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Rediscovering Touch

Long an essential part of the medical toolkit, skilled touch can restore balance, alleviate pain and help restore an individual's overall well-being.

By Jim Clear


Can the brain be touched? Brain researchers globally point to the fact that simply receiving touch and even giving touch can significantly alter brain function and neurally mediated responses. Long before the birth of Western medicine, the recognition of the beauty of quantum physics, the development of neurosciences and mind-body medicine in the West, early peoples used touch as a vital pathway in promoting health and healing. There is hardly a civilization or continent known that has not used touch for ceremonial, healing, ritual or spiritual purposes. Human touch has long been recognized as the language of the body. Touch is now being viewed by many investigators as a mind-body nexus and as a powerful healing tool.

Human touch is both ancient and global. Therapeutic touch in Western medicine, a healing system a few hundred years old, has been adopted and dropped throughout medicine's history. Today, touch is once again a mainstream healing tool. There was an era when early Western doctors comforted rather than cured. Their oldest and most effective healing was their skilled and caring touch, not the scant remedies or crude apparatus they carried in their little black bags. Their educated touch, like that of their competitors at the time, was their essential skill and professional secret.

Since the late 19th century, scientific advances and medical politics have changed the landscape of Western medicine, with physicians abandoning their touch skills in favor of emerging drugs, new technology and specialization. Skilled clinical touch has become a lost art in Western medicine.

But today, emerging evidence from brain and touch researchers is changing that position. Skilled touch—not to be confused with palpation—is again becoming a mainstream healing tool, found not just among alternative practitioners, but also among growing numbers of Western clinicians who diagnose and manage patients with diverse conditions, utilizing their own touch skills or those of touch professionals.

Skilled, educated touch has emerged again as a vital pathway and tool in the provider-patient relationship. A growing body of scientific evidence supports the hypothesis that human touch has always been, and will always be, a deep human need. This is evidenced by several factors: the growing popularity and the public demand for touch practitioners, its observed powerful effects upon the mind and body, and its nexus with consciousness, healing and brain responses. While the mechanism of touch remains elusive to investigators, science and medicine agree that touch can alter an individual on many levels, a concept previously unthinkable. There is a growing consensus that the brain can indeed be touched, changing the face and future of healing, medicine and healthcare delivery in the west.

This new information presents bold challenges to physicians, insurance companies, healthcare administrators and organizations, researchers and legislators, as the public demands more of a voice and choice in their healthcare. The debates in these arenas reflect fundamental questions about which providers and therapies will be deemed as safe, appropriate, effective and reimbursable. There are those who do not or will not accept the efficacy, power or safety of touch, even in the face of growing scientific evidence and trials.

Opponents of touch-based therapy state the current literature lacks enough rigidly controlled evidence-based studies that would credibly prove or disprove any alleged benefits of touch. How many studies is something no individual or group has yet stated. Proponents of touch point to the fact that the funds for touch-based research trials have been ruthlessly controlled by big pharmas and organized medicine, and that much evidence-based and historical proof has long existed, making such an argument a half-truth at best.

The American public, however, seems little interested in the ongoing sophistry, turf wars and half-truths coming out of either camp, or with their agendas; rather they have actively sought out skilled touch practitioners, for themselves and loved ones, for decades. Today's recognized touch practitioners represent many systems of healing and medicine accepted globally. Recognized touch professionals in the West today include physicians, specialists, nurses, physical and occupational therapists and—the largest and most diverse group of professional providers—licensed massage therapists and bodyworkers.

Skilled, appropriate touch can restore balance, alleviate pain and suffering, and play a vital role in an individual's overall well-being. Yet its most amazing effect may be its ability to literally touch the brain. It is this profound influence and mysterious mechanism researchers are still trying to uncover.


Jim Clear is a nationally certified and New Mexico licensed therapist and instructor and touch researcher. To learn more or for information on touch therapies or training, contact him at 210 W. Las Cruces Ave., Las Cruces, NM 88005, 525-3700.


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