were satisfied with their body changes, and were fulfilled with improved awareness of how their decisions could be grounded in their body sensations and emotions. They expressed being fulfilled with their improved communication with colleagues and partners, yet they longed for more closeness with their partners. They told me they wanted more peace with their own being and more strength of self during moments of solitude. Their dissatisfaction provoked me to experiment during sessions as to the way I touched and talked. I scheduled time between sessions to reflect and write about what seemed to work and what was a waste of time.

My psychotherapy experience often has me reflecting on the five basic permissions of early childhood described by Robert and Mary Goulding (1997) in Changing Lives Through Redecision Therapy. I thought and experimented as to how these five basic permissions of early child development interfaced with Rolfing SI. The five permissions are: to be, to be close, to do, to play, and to succeed. My feedback from clients told me that Rolfing SI was interfacing well with the permissions to do, to play, and to succeed. My group of clients longed to integrate more permission to be and permission to be close than I was offering them. Their dissatisfaction puzzled and provoked me.

My thinking went like this: the first six months after birth are the primary window of time to receive the permission to be, the first twelve months of life are the time to receive the permission to be close. During these months, the skin is the primary sensory organ of communication. Ashley Montagu (1986, 3) writes in Touching: The Human Significance of the Skin, “The skin . . . is the oldest and most sensitive of our organs, our first medium of communication, and our most efficient protector.” For the infant the skin is constantly registering and signaling to the brain whether the social environment is safe or dangerous, and whether s/he is wanted or not wanted. For the infant, the more touch the skin experiences as a communication of safety and being wanted, the more permission that individual has to be and to be close. This is carried into the nervous-system architecture of adulthood.

The opposite of permission is an injunction. When the infant does not receive enough positive touch communicating safety and being wanted, the child carries the injunction of don’t be and/or don’t be close. Subsequently the adult also has these injunctions. From this information I made a leap in logic that these permissions and/ or injunctions are carried into the adult through the unconscious mind and/or the cellular membranes of the tissue. Back in the 1980s I did not know if memory from childhood was conveyed to the adult through the unconscious or the cell membranes. Now we have more evidence to consider it is both.

Back in my treatment room, I was more focused on results. I wanted to change the injunctions to permissions. I wanted to change don’t be to okay to be, and don’t be close to be close. I followed the path of my experiments and findings to develop a touch sensitive enough to reprogram the infant experience.

My first touch experiments in which I imagined different ways to touch were a waste of time. I realized my touch had to be a response to the client. It had to be a dialogue. I focused my touch sensitivity to distinguish when the tissue signals from the client were danger or unwanted, and then I responded with a touch that communicated safety and wanted. The touch dialogue between myself and my clients gradually became more gentle and minimal. The touch communicating safety and wanted was a movement that they could register and perceive.

The results were profound and consistent with this style of touch dialogue, which responded to the client’s remembered longing for safety and feeling wanted. At this point, I did not care if the source of change was the unconscious mind or the cellular membranes. Instead of either/ or thinking I was thinking both/and: my clients’ responses convinced me that a deep motivational matrix was changing from negative to positive. I realized that the positive energy needed to focus, it needed a harness by which the rider of this energy could direct it. This realization influenced me to give even more attention to the contracting process during the first session so that the client could use the increased permission to be and to be close to fulfill the goals in his/her contract.

After three years of experimenting and discovering, my book Touching Dialogue: A Somatic Psychotherapy was born (Campbell 1989). It is a description of body-centered psychotherapy that changes a client’s permission system from caution to potential, from stress to calm, from fear to courage. I also produced a film demonstrating this work (Campbell 2010).

Bruce Lipton wrote a definitive summary of the new biology linking cellular biology with the workings of the mind in The Biology of Belief: Unleashing the Power of Consciousness, Matter, and Miracles (2008). It scientifically validates that the cell membranes function as a brain, deciding when to open for osmosis and when to close to reduce osmosis. Lipton writes that the cellular membranes make this ongoing decision based on their sensing of safety or danger, in both their immediate physical social environment and also their past experiences as a type of memory. Lipton’s book confirmed my thinking and findings of tissue response during the late 1980s.    I recommend this book, it will change the way you think while you work, and   it explains why it is difficult to collect empirical evidence about how Rolfing SI gets the results that it does. Just to give you a taste, here are some excerpts from Chapter Three:

The true secret of life lies in understanding the elegantly simple biological mechanisms of the magical membrane – the mechanisms by which your body translates environmental signals into behavior (45).

Cells possess a  uniquely ‘tuned’  receptor protein forevery environmental signal that needs to be read (53).

Receptors can read energy fields, the notion that only molecules can impact cell physiology is outmoded. Biological behavior can be controlled by invisible forces, including thoughts (53).

Together, the receptor-effector complex acts as a switch, translating environmental signals into cellular behavior (54).

What is the relevance of all this to Rolfing SI? The touch of Rolfing SI focuses on the connective tissue; that cannot avoid having an effect on the cell membranes. If the Rolfing SI touch causes pain or discomfort to the degree that the client tightens tissue in resistance, then the cellular membranes are sensing danger and close down. If the Rolfing SI touch conveys a quality of safety, being wanted, and accepted, then the client will take in more permission to be and to be close.

