NATouch™ Curriculum – Healing the Relational Matrix
Renegotiating Developmental and Relational Trauma
NeuroAffective Touch® is a psychobiological model that integrates the therapeutic use of touch and bodywork with psychodynamic psychotherapy and somatic psychology. The NeuroAffective Touch® training builds a vital bridge between our verbal and nonverbal selves in order to address early emotional and relational trauma and repair attachment and developmental deficits.
For students who complete the NeuroAffective Touch® Foundation Training and wish to deepen their expertise, ongoing study groups and online consultations are available.
Dr. Aline LaPierre, Creator of NeuroAffective Touch®
1. Healing Our Deepest Core: Nurturing Prenatal and Infant States
Healing early trauma begins with offering the missing nonverbal experiences of somatic support, attunement, and safety — a secure bottom-up foundation based in trust and care from which a new top-down narrative can emerge. The practitioner’s attuned presence addresses the three essential self-states necessary for secure attachment and emotional well-being:
- I exist
- I am loved
- My needs are important
Working somatically with early development, we start at the beginning, at conception. Our approach addresses the nonverbal implicit self. We begin with an experiential introduction that helps practitioners embody the principles of the biological life force, orient developmental processes to the midline regulatory axis, and become familiar with the polyvagal energy centres that shape our patterns of connection and protection.
We develop key languaging, somatic, touch, and bodywork skills necessary for working with attachment deficits and ‘get under’ psychological stressors and trauma:
- A nurturing touch focus that supports a client’s core neurological and emotional capacities to trust and yield
- Palpation skills to sense changes in tissue tone and density
- Language skills to bring nonverbal states into explicit spoken expression
We expand the embodied presence of the students by encouraging their personal psychobiological exploration. The capacity for connection and attunement within the therapist–client dyad depends on the therapist’s ability to become a co-regulating resource. Our polyvagal-informed model helps therapists develop their own internal self-regulation and body-mind communication in order to entrain clients toward safety and connection.
We use somatic contemplation and self-exploration to:
- Enhance anatomical and biological awareness by increasing conscious connection with pulsation awareness, breath, and energy flow
- Develop somatic resonance by exploring intersubjective space, transference and countertransference — how therapist and client experience each other and share that experience
Lastly, all clinical work using touch and bodywork must address legal, ethical, and scope of practice issues. This includes taking a touch history, exploring clients’ fears about a body-centred approach, and evaluating their readiness to be touched and go beyond talk therapy.
- Anchor healing in the biological life force
- Centre in the midline regulatory axis to stabilize sensory disorientation
- Create dialogues that engage a collaborative mind-body relationship
- Use the NeuroAffective Touch® protocols to address preverbal trauma: Establishing resonance, creating a nurture surround, amniotic touch, awakening compression
- Meet a client’s tender attachment needs without creating dependency
2. Connecting with the Emotional Body to Support Self-Regulation
This segment expands the traditional psychodynamic understanding of identity as residing in the mind. The anguished mind of a client who has experienced emotional and relational trauma is often trapped in painful cycles of self-judgment, anxiety, blame, and shame. A body-centred focus offers an important portal for clients who live primarily in their mind. It helps them find the connection to their heart, emotions and self-compassion.
We apply the latest research in interpersonal and affective neuroscience along with a Polyvagal perspective to connect with the heart centre and release the diaphragmatic gates that regulate emotion and hold in emotional shock. This brings awareness to unconscious, procedural patterns of relating. In particular we:
- Address how relational shocks to the heart impact early attachment and the adult capacity for relationship
- Release the respiratory and thoracic diaphragms to bring states of protection and fear-based contraction to awareness
- Support the body to shift out of dysregulation and move toward organisation as the emotions regulate and the nervous system settles
We learn to recognise and welcome the subtle yet powerful presence of the biological life force. Beyond the false safety of an encapsulated mind, this segment addresses the primacy of the heart to help clients regulate their emotions.
- Explore the primacy of the heart as the central polyvagal emotional and energy centre
- Stabilise dysregulated emotions and expand the capacity to listen to neuroception and social engagement
- Interrupt the brain’s predictive mechanisms to maintain a time-line awareness of past, present, and future
- Use body-mind collaborative language to develop a loving mind-heart relationship that reduces self-judgment and shaming
3. Emergence and the Growth of the Self
This segment explores the digestive and enteric nervous systems. Stressors and aggressions reverberate like shockwaves in the soft tissues of the viscera. Sustained abuse or neglect imprint in the body’s innermost depths — in the enteric nervous system or gut brain.
