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Let’s talk about… touch

‘LETS TALK ABOUT TOUCH’ offers an insightful look at the effect of ignoring this simplest of needs. Aromatherapist and writer Matthew T Price  explores the importance of human contact and massage in everyday life.

  “I often tell my clients that massage is good for the skin, muscle tone, for removing toxins more easily and improves circulation and joint mobility. It sounds great because it is. And you know, it works. Massage has been used to improve our health for 1000’s of years and will continue to do so. What I don’t often say is that you don’t need all those reasons to have a massage. The very act of TOUCH is powerful enough to change lives. This article explains how.


Think of any memorable or dramatic moment in life and notice how instinctively we all turn to someone and reach out to touch them. The after goal celebration, witnessing a gorgeous sunrise, receiving bad news or watching a disaster in progress are just some of the occasions accompanied by instinctive human touch. Even where touch is actively discouraged e.g. a sterile environment, the human spirit finds a way to establish this basic connection. There are very few occasions of emotional outpouring where those present haven’t embraced, held hands or stood close to someone.

Not all of us are quite so lucky.

Down but not out

For those suffering depression the feeling is overwhelming and uncontrollable. Whatever the age group the effects are devastating. Depression isn’t sadness. It’s deep, mind numbing despair that can’t be described. Its onset can sometimes be traced back to a traumatic event in that person’s life but not always. At times there is no apparent reason for its onset and seems to have no clear way of helping the sufferer out of his condition, itself one of the symptoms; help doesn’t seem to , well, help. As time goes on its debilitating effects on the affected and his family and friends grows worse.

Advice on depression abounds along with the latest raft of remedies. The article ‘Depression’ from the Royal College of Psychiatry mentions some of these in its analysis of the illness.

“There are a number of ways of treating depression. Medication with antidepressants can help relieve the symptoms and prevent future episodes. The drugs work by acting on the chemical messengers in the brain. Talking therapiessuch as relationship based psychotherapy can be useful; also problem-solving therapies and cognitive therapy in which the therapist, often a psychologist, helps a person learn to identify and challenge faulty, negative patterns of thinking. Support from family and friends is vital. Other activities, such as regular exercise, can help lift the depression.” *

How do we as a family member show that support? Of course educating ourselves about this illness would be paramount. Knowledge changes our viewpoint and therefore our actions. What is more dangerous is the predictable pat on the back and throwaway comments of well meaning friends and relatives. You’ll notice that touch is not specifically mentioned by the Royal College Psychiatry. We assume that it’s included under the banner ‘support’. Yet comments from former sufferers of depression make it clear that touch isn’t to be underestimated.

We don’t really know how it feels to be depressed and we struggle to find the right words. But we’re compelled to say something. In many cases the words are accepted as our best effort. Surprisingly, it’s the pat on the back that causes pain. The one suffering would much rather the touch wasn’t so… thoughtless. What he or she might really need is physical contact that says, ‘I want you to feel that you aren’t alone.’

It’s the sense of touch.


Any real city, you walk, you know?

You brush past people.

People bump into you.

In L.A., nobody touches you.

We’re always behind

this metal and glass.

I think we miss

that touch so much

that we crash into each other

just so we can feel something.

Opening lines of the film “Crash” **

Meaningful touch can be the catalyst for improvement. Knowing that people truly care and having that care felt is for some, a lifeline. For the depressed the reassurance of family and friends and having it supported by loving action can be the light at the end of a long, dark tunnel.

Helping those depressed or insecure seems a logical and loving thing to do. Could touch be just as important in a ‘normal’ family?

‘Touch me in the morning…’

Diana Ross must have known a thing or two when she sang “Reach out and touch somebody’s hand, make this world a better place, if you can.*** Her audiences quite often hugged each other in response to hearing the song! The words do have merit. Moods and behaviour are greatly affected by the level of touch we experience in everyday life. It’s a sobering thought that with the modern emphasis on healthy lifestyles, fitness and organic foods something as simple as touch could be ignored.