How does a Rolfer acquire a touch that conveys a quality of safety, and being wanted and accepted to the client? I think that the way to do this is for a Rolfer to develop more permission to be and to be close within herself or himself. I believe that as a Rolfer embodies more permission to be and to be close, then clients absorb it through the invisible human bio-field to the degree that the client is longing for these permissions.

Looking back, I do not think it was by chance that four of my first six Rolfing clients had strong, sometimes extended, emotional releases during their ten sessions. These clients expressed crying, laughing, shaking, and quivering. I think they gave themselves permission to express this affect because I became more comfortable with my own emotions and feelings during the years leading up to those moments. For two years I had done my own personal work with progressive psychoanalysis before beginning the Rolfing SI training. After that, I was more comfortable with my emotions and the invisible field between Rolfer and client, and I believe this allowed the clients to feel safe enough to release deep-seated emotions and gestures.

I think my Rolfing SI practice in New York, Frankfurt, Berlin, and Copenhagen attracted the network of referrals it has because I continued as a client with psychotherapy: Gestalt, Jungian, and transactional analysis. I found psychotherapy the most interesting and rewarding way to spend money on my development.

Rolfing clients adapt to the inner comfort zone of their Rolfer unless they have done personal work to free themselves from their child adaptive patterns. If the Rolfer is not comfortable with his/her own emotions,  if the Rolfer is not at peace with his/her own being, the client will consciously or unconsciously inhibit or restrict his/ her emotional flow to match the Rolfer’s comfort zone. The Rolfer’s inner comfort zone affects whether clients have a more open or restricted experience with their Rolfing SI work.

Invitation to Seek Out Psychotherapy

My recommendation for all Rolfers to improve their professional work and for Rolfers-in-training to start their practice with the best efficacy is for all to have at least twenty sessions of psychotherapy with the therapist of their choice. Such an experience is likely to result in a Rolfer who is more in touch with his/her own feelings, with more awareness of him/herself and an increased comfort with his/her unconscious mind. This increased awareness will automatically transfer to the work as more safety in the Rolfer-client relationship. The Rolfer’s increased self-awareness and comfort with his/her unconscious will increase the likelihood that:

  1. The client will disclose his/her real motivation for coming to Rolfing SI sessions.
  2. The quality of the contact between Rolfer and client will increase.
  3. The client will assimilate the permission to be and to be close to the degree s/he is longing for these permissions.
  4. The clients’ emotional needs will become part of his/her Rolfing SI experience.
  5. The Rolfer will have the inner peace to be comfortable inviting connective- tissue change without the need to force.

I co-owned and co-led a four-year Gestalt psychotherapy training institute in Denmark for sixteen years. In my opinion, the most profound, transformational part of that training was not the classroom experiential learning, but the required individual psychotherapy with a therapist of the students’ choice.

A Film Resource to Use with Clients

I made a short animated film,  A  Letter to Your Inner Child from a Good Father (Campbell 2017), to celebrate the sunset but not the sundown of my career. Sometimes, when my clients were re-experiencing a childhood trauma, I made an agreement with them for me to say what an ideal parent or nurturing parent would have said to them in a similar situation. This film sequences these sayings into a story of what a good father would say at the time of conception, birth, infancy, and early childhood. These sayings give Rolfers ways to respond when your clients re-experience childhood traumas.

Here is what others have written about the film, to give you a sense of what impact it may have:

A Letter to Your Inner Child from a Good Father, as the film is called, offers a good father’s voice; an ideal father, that puts words on what people have a need to hear from their earliest beginning. The film’s soundtrack guides the inner child to a place where they are safe and wanted; where they experience unconditional love and have all their needs met.

Agnete Dybro Stoffregren,


I’ve just watched your film and want to tell you that it has a very, very calming, relaxing and peaceful effect on my mind and body. Like a very deep meditation. The ‘head’ knows that childhood was not like that, like the idealized film, but the body feels totally different, almost as if courage and confidence can still be achieved, independently of what actually happened – now that one knows how it should have been. Even though I, as a Gestalt therapist, am familiar with these things, your film has impressed me on a deeper level and I think I’ll be forever carrying your film around in my ‘system’. In this fast world the slow pace and beautiful sound and pictures were very healing.

Charlotte Carlin, Gestalt colleague

It is one of many pieces for me to better understand my history with my father and the story with me as a father to my daughters.

Claus Fardal, a father

After living and working in New York City, Frankfurt, and Berlin, David Kirk-Campbell has settled in Copenhagen for the past twenty- six years. He likes to work with artists. He recharges his batteries by reading the poetry of Rumi, Antonio Machado, Pablo Neruda, and Juan Ramon Jimenez.



Campbell, D. 2017. A Letter to Your Inner Child from a Good Father (film). Available at

Campbell, D. 2010. Touching Dialogue Demonstration (film). Available at https://

Campbell, D. 1989. Touching Dialogue: A Somatic Psychotherapy. New York: In Hand Books.

Goulding, M.M. and R.L. Goulding 1997. Changing Lives Through Redecision Therapy. New York: Grove Press.

Lipton, B.H. 2008. The Biology of Belief: Unleashing the Power of Consciousness, Matter and Miracles. 5th ed. Carlsbad, California: Hay House Inc.

Montagu, A. 1986. Touching: The Human Significance of the Skin. 3rd ed. New York: Harper & Row Publishers Inc.


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