The Physical Therapeutic Contact

Physical contact is not optional it is essential for human development, from there it all started. Human beings need contact and love and want to touch each other.

A gentle, affectionate touch, a hug, a kiss, is inherently intrinsically and naturally therapeutic. Numerous researches have recorded the brain activity during the interaction between mother and child. They provided us with evidence that physical contact, the mother’s affectionate physical exchange provides a sense of security, protection, pleasure. It develops synapses, neural circuits,  production of receptors and neurotransmitters  such as serotonin and dopamine, stimulates the release of endorphins and oxytocin. This wonderful natural tranquilliser is released for free into the bloodstream whenever we have a person in our arms, we caress a dog or a cat, we dance with our partner or we simply put our hand on a friend’s shoulders. A warm, pleasant physical sensation spreads through our body and we feel calm and relaxed. Physical contact has a direct relation to stress reduction, the main killer of recent decades.

Hundreds of studies on physical contact have found evidence of significant effects: faster growth in premature babies, reduced pain, decreased symptoms of autoimmune diseases. It lowers glucose levels in children with diabetes, strengthens the immune system, stimulates the thymus gland, which regulates the production of white blood cells, lowers the heart rate and cortisol level, reduces anxiety.

Studies carried out in Baltimore (USA) over the years show that children born deaf or blind, who have had this type of contact in the first years of life, have grown emotionally and physically healthy. While children neither deaf nor blind, but deprived of this nourishing touch not only suffered from emotional and psychiatric difficulties but also had physical problems that persisted into adulthood.

Physical work in psychotherapy started systematically with W. Reich almost 100 years ago and continued with later developments. Today we have accumulated a huge mass of information and a very rich heritage, which is known by few. The work and the physical touch done by professionals with serious training has shown a relevant efficacy with the pre-verbal primary disorders and traumatising experiences. It affects the deep subcortical structure , the amygdala, which remained in survival mode if we only do verbal work. With trauma, people lose their words and language.

Because of all the chronic stress accumulated by our lifestyle or by traumatic memories the body tissues have remained nailed in attitudes of alertness and defence in the “fight, flee, freeze” mode. A chronic disorder of the balance in the autonomic nervous system has been created. It is essential to reset the nervous system, deactivate the sympathetic response of the autonomic Nervous system. The aim is to turn off the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis which constantly on. A life of incessant tension, on alert, ready, prepared, efficient, competitive, results, no vulnerability allowed. It is essential for the health to activate the parasympathetic-vagal response: calm the agitation, digest physically and emotionally, abandon the grip, slow down, stop, breathe, relax and rest the body.

If the body does not have time for recovery and solace, it becomes ill.

The biological reorganisation is clearly beyond comprehension and rationale, consequently the need to work, below words, directly physically with the body.

Therapeutically touching a person’s body is not accidental, casual or random

There are precise places, specific points where to touch, how and when to touch and when not to touch. The touch can never have a sexual intent or innuendo.  

(May 2018)