Power of the Human Touch for Depression Treatment

Human Touch Secrets

The skin is the largest organ in the body and touch is human’s natural way of reacting to pain and stress and conveying love and compassion. When something painful happens to you like when you accidentally bump your head on the wall, your natural reaction would be to rub the affected area to ease the pain. Kisses, hugs, and holding hands, meanwhile, are people’s way of expressing emotions toward another person.

The warmth of a hand held, the sensation of a soft cheek against ours, arms wrapped around shoulders in embrace... they can all go a long way toward expressing our affection for someone. But touch can actually give more than a momentary tingle or a second of solace; touch can comfort and heal.

The effect of a touch depends, of course, upon the situation. A touch from someone can be relaxing or reassuring, off-putting or gentle, soothing or stimulating. Touch can also bond us together in ways that transcend words or in situations in which words may not help.

The latest researches have shown that the people who are touch deprived are prone to diseases and emotional dysfunction. In nursing homes, tactile stimulation and caring touch are utilized to give patients a sense of security. In infants, those who are caressed by their parents often develop more properly than those who are not nurtured by their mothers. In one study it was found that fathers who gave their infants daily bedtime massages displayed more enjoyment and warmth with their child. In another, babies given a blood test were either swaddled in blankets or held, skin-to-skin, by their mothers. The babies being hugged had lower heart rates and cried 82% less than those left wrapped and lying in their cribs.

Some researchers also suggest that people who are deprived of touch early in life may have a tendency toward violent or aggressive behavior later, and research in rats has found that rats with a strong mothering instinct (measured by licking and grooming their babies) were more likely have babies that showed a strong mothering instinct.

Touch's comfort can extend to older kids, too. After receiving massage sessions, adolescents with ADHD expressed feelings of happiness, and their teachers noted a decrease in the adolescents' fidgeting and off-task activities. Even self-massage has benefits, as proven by a study of people trying to deal with the cravings and anxiety associated with quitting smoking. When they felt the urge to smoke, test subjects were advised to rub their hands together or stroke their ear lobes. Rubbed away with the tension was the urge to light up.

Human Touch Therapies

Having a massage is one of the best ways to enjoy the wonderful benefits of physical touch. This therapy, which is known primarily for being able to relax both the mind and body, can bring a host of physiological and psychological effects in your health such as improvement of circulation, strengthening of the immune system, relaxation of tense muscles, reduction of spasms and pain, and improvement of range of motion, among many others.

Human-touch therapy includes modern, traditional and alternative methods known by a variety of names. The University of Maryland Medical Center states there are more than 100 different human-touch therapies. Physical therapy and chiropractic are examples of modern methods. Massage and acupuncture are traditional methods that have existed for centuries. Alternative methods, such as Rolfing and Touch for Health, combine modern and traditional therapies. These categories are flexible as evidenced by insurance companies using different labels for the same method. No matter the category or name, human-touch therapy can help with a variety of health and well being issues.

Touch therapy can help reduce negative influences of stress--physical and emotional. Pain, lowered mood and anxiety are all symptoms of stress. The University of Maryland Medical Center found that human touch therapies reduce certain stress-inducing hormones, such as cortisol, and release natural substances called endorphins in the body to reduce pain and elevate mood. Further, the touch therapies of spinal manipulation, acupuncture, and massage can and do ease pain and reduce depression--sometimes alone, sometimes in conjunction with other therapies.

Not only Massage

However, it is important to note that massage is not the only way to experience the power of human touch. Even a simple kiss, hug, or a handshake can have positive psychological effects that can enhance overall health and facilitate healing and recovery.

On the physical level, human touch has the ability to lower blood pressure and reduce stress and tension. This is because a soothing touch can trigger the increase of oxytocin levels in the body, which gives a calming effect. When there is pain, a comforting human touch can alleviate the feeling and act as a numbing agent.

When it comes to emotional benefits, human touch like a comforting hand squeeze, a gentle tap on the back, or a reassuring hug can help intensely in stress management by calming and easing a person’s nerves. It is no wonder people feel good about themselves when they give or receive a hug. It is a sign that someone cares for them. Some studies have shown that people who receive sufficient physical affection (especially the non-sexual type) are less prone to depression and unhealthy habits such as drinking and smoking.

