How do I get my therapist to stop tickling me?

by SJ

My therapist (a PsyD, so he's not some unlicensed quack) is awesome in some ways, but in others, not so much. I adore him as a person, and he knows stuff about me that I just wouldnt be willing to first go through with someone new, so I dont want to switch to a new shrink and have to start all over...

He has this thing about tickling. He swears that I need it, and he swears its a good thing and I should be feeling something good about it, but I just dont feel anything good, during or after. I HATE BEING TICKLED!!! Ive always hated it - my whole life. Ive told him from the start (about 7 or 8 months ago) that I hate being tickled, but he insists that its really important to do, although he cant seem to give me a straight answer as to WHY its important. I get a completely different answer every time I ask (learning how to "let go", learning to relinquish control, learning how to shut off my brain, learning how to just be ok with a sensation I dont like, and my favorite one - it cant be explained, but you'll know the purpose when you feel it)...

I see him for PTSD treatment following a rape, and the tickling sometimes makes my symptoms worse, not just in session, but it even lingers in between sessions. It feels like a huge violation. Even though I've told him that I dont like it, I still suck it up when he wants to do it, so that we can just be done with it and move on to something useful, and to avoid the debate we'd end up having about its purpose, if I were to refuse. But last session, he led me to believe we were doing something else, but then as soon as I was comfortably laying down with my eyes were closed (something that is not easy for me), he decided to tickle me instead. Then after some time trying to pry his hands off me, when i was finally able to tell him to stop, he did, but then he started again a couple of minutes later. Then he stopped again and didnt continue for the rest of the session, but the damage was done. Usually, I at least know its coming, but this last time, it really caught me off guard. It felt like an attack because of the sneaky way he went about it...

I dont want to offend him, or make him angry, or get him frusrated with me or anything like that, but I need to make it stop! When I tell him I hate being tickled, he says it's cause I dont like being out of control, or that Im afraid of something (like of being embarrassed or something like that). But that's not it! I just hate the sensation of being tickled. He doesnt seem to want to hear that.

I feel like I cant take it anymore. Its really messing with my mind. I know being physical at all is generally frowned upon, but it's not the physical contact that bothers me - I dont mind at all when he just touches me - its just the freaking tickle torture that I cant deal with. I cant stand it. I have to go back tomorrow, and Im dreading my session, for fear of the tickling. I have a thick sweatshirt picked out to wear, that will hopefully cushion me from the horrible sensation, but I dont want to have to do that. I dont want to be afraid of him. I want to just find a way to get him to stop it, but Im not someone who is easily able to tell someone to stop doing something like that when Im afraid they might get upset or end up mad at me. Im at a loss here. I feel like im trapped. Is there another way to tell him to stop that would be received better than just saying that I dont like it? (Ive also told him that it's not doing anything for me, therapeutically, but that was a while ago)... Id appreciate any advice. Thanks!

Ben's Response:

I'm going to try to be objective here. Your therapist is violating you. It's as simple as that. Whether his "intentions" are well meaning or not doesn't really make much difference here. At best, he's totally misguided, and re-traumatizing you because he thinks he knows what is best for you. At worst, he is getting off on torturing you. He is creating a very similar experience to what a date rape victim experiences: being touched against your will, being touched in ways you do not want, being controlled against your will, and not stopping when you say "NO." There is absolutely no way that any competent licensed therapist could justify this kind of behavior - especially with someone who is in therapy to treat PTSD - related to rape no less! This is really very upsetting for me to hear to be honest. You CAN NOT allow your therapist to do this to you anymore. He has no right to do this. Telling him once that you don't like it and don't want him to do it should end it for good. Having to repeatedly say "no" and actually pry his hands off you, is akin to molestation in my opinion.

I personally know someone who was tickled by her father as a baby and young girl - against her will of course - until it became unbearable and she was overpowered and helpless to stop him. This created a life-long trauma - tension/anxiety and fear, an aversion to being touched and an over-reactive nervous system even at the age of 45. Tickling stimulates the nervous system in a way that is the opposite of what is needed to resolve PTSD.

There are ways to very very effectively desensitize someone who has had trauma. There are actually many ways, including EFT/Tapping, and EMDR, and various Somatic Psychotherapies. Tickling is NOT one of them I can assure you.

I'm sorry to be harsh, but it pains me to see someone victimized like this by the person that they are supposed to trust and be vulnerable with. This behavior is beyond questionable. You don not owe him anything, not even an explanation. No means no. You should always feel safe with a therapist and to ignore your own feelings of fear or dread or mistrust with a person - even when it is your therapist - is not good for you. If you are getting good treatment, most of the time you should be feeling better when you leave there - not worse.

I wish you the best. Take Care.

Ben Schwarcz, MFT

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Dec 23, 2016
by: Adam

I feel I can speak to this because it's pretty obvious to me, that your (now thankfully) former therapist is a fetishist who can't control himself. As someone who has indulged in fetish play before, including tickling, stuff like this should always be done between consenting adults. You did not consent, he did it anyway, and needs a therapist of his own. Fetishes can be harmless so long as they don't cause you to violate boundaries which, in this case, boundaries certainly were not respected. I am glad that you got away from that creep and found a new therapist to help guide you.