Each client has his or her weak link – an organ that is more vulnerable than others and becomes the focus of stress. We inquire: “What memory lives in your liver, kidney, or stomach?” We pay particular attention to:
- Connecting with the power of naval radiation to overcome developmental distress
- Gently making contact with the protective forces of each organ, offering support for relational expression
The mind must learn to attune to the body’s internal needs as would a committed and caring partner. NATouch™ invites collaboration between the organic realm of the body’s lived experience and the mind’s analytic attunement. Imagery often emerges in consciousness when working somatically and these imaginal links act as a communication bridge between biological intelligence and mindful self-reflection. Imaginal links signal the appearance of new neural pathways that guide the emergent growth process.
- Use drawing to map and deconstruct the somatic patterns of numbing, bracing, and collapse that result from abuse, neglect, and abandonment
- Help clients recognise when and how their mind overrides their gut’s wisdom
- Recognise and amplify the subtle yet powerful indicators of the emerging self as it is revealed in imagery, sound, gesture, and posture
4. Renegotiating Hypervigilance
This segment focuses on social engagement and explores how clients process sensory information. Chronic distress overstimulates the sensory orienting systems of the eyes and ears. It can foreclose spoken expression and leave clients trapped in a distorted world of negative projections and introjects.
We address hypo- and hypervigilance to help reset the social engagement system. Contraction in the eyes, ears, cranial base and throat signal a withdrawal from experience and self-expression. To the degree that clients disengage from their senses, they lose touch with reality and their capacity for social engagement. We bring attention to:
- Help the ears stop listening for danger and the eyes stop looking for threat
- Open the diaphragmatic gates at the jaw, cranial base, tentorium, and dome
We bring awareness to the throat to reclaim the voice. Opening the throat and releasing the vocal cords is a key healing component for those who do not speak their truth for fear of harmful repercussions.
- Explore the neuropsychological convergence of the ears, eyes, jaw, cranial base, and throat to reset the vigilance system
- Develop a perception profile, identify listening styles, and map the visual field
5. Restoring Connection with the Developmental Blueprint
In this last segment, we work from a wholistic, big picture perspective and integrate the principles and skills learned in the first four segments. We have systematically explored key areas and systems of the body and the emotional and relational trauma memories they hold. We have seen how body and mind weave together somatic, emotional, and cognitive experiences to create a matrix that binds a person’s identity to the adaptive survival responses that are the outcome of their family history.
We use the NeuroAffective Touch® approach to reconnect with the developmental blueprint, repair ruptures in the developmental progression, and bring wholeness to the relational matrix.
Informed by the interplay between body awareness, cognitive skills, emotional resiliency, and confident expression, we now:
- Fine-tune treatment intentions and work with the body-mind building blocks that underlie the formation of identity
- Support the emerging self and the reconnection to the developmental blueprint by being present to autonomic shifts and the expansive flow of post-traumatic growth
- Use the understanding of the body-mind functional unity to deconstruct survival adaptations and reconnect clients to the creativity of their somatic individuation
- Stimulate neuroplasticity and open new neural pathways
- Support the capacity and skills for loving connection often deeply buried by relational trauma
Aline is passionate about exploring how body and mind work together and reflect one another. She has been actively involved in the field of somatic psychology and body psychotherapy for over 35 years, and specialises in the integration of body-based approaches with relational psychodynamic psychotherapy and energy approaches.
Dr. Aline LaPierre is past faculty in the somatic doctoral program at Santa Barbara Graduate Institute (2000-2010), a clinician, author, artist, consultant, speaker, and teacher. She is Deputy Editor of the International Body Psychotherapy Journal (IBPJ) and a past Vice-President of the United Sates Association of Body Psychotherapy (USABP).
In the field of somatics, she has studied Somatic Experiencing® (SE™), Postural Integration, Cranio-Sacral Therapy (CST), Reichian Therapies, Bodynamics Analysis, Continuum, BodyMind Centering (BMC), and EMDR.
In the field of psychotherapy, Dr. Aline LaPierre is a graduate of Pacifica Graduate Institute which intimately connected her with Jungian and Archetypal psychologies, and of The New Center for Psychoanalysis (NCP) focusing on the full range of psychoanalytic evolution from Object Relations to Relational and Inter-Subjective approaches. She was a member of the Allan Schore Affective Neuroscience study group for several years and maintains a private practice in Brentwood~West Los Angeles.
Dr. Aline LaPierre is a Marriage and Family Therapist, California License 31838. Her current interests include developing NeuroAffective Touch® programs for couples and families.
Books and Publications
In addition to a variety of papers published in the International Journal of Body Psychotherapy, the USA Body Psychotherapy Journal, the Journal of the American Psychological Association and the Hakomi Journal, Aline has also written two e-books:
Healing Touch: Honoring the Somatic Dimension of Psyche
Touch and Sexual Healing: Touch as the Primary Element of Sensual and Erotic Expression.
Dr. Aline LaPierre is also the co-author with Dr. Laurence Heller of the bestselling Healing Developmental Trauma: How Trauma Affects Self-Regulation, Self-Image, and the Capacity for Relationship; a groundbreaking book in developmental psychology now available in 12 languages.