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The Psychology of Touch

By: S. Mercedez Calleros
Posted: June 25, 2008, from the January 2006 issue of Skin Inc. magazine.

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As estheticians, massage therapists and body workers, you have an important role in regard to this most special of senses. Unlike most other professionals, your work gives you the opportunity to connect with others through sustained, intentional touch. Your touch assists bodies in regenerating, rejuvenating and relaxing, which leads to the healing of physical, emotional and spiritual injuries.

For years, a plethora of research has been done to prove the validity of physical and emotional healing through touch. At the University of Miami’s School of Medicine’s Touch Research Institute (TRI), which began conducting formal research in 1992, teams of physicians and psychologists investigate and document the role of touch in health and wellness. As revealed by the TRI’s studies, touch therapy yields many positive effects, including facilitating weight gain in preterm infants, reducing stress hormones, alleviating depressive symptoms, easing pain, improving immune function and altering electroencephalography (EEG)—a test that measures and records electrical brain activity—in the direction of heightened awareness.

Healing environment

Bernie Siegel, MD, the respected author and surgeon who founded Exceptional Cancer Patients (ECap) and specializes in mind/body/spirit medicine for chronic illnesses, once said, “The person to help is always the one in front of you. The time to help is now, and the thing to do is what that person needs. We make a difference by helping individuals. The ripple effect is a powerful one.” This ripple effect can begin before you ever lay a hand on your client. It starts in your facility’s space. Offering an environment that promotes the healing provided by touch is equally important.

What are your clients walking into when they enter your spa? What does the landscaping say to them as they approach your front door? Provide beautiful flowers, full bushes and trees, and flowing water. Offer a place to sit in which your clients can contemplate life and enjoy the beauty of nature before coming inside for a much-needed treatment. Ensure that clients are greeted by a team member who possesses a serene and helpful presence that welcomes them to relax and enjoy this time for themselves. Provide a seating area that allows clients to gather themselves both mentally and emotionally before beginning their session. In this way, people are touched through all of their senses. A nonintrusive and loving energy can be communicated through the color of the walls, comfortable furnishings, subdued lighting, soothing music, products and even the equipment used.

A caring challenge

In this profession, you connect with people from all walks of life. Your clients are bombarded with many types of touch throughout their day. It is your challenge to make your touch a conscious, caring experience that deflects negative energies and encourages compassion while engendering a sense of trust, acceptance and nurturing. This is the most special gift you can offer your clients, and it is the same gift that they give back to you. Through this exchange, you can create a life path for yourself and for others that has meaning and value.