“Touch: simple physical act or healing art?” (Cont’d from prev..)

My most recent blog in this series, has attempted to no more than introduce the subject matter entailed in its title. In postings to follow, we shall, albeit briefly, set the scene historically, from which, hopefully we can answer such questions as, what – in the sense of which we ‘speak’ of it here – is relaxation? And how can/should we use it to realize at least some of the readily discernable and credible benefits that it can afford, not so much on a “one off” or occasional basis but rather as a reliable necessarily on-going resource?

Let me commence with something so very simple, yet which, when practiced to its optimal level, amounts to a veritable “art form”. It is as ancient as the hills but still as relevant to life as are our basic senses. Indeed, it is one of them, namely, “touch”. (Once again – and as you read through these blogs – hopefully, you will continue to perceive almost their entire contents to date, as really little more than necessary ‘grist’ to the overall ‘mill’ of coping). We, all us are familiar, both with the concept, as well as with that moment-by-moment experience of touch. It is of course one of the primary senses, which from the very moment of our entry into this world can comfort and reassure as well as enable us to make sense of and interpret – especially our immediate environment – in a meaningful way. Besides contributing in a highly significant manner to our basic but vital requirement for physical and material order and cohesion, touch continues to possess other key dimensions, e.g. emotionally, in that it can impart and modify- both subtly and radically – feelings, which in turn impinge heavily on mood and disposition.

The simplest dictionary definition that I can find of the word “touch” is as follows: – “to bring into contact with”. But then again, what a wealth of meaning such a simple phrase as this entails! In a well-known and widely used metaphorical language, we speak do we not, about “reaching out to people?” We say of a piece of music we have come to cherish that it “touches a ‘chord’ deep within”. When another has been especially kind to us, we say that we have been “touched by their kindness”; and I can well remember an old “Sankey and Moody” refrain (or chorus) of an old gospel song from Sunday school days, i.e. “Touch me again; Wonderful Healer, touch me again”.

In many ways, touch amounts to one of the simplest and most primitive forms of communication and therapy, as well as, paradoxically, to one of the most complex and enduring. When we hurt ourselves – possibly by dashing a knee against the table leg – or inadvertently bumping our head against a lowered ceiling beam, our first tendency is to “give it a rub”. Similarly when as children we fell and scuffed a knee or elbow, we in all probability, ran back to Mum (or whoever was our ‘carer’ on that occasion) who, not infrequently, would “rub (or even ‘kiss’) it better”.

Of course – and not very surprisingly but as ever – our old ‘friend’ “individual differences” lends an important hand in determining the outcome of inherent predisposition in such matters. Some – who by nature are more tactile – will therefore respond positively and welcomingly to contact of this form, while others (who incidentally, may well all the time be experiencing every bit as much need) may appear more disposed toward the avoidance of physical contact, referring to it in a somewhat disparaging manner as being “touchy-feely”. A good friend of mine – a sensitive and caring man – once told me that he invariably felt more at ease in this regard, with “the very young and the very old”. “It’s that ‘band’ in between” he would say, “family and close friends, of course, apart – both men and women, although possibly for different reasons – that I experience difficulty with”. According to his own report, he preferred “to compensate”, as he would say, by opting for other (perfectly legitimate and effective) forms of contact, i.e. word selection, mode of expression and availability and readiness to give of his time and energies generously to others.

Be that as it may, the ‘name of the game’ remains contact, i.e. in the sense of fostering that essential sense and awareness of belonging in some form, as well as relieving feelings of aloneness, isolation, whatever. Such needs and feelings are, of course, most frequently and commonly experienced at times of illness and loss in its myriad forms, as when one feels denuded – for whatever reason – of that vital sense of inner calm and equilibrium. Touch, whether in its very basic, or vastly deeper and more meaningful form, is as vital to us as it is commonplace. Indeed, so integral has it become to normal daily functioning, that we rarely perceive it to be a legitimate or even relevant subject for formal research. We just know, do we not, of its manifold blessings and benefits and as to when (or whether) it is right and appropriate to give or to withhold it.

Things are likely to be perceived in a somewhat different light when we come to write and talk about “Therapeutic Touch” (TT), a phrase which first entered our vocabulary from the USA in the 1970s. TT, in such descriptive accounts as the literature provides, is strongly linked with a division of physics that perceives the universe as a “dynamic whole of correlated events” and is familiar in Quantum Mechanics. According to its practitioners, TT has developed around just such a theory, in that it perceives all human beings as “energy fields” and thus key elements of a universal life force. Such energy, so it is held, extends beyond the body, interacting freely with the environment. Where there are blockages or where this “flow force” is for whatever reason impeded or frustrated, then ill health, so it is held, may well ensue until, that is, such constrictions and contusions can be eliminated or nullified.

The TT practitioner’s art is said to reside in his/her ability to assess this energy field (which in reality is the patient). Sensitivity, in the practitioner’s hands, will thereafter – again so it is claimed – locate blockages and imbalances, not infrequently sensing them as concentrations of undue warmth, icy coldness or tingling feelings. By concentrating on such “knotted” or ‘damned up’ areas and by allegedly deploying powerful visual images to repair and restore energy patterns, patients are said thereafter to obtain significant and sustained relief. Many thousands of nurses now practice TT throughout USA hospitals and clinics and the numbers of practitioners using it in the UK have, seemingly, also increased steadily over the past decade or so. Although not widely accepted by the British medical profession or by UK hospital authorities, TT has, in certain published and peer-reviewed studies, been associated with the relief of anxiety state and tension headaches, as well as with pain relief in post-operative patients. To some, TT is at least a ‘first cousin’ of Spiritual Healing, although its practitioners insist that there are quite profound, as well as very subtle differences.

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