Therapeutic Touch

 When you’re confronted with someone who is emotionally distressed, it seems quite natural to give them a hug, even if you don’t really know them. After all, isn’t that what they need above all? Hugging is the most basic expression of human compassion, so by doing it you’re administering a kind of ‘first-aid’ for the emotions.

My happiest and calmest friends are huggers; they hug their friends, their family, pets and other animals (that allow them). Some even go regularly to be massaged by professionals, which is another form of soothing human contact. I’m an enthusiastic hugger myself, convinced that it produces positive, reassuring vibes. But how does this magic work?

The ‘laying on of hands’ and other forms of tactile treatment are age-old remedies for all sorts of ailments. They may not be scientifically proven, but they have always been accepted anyway. Maybe we just have an innate need to be touched. Much has been written and debated about this phenomenon all through the ages, and I’ve been looking into it lately with a view to supporting a young friend of mine who is suffering bouts of anxiety.

There is a lot out of published material, from ancient times to present day, and the story is generally positive – both anecdotally and scientifically. It appears that the sense of touch and its main sense organ, the skin, can be used as a gateway to healing.  Touch receptors in our skin are linked to the nervous system which controls the automatic functions of our bodies.  The nervous system also plays a key role in the regulation of stress and emotions. Experiments have been held with patients with symptoms of anxiety, or dementia or cancer have shown that therapeutic touch (TT) (where a practitioner uses gentle touch) produces some improvement to emotional well-being and, in cancer patients, overall health. Likewise, with massage, clients report feeling renewed not only in the parts of the body that were aching, but also spiritually – their situation remained unchanged but their outlook on life had become more positive.

What is measurable is that relaxing the body leads to a decrease in blood pressure, heart rates, breath rates and stress hormones. The happy hormone, serotonin, increases and produces positive, happy feelings. And let’s not forget that this involves no medicine, which means there are no unwanted side-effects.

While I’m not suggesting that the human touch is a cure-all, or that we should abandon drugs in medicine, I am reassured by the fact that tactile treatments are being taken seriously as alternative or complementary to them. Taking it further, I have learned of a particular treatment called EFT (emotional freedom technique) Tapping, which focuses on tapping the 12 meridian points of the body to relieve symptoms of a negative experience or emotion.  I’ll be taking a closer look at that, to be sure. Then there are all the other senses – sight, sound, taste and smell – that might be employed to enhance our wellbeing. Who knows what the limits are?

Happy hugging! And even if there’s no handy human or friendly animal around, hugging yourself is said to be a reasonable substitute.