Therapeutic Alliance as Active Inference: The Role of Therapeutic Touch and Synchrony

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21 February 2022

Therapeutic Alliance as Active Inference: The Role of Therapeutic Touch and Synchrony

Recognizing and aligning individuals’ unique adaptive beliefs or “priors” through cooperative communication is critical to establishing a therapeutic relationship and alliance. Using active inference, we present an empirical integrative account of the biobehavioral mechanisms that underwrite therapeutic relationships. A significant mode of establishing cooperative alliances—and potential synchrony relationships—is through ostensive cues generated by repetitive coupling during dynamic touch. Established models speak to the unique role of affectionate touch in developing communication, interpersonal interactions, and a wide variety of therapeutic benefits for patients of all ages; both neurophysiologically and behaviorally. The purpose of this article is to argue for the importance of therapeutic touch in establishing a therapeutic alliance and, ultimately, synchrony between practitioner and patient. We briefly overview the importance and role of therapeutic alliance in prosocial and clinical interactions. We then discuss how cooperative communication and mental state alignment—in intentional communication—are accomplished using active inference. We argue that alignment through active inference facilitates synchrony and communication. The ensuing account is extended to include the role of (C-) tactile afferents in realizing the beneficial effect of therapeutic synchrony. We conclude by proposing a method for synchronizing the effects of touch using the concept of active inference … MORE

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