Doctors discover the power of touch

It sounds amazing when we first hear about it.  Students who receive a supporting touch  from a teacher on the back or arm are nearly twice as likely to volunteer in class;  a kind touch from a doctor leaves people with the impression that their visit has lasted twice as long;  a massage from a loved on can not only ease pain but also sooth depression. 

It goes on.  According to an article in the New York Times on the power of touch, high fives can actually enhance performance – and the  professional basketball teams that score most tend to the be teams that touch most. 

But it’s real.  It’s also not a surprise to scholars of complementary medicine, like Don Moss, who chairs the degree program of Saybrook’s Graduate College of Mind-Body Medicine.

In mind-body medicine, the idea that people respond well to contact with human beings is basic … something we all experience on a daily basis.  It’s also been shown for some time by research – but too often ignored since it doesn’t fit in to the “medical model” of clinical practice.

“Touch is the tactile dimension of love, and love and connectedness are key needs for human beings to thrive and actualize their potential,” Moss says.  “Since the early work of psychologist Harry Harlow, who showed that monkeys raised with artificial mothers wrapped in soft fabric thrived much more than monkeys raised with wire cage mothers, psychology has slowly discovered the value of touch for human beings.”

It’s not just that human contact – manifested through touch – can be beneficial.  It’s also essential. 

“Human beings in isolation lose resilience and suffer illness,” Moss says.  “Physicians who hold the patient’s hand and wrist as they take a blood pressure find lower pressures than those who impersonally administer a mechanical cuff. Human beings crave touch from birth, and even the brain’s functional organization suffers when early tactile bonding is missing. This is a critical truth for medical practice as well as psychological practice. The human being is an integral unity of mind and body, and the mind does not thrive if the body lacks physical contact and warmth.” 


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