A DEVINE CHAT ABOUT TOUCH

Don’t you just love it when you hit it off with someone and are completely on the same page. I do! I also love it when I learn something new and maybe share something too.

Well, I had the loveliest chat with a Shaunna Devine, who is taking a PhD in Psychology / Neuroscience and has been integral to a really interesting study on touch, (felt & observed touch) between care experienced people & non-care experienced people. She was really generous with helping me understand the details of the study’s methodology & results, sprinkled with her own really valuable insights. Have a read of it here:

Frontiers | Childhood Adversity and Affective Touch Perception: A Comparison of United Kingdom Care Leavers and Non-care Leavers | Psychology (frontiersin.org)Shaunna & I covered so much ground agreeing the importance of boundaries, permission and touch. This is important for everyone, but is highlighted for people who have had negative touch experiences such as abuse or lack of touch through neglect. Shaunna said she felt it was so wrong that children are forced to show/receive affection through touch. I agreed but I confessed how I had to learn this lesson as an adult, having been forced as a child to give uncle or grandma a kiss even if we didn’t want to and how disempowering this was. Of course, as a child, I thought this was normal, but only as an adult did I learn this was wrong through listening to other people & reflecting on my experience. This underpins why I feel it is important to advise clients that they must let me know if something is uncomfortable for them, respecting their autonomy over their body.

At the other end of the scale, I shared a story about when I used to look after children in care, how we found ways to bring positive boundaried touch to a child. He had become used to inappropriate touch and then played this out making other people they tried to connect with feel uncomfortable. I recalled how we looked for opportunities to initiate positive touch to start to break the cycle of abuse.

We talked about how touch helps us regulate our emotions and body. I explained how the relaxation exercise I practice at the beginning of each treatment begins to build in regulation & trust right from the start of their treatment, uniting heart & breathing to help calm the mind & body ready for trusted hands to do their work.

We reflected on how when we are in a good space, that is often when the deeper healing work occurs and positive change can happen, although this can catch us unawares & throw us right off kilter. You know the sort of thing, you are ticking along in life, going through a good patch, maybe a great patch and along comes an old memory or emotion that demands to be addressed right this very minute. This is why therapeutic touch helps to create a safe space between therapist & client to work through difficulties, stress & trauma at a pace to suit them.

I have been hearing more about “C-Tactile afferent nerves” which are nerves which respond to nurturing, caressing touch. Shaunna revealed to me that these nerves are particularly abundant in our forearms & back which is why we respond so positively to these areas being stroked gently. These nerves are considered as responsible for oxytocin release, our love hormone which induces feelings of wellbeing, trust, attachment & boosts our immune system.

Shaunna was so generous in sharing her insights & helping dig more deeply into the fascinating science of touch; how important it is to have loving touch in childhood so we learn ways to integrate this into our relationships as we travel through life. We shared the belief that despite people’s negative experiences there is always room to heal, and that touch based therapy can provide a great space to do just that.

It’s great to meet a like-minded soul who helped me understand and was happy to discuss some of the science behind the work we do, as it brings deeper understanding, validity & credence to the importance of therapeutic touch …. or just touch.

And finally, I loved Shaunna’s passion to give voice to vulnerable young people who have care experience, as well as bring understanding to those who give them support. Shaunna, thank you for the work you do! Based on our chat I’ll be tweaking my manual and lesson plan again!!