Will clothing-optional therapy soon be all the rage in psychotherapy?

by Cody Dolan on March 3, 2011 · 2 comments

in therapy

We’ve had more than a few discussions on this blog about therapeutic techniques. Eminently-qualified, highly-regarded psychologists have written serious pieces about how they use BEER, POT and other treatments to help patients. With all the brainpower we’ve got at Menninger, you’d think someone would’ve clued in to what now seems like the obvious next step: clothing-optional therapy (COT).

No, really. Check out this article about Sarah White, a woman who calls herself the “Naked Therapist” because she takes her clothes off as she talks to people. The article is safe for work, but let me nutshell it for you:

A 24-year-old “psychology buff” has set up a business in which she charges people $150 to chat with her about their problems while she removes her clothing. She has no credentials or qualifications and is not licensed by any sort of governing body.

We now live in a world in which naked therapy not only exists, but is covered by the New York Daily News, the fifth-most widely circulated newspaper in America. According to Google, there are 24 news pieces about Ms. White’s business. People are paying attention to this woman.

All of the sudden, that Psychology Today cover I wrote about awhile ago now doesn’t seem so outlandish.

Naked “therapy?”

There’s a short video at the above link (also safe for work) that gives you a brief glimpse into a session as well as some of Ms. White’s musings on her new venture. She certainly sounds sincere, but I got a good chuckle out of her using the word “patients” to describe her clients. The article has a great quote from Diana Kirschner, a New York-based clinical psychologist, that I’m sure sums up what a lot of licensed professionals are probably thinking:

“She’s using the word therapy here, but I don’t consider this therapy. I consider this interactive soft-core Internet porn.”

I found the clothing-optional part of the session just plain weird, but fortunately the video stops before going too far down that road. Imagine having a serious, heartfelt conversation with someone and then, right in the middle of it, they get up, move around the room for a minute and then return to their seat like nothing happened. That’d be distracting, right? Now imagine that, instead of just moving around, they also peel off layers of clothing. I’m no doctor, but I cannot fathom how this would help anyone.

Are we honestly supposed to take this seriously? Ms. White has her own website (which I was hesitant to visit, mostly for fear of legitimizing this and because it felt icky), and the first image you see is her in what I imagine is meant to be a sexy picture. There are a few paragraphs about her and her interests, and then she signs off like so:

xoxo

Sarah

I would say that the only thing missing is a smiley face, but there’s one at the end of the second paragraph.

Perpetuating stigma

It seems clear to me that therapy is not Ms. White’s top priority. It also seems clear to me that this kind of story can only help perpetuate stigma. Why go to a legitimate, qualified doctor when you can pay someone to strip while conducting a “therapy” session? How serious can mental illness be if this woman can claim to be helping people deal with theirs?

Serious mental illnesses need serious mental health professionals. And I guarantee you all of them wear clothes.

Editor’s note: If you enjoyed Cody’s post, then check out two of his most recent ones:

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Reinaldo July 11, 2012 at 11:27 pm

I second Aaron’s comments. I am a highly credentialed psychotherapist. In the 1970s I went to a Hartman and Fithian nude workshop and later returned to get training. My home was in Ohio where I was getting my Ph.D.
I found the nude therapy to be very helpful, and for several years held nude group therapy. During the 1980s and beyond, the profession became infested with conservatism and nudity was seen as sexual. I quit.

But in recent years, I have returned to working with nudity and have found it very helpful. I am never nude. Only the client is. I only offer this as an option with certain clients with whom I have developed a level of trust. Nudity is most frequently a part of neo-Reichian practice, but occasionally in other therapeutic practice. (For those who are unable or unwilling, for whatever reason, to be nude, I offer two options. They may do the work in their underclothes or in loose and non constricting clothing like sweats. Even in sweats, the work is beneficial.) Nudity has many valuable effects in helping the client to experience emotions which they had hidden from their consciousness.
Of course, unlike Sarah White, I am never nude in individual therapy. However when I do nude groups, then I do join in nudity. (Of course, at 76, I am not considered any kind of Porn.) Also unlike Ms White, I do hold several credentials including a Ph.D. in clinical psychology and have over 40 years of practice.

Aaron Ingebrigtsen February 13, 2012 at 3:27 pm

Hi, thank you for writing this article. I too think this is a bit weird, however, only because she starts out clothed, and gradually removes different items of clothing, while her “patient” remains clothed. I believe Firmly that the Nudist/Naturist way of life is incredibly therapeutic, that being nude around other nude people who neither judge you nor put any social pressures on you in any way is very relaxing and psychologically relieving.

I used to have extremely severe gymnophobia, aka fear of nudity, not only of others, but of my own, even in private. I eventually got to the point that I would go MONTHS without bathing or showering, because of it. I felt constantly under attack by everyone around me for the way I looked, clothed, and was terrified of being seen nude because I felt the attacks would multiply, and be far more psychologically damaging to me.

When I finally realized how very bad off I was psychologically about my body image, I decided to nip it in the bud, and fight it head on. I researched anything I could think of to combat it, and found a site that actually talked about gymnophobia, and how people had overcome it through Nudism. So, I decided I’d try that. What a world of difference it made for me. I now feel far more comfortable around other people, while clothed, than I had in many years, Because I had found an environment, and people, that made me feel comfortable in my own skin, literally.

You can poopoo nude therapy done the way this lady is doing it, but I’m serious when I say that my own psychological well being was improved Immensely by Nudism. I don’t have any Shame, or Fear, like I once did. I only wear clothing now for comfort, or to make sure other people don’t feel uncomfortable, or upset, around me. Not to mention the idiotic laws against mere nudity. Nudity is Not inherently Sexual. Behavior maters far more than the amount of skin one is able to see, or touch. Have a nice day.

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