What we need to know about touch

Skin stimulation (touching) is essential to maintaining physical, psychological and social well-being, according to an ever-increasing body of scientific literature. Since touch is the fundamental tool through which massage professionals interact with those who pay for our services, it seems obvious that we should have the deepest understanding of touch and touching. So, how do the skilled touch professions become the recognized experts on the subject of touch and touching?

I would like to propose an outline for a comprehensive body of knowledge about the sense of touch. I believe the skilled touch professions, as a community, already has access to this information, just not in one place. There still is no comprehensive textbook on touch for the massage profession or any other profession for that matter.

While every practitioner does not need to be an expert in every aspect of touch and touching, every practitioner should be familiar with all of the elements present in a touch experience. Obviously, that means that all schools and teachers of professional touch should be able to address these topics. Think of the following categories as chapters in that as yet unwritten textbook.

  • The evolutionary development of touching: Our genetic heritage
  • The anatomical structures and physiology of skin
  • The developmental requirements for human touching
  • The variety of cultural attitudes toward touching
  • The subjective perception of the initiator of touch
  • The subjective perception of the receiver of touch
  • The intention of the initiator of touch
  • The psycho-social-physical benefits of touching
  • The mechanics of touching
  • The manifestations of touching
  • The history of professional touching
  • Touch research
  • The institutional regulation of touching

Clearly, there is a lot to know about touch and touching. It is also obvious that schools which train skilled touch professionals tend to emphasize only a few of the categories above, in particular the mechanics of touching. That is not surprising for three reasons.

  1. Both academia that researches skilled touch and the vocational schools that teach skilled touch have been hampered by the touch-phobic milieu of the culture.
  2. As a result, academic interest in touch research has lagged far behind the attention paid to the other four primary senses.
  3. And, without the science, that comprehensive textbook on touch referred to earlier has not been written.

Fortunately, all of that has begun to change dramatically in the past generation as, in particular, the massage industry has successfully legitimized a place for skilled touch in the modern world. Primary credit for that success has to be given to the public and private massage associations, massage schools, their practitioners and businesses. While we don’t yet have a touch-positive culture, we are definitely moving in that direction. That will continue to spur interest in touch research and eventually result in the development of those crucial textbooks.

What do you think a comprehensive body of knowledge about touch and touching should include? Please add your comments below.

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2 Responses to What we need to know about touch

  1. Rick Beck says:

    I suggest adding touch as communication to the list

    • David says:

      Good thought, Rick. I had presumed that communication would be covered in the section “The intention of the initiator of touch.” If you follow that link it will take you to another article that lists a great many communication intentions for touch.

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