May 26, 2016
Wanted to update
by: SJ

Hi everyone. Im the one who posted the original question, and i wanted to update, in case anyone reading this finds themselves in a similar situation......

The abridged story is that after I found this sit and asked the above question, it all got worse....a lot worse. More physical, more inappropriate in many different ways, and much more damaging to me, of course.

I did eventually walk away, and I found a new therapist, and, largely due to the fact that I did thankfully have proof of his behavior, I was able to hold my old therapist responsible for his actions.

If anyone does find themselves in a position with a therapist that seems "off" in any inappropriate way, my advise is as follows: Run. Get out of there. If it turns out they meant no harm or you overreacted by getting scared and leaving, thats ok. no harm was done by you leaving, but dont stick around to find out if they're good or bad, because if they are intending you harm, in the time it takes you to figure it out for sure, you could find yourself dependent on them and stuck in a situation you cant get out of without help.

If you've never been in a situation like that with an abuser who specializes in manipulation, it might sound silly to not be able to tell if someone is trying to hurt you, but I assure you, some people are so adept at causing harm in this way that they really can slip right under your radar. Therapists who abuse their patients groom them first, so they start slow, test the waters (in my case, hugging and tickling), and once they feel assured you wont stop them or report them, they start to work their way up to different or more severe inappropriate behavior. They are very good at getting you to a point where you dont know which way is up anymore, without you even realizing they're doing anything. If you are fortunate enough to catch a hint that something is wrong early on (or at any point), dont ignore yourself. Trust your gut and get out of the situation before it gets worse.

This all ended for me a while ago now, and Im still pretty screwed up from it. Like I said, by the time i finally walked away, it had gotten pretty bad...... Always trust your gut.

Ben's Comment:

Thank you for letting us know how things turned out. I'm so glad you took the steps you needed to be safe. And I do hope you are able to get the support you need to heal any trauma caused to you by this damaging experience. Hopefully your story will empower others to protect themselves when they are threatened or victimized by a "helping" professional.
All the best to you.


May 17, 2016
Dangerous and unethical treatment
by: Anamorphosis

I'm pretty much going to echo all the "no's" here. I'm a therapist who specializes in trauma work and there is no circumstance that this is okay under. None. In fact, at least in California, a report to the BBS might cause him to have difficulty with his license over this behavior. he might get his license suspended or, possibly revoked. And rightfully so. He's crossing boundaries. He's not listening to you. This physical and mental violation is bound to increase your PTSD symptoms, not decrease it.

He's acting like an abuser, saying he knows what is best for you and is not listening to you when you say no.

In trauma work, it's important for the therapist to always ask "Is this helping you or hurting you?" because abusers never ask that. If the client says "I don't like this." or "it's hurting me." the therapist must listen and take in the feedback of the client. This is a way that the therapist can model that it is okay for the client to set limits and that if limits are set they will be respected.

Also, that the client is not a "thing" that the therapist simply does actions towards. helping a client take charge of their personhood and voice is particularly important for therapists working with trauma and abuse.

A therapist is never allowed to force a kind of therapy on a client. The only exceptions are when a client needs to be hospitalized for safety reasons.

Lastly, touch is always an area that should be tread into very very very carefully with clients. Even hugs. The rule is often that a therapist should never initiate a hug unless the client does. And even then the therapist needs to be very careful about what that hug means to the client and what will do to the therapy. Forced tickling is way more invasive than a "simple" hug.

Please get help to report the person to their licensing board. He's likely not only just hurting you. And he needs to be stopped. Honestly, it would not surprise me if he's sleeping with patients as well.

Ben's Comment:
Agreed on all counts!

Jul 30, 2015
ptsd and tickling....
by: marc ptsd patient

Im sure he is trying to get you used to touch by means of tickling. Yet tickling can cause more ptsd if done wrong.. like not willing tickling.... you need to advise him to stop the tickling and you will need to try another treatment... and if he does not report him to his boss and advise them of his unwillingness not to listen to his patients... because he is doing more harm than good. I was tickled so much when i was young child and now im not ticklish at all and have ptsd from the issues from it as abuse.

Mar 18, 2015
PTSD & ticklkng NO NO NO!
by: Anonymous

I never cared for tickling.. After I was raped I hate it! I hate it even when its someone I love and trust. It hurts my body.. I can not breath after so many seconds pass the pain is all over my body. I can not even hardly laugh it takes my breath away. Fear grips me and it takes several mins to even a few hours before I feel slightly normal. Trying to explain it to some people they laugh at me say I am iimmature. But I read many parenting sites that tickling a child is a bad thing. It takes and puts them in a powerless position teaching them to be a victim. Ticking in its self is not good for anyone. We shouldnt teach our kids its okay to be victimized or okay to victimized others that are weaker. I would seek a new therapist! I have been in theraphy for awhile for my PTSD and never once did any one of them try such a thing. If they did I would not return at all! I would fear their office and them. Tap helped some and visualizing in my mind safe zones. My abuse was over many years. Fire them and you should report this. What if this leads or has lead in the past to am abuse of another? If its nothing let them decide it is.. But other wise sounds like this therapist is enjoying your pain! For whatever their enjoyment is for could run! This just sounds unsafe! EChOes

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