Touch is vital to human psychological and physical development. It is so crucial that we cannot survive without it, much less thrive. Studies and valuable information related to touch have been recorded throughout human history. Extensive research on the efficacy of touch is available through the Touch Research Institute (TRI), an organization which is part of the University of Miami Medical Center. One interesting study by TRI evaluated pre-mature babies who were incubated; one baby received delicate massage through the glass each day and the other babies received none.1 The baby who received massage developed 25-50% better than other babies. TRI research has included studies on conditions such as depression in adolescent work related anxiety. Administering consistent massage treatments in both populations produced very positive results.2
We see in different cultures, how mothers carry their children in pouches on their chests so closely that the baby can hear and feel the mother’s heartbeat all throughout the day. This profound connection to another provides a sense of psychological and physical well-being which sets the foundation of trust in infants that shapes the rest of their life and informs all future relationships.
Historical timelines of touch go as far back as 15,000 BC. Ancient cave paintings (shown) depict early humans touching and using what are known as “hand curatives” to help heal one another. Touching and curing was once celebrated and not admonished as it later became due to the influence of puritanical thinking. Cultural confusion came into play as the line blurred between touch to help heal and sensual or sexual touch. In Massage Therapy, we carefully identify these contrasts and, through very professional training, clearly delineate the difference in our application of touch. Therapeutic touch is pleasurable because the receptors in human skin are designed to feel pleasure (as well as pain for protection) and touch can simply feel good; however, it is NEVER sexualized in Therapeutic Massage. It is important to discuss with clients and consumers as well, the differences in the types of touch in order to break these stereotypes about Massage Therapy.
I have kept an anonymous quote with me for 25 years which says, “Touch Heals by Bridging the Loneliness of Being Human”. I love that quote, because we all do feel a sense of loneliness at times and can feel quite isolated, especially in such an independent society. A hug, a loving caress, a handshake or a real massage can do wonders for us in reconnecting with each other. Since ancient times we have danced, made music, touched to help heal and walked on this earth together. If we allow ourselves to slow down long enough, we might rediscover what a student of mine said, “it is amazing what our bodies need from each another”.
Deborah Heartwood is the Program Director for the Massage Therapy Learning Center in Pismo Beach in conjunction with Lucia Mar Adult Education
1 Field, T., Massage Therapy for Infants and Children (1995)
2 Field, T., Morrow, C., Valdeon, C., Larson, S., Kuhn, C. & Schanberg, S. (1992) Anxiety/Depression Shulman, K.R. & Jones, G.E. (1996), S., Kuhn, C. & Schanberg, S. (1992) Anxiety/Depression