The Value of Touch

April 20th, 2010

by Dino Di Donato

I am intrigued by the use of touch in our world, even across cultures.  Whenever I am taking a trip abroad, I’m particularly aware of how touch is used. It can convey so much about how at ease folks are, can communicate how connected or disconnected any group is, and often is much more accurate than words in letting someone know how you feel.  In grad school I experimented with using touch in an elementary school setting.  There was one young boy, let’s call him Dan, that I saw in therapy for a few years, raised by his mother as his father was in prison.  Working with Dan was challenging – he would come to sessions each Monday morning at 10 am nervous and agitated, having difficulties in both his studies and interactions with other children in the classroom.  I decided to begin putting my hand on his shoulder as I walked him back to class just to see what would happen, after asking his permission of course.  Instantly, I could feel the tension in his back relax while his whole demeanor changed – it felt as if he stopped struggling just for a little while.  He became brighter, more engaged in our sessions after that – all from a brief 10 second light touch on the back.   I learned a few lessons from this encounter: The importance of taking risks – because touching is a risk – A person can never tell what another’s history is around touch, and how touch can communicate belonging and worth, even a sense of community.  Check out the link here for an article in the NY Times on the power of touch.

So the next time you are feeling out of touch, literally, with others trying reaching out for a little physical contact.

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