An Interview with Dr. Aline LaPierre

NeuroAffective Touch® founder Dr. Aline LaPierre recounts her unconventional entry into the fields of psychotherapy and bodywork, which led her to create a unique bridge between the two. As she explains in this interview, the use of psychologically attuned touch awakens the body’s healing matrix, opening the door to the body’s untold stories and enabling clients to overcome developmental traumas.

It’s All in Our Body

For some fifteen years before becoming a psychotherapist, I was an artist and painting was my medium. Painting made me aware of how the energy patterns in my body were important. When you’re a painter, every brush stroke on the canvas reflects your body's energy. Every brush stroke also reflects your psychological state. The more I painted, the more the awareness of my body energy took center stage. I thought, “I’d better work on my body and mind if I want to be a good artist!” I was also experiencing how movement reflected my emotional states. My energy, my body, my childhood, my fears, my limitations — it was all there, revealed on the canvas — so I went looking for a psychotherapist! I was looking for someone who understood artistic expression, who could guide me in growing the awareness of my body, and understood how to decode the psyche's symbolic communication and the mysteries of energy! I didn't find anyone. There was only one thing to do: go back to school and learn it myself! Pacifica Graduate Institute in Santa Barbara was inviting artists and socially engaged creative folks into their programs. I applied and was accepted. It was the beginning of a life-changing journey.

Two Tracks at One Time

As an artist,,I had spent hours alone in my studio, alone in my inner world. At Pacifica, I discovered I loved working with people. It was extraordinary to realize that psychology was a career where people invited me into their inner world.
However, I soon
However, I soon realized that in the practice of psychotherapy, the body was left out. I found that when sitting with clients, I couldn’t ignore their bodily expressions. Painting had taught me that body and psyche are inseparable.It became increasingly clear that in the academic world, body and psyche did not come together. Quite the opposite. No wonder I hadn't been able to find the help I was looking for. I was back at my starting point, searching for how to bring body and mind together. While I pursued my licensure as a psychotherapist, I was at the same time becoming ever more interested in bodywork — deep tissue work, acupressure, neuromuscular work — I discovered the world of bodyworkers. While continuing to deepen my understanding of the psyche, I took training after training, learning as many bodywork modalities as I could. Strangely, in the world of psychotherapy, when I talked about bodywork, I was met with glazed, disinterested looks. In the world of bodyworkers, however, when I talked about pursuing studies in psychology, there was a burst of interest!  Was it really possible to do both?

Attuning Through Touch

I wasn’t the only one struggling to integrate body and mind. The coming together of body and mind emerged as the burgeoning field of somatic psychology around 1985. I couldn't believe it! There were others on this journey. This was my entry point! I fully committed to a new career. Jumping ahead to the year 2000. I was licensed as a Marriage and Family Therapist, had a doctoral degree, had done seven years of study in a Psychoanalytic Institute, had studied countless bodywork techniques, and had a thriving private practice. That is when Santa Barbara Graduate Institute (SBGI) opened its doors, offering the world’s first doctoral degrees in prenatal and perinatal psychology and in somatic psychology. I joined the faculty and taught the therapeutic use of touch at the doctoral level. I taught at Santa Barbara Graduate Institute for ten years, from 2000-2010. I taught how to touch the body in an invitational way. Students loved learning how to touch the body with a psychological attunement that invites the somatic unconscious to emerge. In 2010, the Chicago School bought SBGI and shut down many programs, including the touch class I taught. And so, after much soul-searching, in 2016 I founded the NeuroAffective Touch® Institute. Developing an independent program was the only way to move forward with teaching the therapeutic use of touch with the depth and complexity needed to access its full healing potential.

Awakening Your Biological Matrix

Even though babies have no words, their little bodies have powerful sensory and emotional experiences. For many of us, these early vulnerable experiences remained unrecognized and our bodies were not invited into life. We disconnected from—or never connected with—an embodied self. When mothers or caregivers are dysregulated, traumatized, or in freeze, their nervous system cannot model health for their newborns. As a result, too many of us carry profound somatic distress without knowing what exactly is wrong. But we feel it NeuroAffective Touch® connects with the body in its own language—the language of sensation and emotion—the language of our biology. When touch-informed therapists hold and support the adult body of a client, they can help the nonverbal baby states find the connection they never had. Touch helps us connect in present time with our body’s untold stories. Your biological matrix is waiting to be touched and awakened. In NeuroAffective Touch®, we offer attuned experiences that awaken the neural circuits that are waiting for connection. When you are touched in a truly attuned way, your body recognizes it. In the course of a touch session, I often hear the words “You found me!” Being found in a nurturing and caring way is the entrance into overcoming the developmental traumas of neglect and abuse. It is in the experience of being fully met in body and mind that the vitality of our life force comes into being.

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Who is Dr. Aline LaPierre?

Dr. Aline LaPierre is the creator of NeuroAffective Touch® and Director of the NeuroAffective Touch Institute. She is a clinician, author, teacher, and was faculty in the somatic doctoral program at Santa Barbara Graduate Institute (2000-2010). In the field of psychotherapy, she is a graduate of Pacifica Graduate Institute and The New Center for Psychoanalysis. In the field of somatics, she has studied Somatic Experiencing®, Postural Integration, Cranio-Sacral Therapy, Reichian Therapies, Bodynamic Analysis, Continuum, BodyMind Centering, and EMDR. She is currently President of the United States Association for Body Psychotherapy and Editor-in-Chief of the International Body Psychotherapy Journal. Dr. LaPierre co-authored the bestselling book Healing Developmental Trauma: How Trauma Affects Self-Regulation, Self-Image, and the Capacity for Relationship, available in 14 languages.