Aside from the two mentioned above, nourishment and comfort are also primary benefits of the human touch. Babies have instinctive craving for this. When a mother comforts a baby, rocks him or touches him lovingly, she may not be aware but this can greatly affect the growth and behavior of the child. Those who are held more often grow up to be more confident and less clingy children to those who are not.

For centuries, the human touch has been known to have positive healing effects on people. Even before medical technologies and medications were invented, people made use of the therapeutic effect of the human touch to improve a wide variety of health problems. Today, many still rely on the power of human touch.

Human hand

The human hand possesses a particularly refined sense of touch. Researchers discovered that our hands can detect a dot just three microns high - a micron being a unit of linear measurement equal to 1 millionth of a meter (10 to the minus 6m) or 1/125000th of an inch (a human hair has a diameter of 50 to 100 microns).
However, by "using a texture rather than a dot, the researchers found the hand can detect roughness just 75 nanometers high" - a nanometer being one thousandth of a micron! This quite remarkable sensitivity is attributed to about 2,000 touch receptors in each individual fingertip!

In addition to such sensitivity, scientist have also discovered that we as humans are endowed with a special nervous system that senses love and tenderness - our senses of pleasure being evoked by a second nerve network in the skin, consisting of slow-conducting fibers called tactile C fibers.

Surprisingly, this network responds only to a gentle touch and activates those areas of the brain dealing with emotions.

A “Touch Phobic” Society

In today’s world, technology has reduced the amount of physical contact that people have with each other on a daily basis. With automatic bank machines, online shopping, internet, email and voice mail people can make appointments, dates or decisions without ever actually talking to or seeing another person. Those subtle contacts with others, once common on a daily basis are gone.

In addition, it is more common to hear about situations where touch has been used negatively or inappropriately. The news reports on child abuse cases, sexual harassment suits and rapes. Parents are teaching children to be wary of strangers, and to be selective in how and what to touch. Though this is beneficial to keep children safe, it has created a society that has become “touch phobic” where the simplest and most innocent touch can be easily misconstrued as sexual, or inappropriate.

It’s not like we can quantify the amount of loving touch that’s needed as a prescription to heal touch deprivation. But, one study sheds some light on the particular lack of touch in the American culture. Sets of American, French and Puerto Rican friends were observed in a coffee shop over the course of an hour to determine how frequently physical contact occurs. U.S. friends tend to touch each other an average of only twice an hour, whereas French friends touch 110 times, and Puerto Rican friends touch 180 times. There are significant cultural differences between these nations, but the new technology and artificial “personal space” establishment caused a noticeable signs of touch deprivation among Americans.

Dr. Barnaby Barratt from Santa Barbara Consulting and Healing highlights in his article on Nurturing Touch that "affectional touch is highly beneficial so long as it is experienced as 'appropriate' to the situation, and does not impose greater intimacy than is desired, or is not part of some interpersonal 'power play.' Touching should neither be coercive nor manipulative. It should be purely giving, and never used as a means to an ends, for example, as a maneuver to get someone into unwanted sexual relations.”

Due to the overload of negative touch, society has become very guarded. When people are touched in any form it is often perceived as bad or inappropriate. Unfortunately, this change in perspective has denied people the simple opportunities to enhance their development and one of the key elements needed to thrive and grow.

Healthy Touch Tips

In general, hugs, handshakes, a hand on the shoulder or a comforting rub on the back are examples of appropriate touch.

~ Make sure the person you desire to touch consents before you proceed.
~ You may verbally ask to touch and receive a verbal consent.
~ You may extend your arms to hug a loved one and they may extend their arms to receive.
~ You may extend a hand to offer a hand shake and the person reciprocates.
~ You may move toward a person who appears in need of a comforting hand on the shoulder -  Look in their eyes and watch their body language for consent.
~ If your touch is rejected, don't take it personally!

Sources and Additional Information:


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