How do I get my therapist to stop tickling me?
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!
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