By Susan Keith
This article appeared in the Winter, 2005 edition of in touch. Therapeutic Touch™ is a non-touch and/or light touch energy therapy. As such, we may wonder what the value is of physical touch and when is it appropriate to use it during a treatment?
The need for human touch is a common factor for all mankind. It goes to the core of who we are as human beings. The primary importance of touch is connection; someone being touched has a sense of being connected. The loss of human physical contact creates feelings of loneliness, frustration and a lack of emotional warmth. A gentle touch brings a flood of warmth and vitality that conveys physical, emotional and psychological support and healing.
Through touch, a sense of togetherness is created and a very strong non-verbal message is sent. Being touched conveys a sense of caring, compassion and understanding. Through this action, a healing process begins which can include, for some, a new way of seeing things.
When we experience illness–physical, emotional or mental–we say we feel "out of touch", which usually means that we feel isolated, alone in our pain, and in a place no one can understand. During times of severe illness, people feel out of touch with normal life, with whom they were before the illness, with family and friends and even with their God.
In the case of terminal illness, this may be a beginning of progressive isolation. For many with terminal illness, social roles have changed or been lost and relationships have altered. For them, touch plays a crucial role in reconnecting with others and perhaps creating new connections.
Being touched can be something that clients want, or it can be something they may fear or feel awkward about. Therefore, touch begins with asking permission.
People who are experiencing Therapeutic Touch for the first time are frequently sceptical. They may be mentally searching for something physical to happen and the psychological barriers they set up makes it difficult for them to "feel" any effect at the time of treatment. Of course, as practitioners, we know there is always a therapeutic response. The use of light touch, once permission has been granted, can provide a tangible guide for clients, that allows them to focus on a specific area and/or on the direction of energy flow.
As you slowly move out into the energy field again, and continue to clear and modulate the field, clients are surprised to sense something happening . They begin to experience the energy movement without physical touch. Thus, skepticism begins to wane and the clients become more receptive.
It has been my experience that light touch is useful in many treatment situations. In ‘extreme’ hospital settings such as intensive and/or critical care units, support is obviously essential at every level of consciousness. In these locations, most clients who receive Therapeutic Touch treatments are experiencing the treatment as well as the concept of energy therapy for the first time. Frightened and frequently in pain, they feel isolated and alone, separated physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. A light touch makes a connection which can act as a physical guide and emotional support. It offers a frame of reference for energy movement and encourages an awareness of the healing power within.
Essential to the Therapeutic Touch treatment is a sense of reverence and a respect for the clients' needs and wishes. Having an understanding of the client’s background will provide insight into the assessment. A person who has suffered abuse at the hands of others may not welcome being touched in any way. Discomfort with being touched can also arise from a lack of past touching experience, i.e.growing up in a ‘formal’ family where hugging was not familiar. Although clients might say they wish to be touched, they may still feel a level of discomfort.
Even with permission, slow, gentle movements are necessary. The practitioner must continually monitor the reactions to touch, to assess its effectiveness and to determine if it can continue to be used as a treatment method. At the same time, clients need to understand that they are the directors of their own healing process and as such, have control over whether or not touch will be used. This allows clients the freedom to adjust to the experience of being touched and provides an opening to discontinue if they wish.
Whether or not we, as practitioners, use light touch in our treatments is completely relative to the clients' needs and direction. As facilitators, we follow the clients' lead. Thorough assessment of not only the energy field, but also the clients' level of awareness, acceptance and comfort will prove effective in our treatments.
Susan Keith, RN,RT, lives in Mississauga, ON