Touch is essential to human life. From the earliest writings by Ashley Montaqu (1971) who discussed the importance of nurturing touch to help babies thrive physiologically and emotionally to a recent study lead by Nathalie Maitre at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio that demonstrated the significance of sensory experiences in early life on brain development— physical attention during a baby’s development, during our entire lives in fact, is important—the more you hug and cuddle your babies, the more their brains grow.
According to Maitre, our sensory system supporting touch and bodily sensation is the earliest to develop in human beings; further, it forms the basis for other sensory development as well as our cognitive and social development. Maitre’s study established that nurturing touch is essential for infant development with study outcome demonstrating that positive proper touch increased brain activity while negative touch (pin pricks, tube insertions) decreased brain activity.
As human beings, we crave touch. There’s an instinctive need to feel another—be it a lover’s hand, a mother’s breast. The soft fuzz of an animal’s fur, even the gristle of a father’s beard can create pleasurable sensations when contact is loving and supportive. As body psychotherapists, many of us acknowledge the value of appropriate touch in the therapeutic setting—of course within proper boundaries and acceptable containment and with the client’s permission. As therapists, we must be clear about why we want to integrate touch, discuss what kind of touch, and for whose purpose the touch is occuring (certainty not to make the therapist feel better!).
I’ve loved writing regularly for Somatic Psychotherapy Today. The initial writing brief for my first Bodywise article back in the summer of 2012 was to say something about my work from ‘across the pond’ – as many contributors are based in the States. Brief sounds chilly and formal. The reality was a warm invitation from Nancy Eichhorn, the founding Editor-in-Chief, to reflect on my current work as a relational body psychotherapist, my Buddhist practice, and my work as an ecopsychologist, and then to write about them. So, I did, associating as best I could the work I was currently doing with the theme of each edition of Somatic Psychotherapy Today. It was an enjoyable challenge! Somatic Psychotherapy Today’s themes over the past five years have been many and varied, from diversity, diagnosis, and trauma to pre and perinatal psychology, embodied spirituality and societal embodiment and disembodiment, amongst others.