Touch is possibly the most influential sense we possess. It engenders a positive outlook on life and relationships and as a matter of course, is passed on. It’s a fact that children of parents who express their affection by touch and embrace do exactly the same in return and are more at ease with themselves and others.

Perversely, even social net-working has left us little time (or need?) to meet real people and form relationships where touch is accepted and acceptable. Families spend less time together and even less time in close physical contact; separated by the very technologies touted as time savers. Give a thought then for those who, for whatever reason, do not have someone with whom they can share such an important gesture. The isolation is compounded when others around them are enjoying ‘good touch’ wherever they go.

Strange then, that while many adults suffer for lack of contact with others one can observe healthy touch among children in any playground in any town. They express themselves naturally with touch, learning safe boundaries and respect for others by observing others. No one should be surprised at this. From the outset parents and family members are generous with hugs and kisses, affirming the child’s place in the tribe. Copying the example set by their elders, children automatically display their affection and confidence though touch.

Can there be any doubt that good touch is to be desired in our own lives?

So you decided to get a massage

For many having a professional massage is an effort to rebalance the scales. It’s ‘safe touch’ without the need to enter into a complex or demanding relationship in order to have it. It provides for ones need without also leave the receiver feeling they are obligated to return some gesture in appreciation. It guarantees that the rules of the couch will be kept and the customer will walk away unscathed. Paying makes it painless. Convenience is a wonderful thing but that too can have its drawbacks. How massage is offered can highlight the problem.

For those starved of physical contact there is an emotional ‘price’ for buying it in the form of massage done in a commercial setting. You get what you pay for; not what you need. That’s because it takes a special kind of masseuse to know what that is. Consider the experience of Amanda (not her real name), a mother of two teenage children living in Sheffield.

“My situation was like so many other moms I guess. You forget about yourself and live for your kids and husband. I was hardly ever touched. I’d get the occasional peck on the cheek and quick ‘bye Mom’ hug at the door but not enough to make me feel whole. A friend suggested I try massage. Even though I considered massage an unnecessary luxury I was desperate enough to try anything. Half way through the massage I still hadn’t fully convinced myself this wasn’t a waste of money until Maggie quietly reminded me that I was reason enough. I broke down in tears… her touch and understanding were overwhelming”

Amanda’s experience is not uncommon. For many like her the problem isn’t a lack of touch but a need for touch that is meaningful. All too often what appears to be a happy, fulfilled family hides a lack of warmth and openness. As a cruel twist to this situation, it seems many extra-marital affairs begin simply to satisfy this need. Marital breakdown and strained relationships can often be traced back to the point where those involved lost the habit of connecting as a means of communicating healthy, positive emotion. Rather than ask to be touched the more exciting option is taken; to find someone who offers it willingly.

So, perhaps for those who seek something more from a massage than an hour or so of being pressed and pulled, articulated and pummelled with an efficiency born of years of mindless repetition, there is hope. Out there in the market place you can find, if you look closely, a few who care about both person and body. Massage for them is not just a livelihood but their life. The act of massage is for them a spiritual journey, a healing of mind and body, the enrichment of a life and spirit. The hands through which these complex and amazing developments take place are connected to someone who appreciates their place in this cycle.

So, if you are planning to have a massage, consider its importance in the light of what you have read. Spend time actively listening to your body and consciously experience the changes as they happen. Take note of the difference in your mood and outlook in the days after the session. Remember that you are allowing yourself to be taken on a journey that has changed many lives. Maybe this time the life that is changed for the better is your own.

Copyright Matthew T Price.   All rights reserved worldwide.

Reproduced with permission.

Matthew T Price is an Aromatherapist and Marriage Counsellor based in the county of Bedfordshire, England.


* The Royal College of Psychiatry, ‘Depression’, (Changing Minds, September 2010) www.rcpsych.ac.uk/default.aspx?page=1644>

** ‘Crash’ story by Paul Haggis, Screenplay by Paul Haggis and Bobby Moresco

*** Song, ‘Reach out and touch (Somebody’s hand) Lyrics by Nickolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson