Touch and Mental Health

July 30 2019 Erie, PA

A review of popular and academic literature asserts that humans are hardwired to respond to touch. Many positive mental health outcomes are suggested.

Human touch can result in the release of feel good human hormones. Creating a feeling of relaxation, comfort, belonging and well-being.

No review of literature would be complete without a monkey study. In one such study monkeys were taken away from their biological mothers. The birth mothers were replaced with a wood mother figure covered with fabric and another with wire. Both were designed to give milk. When exposed to stress the monkeys given the cloth mother sought the comfort of touching from their mother figure. Those with wired mother figures did not seek touch but rather rocked anxiously alone to comfort themselves.

Touch has been employed as a compliment to medication and talk therapy. Formal clinical massage has been prescribed for the alleviation of anxiety and depression and associated with positive outcomes.

Outside of the clinical domain humans experience positive outcomes to those seen in the clinical setting. For example, hugging, and hand-holding results in the release of human feel good hormones, as well as, a decrease in anxiety and increasing a sense of well-being.

Unfortunately, peoples experiencing mental illness, especially those with serious mental illness to often lack access to these positive human relationships. It is here that prescription for message can be employed to benefit those experiencing mental illness or mental health challenges. The clinical prescription for therapeutic massage provides a safe and trusting environment for a person in need.

Currently, traditional mental health professionals are under several prohibitions related to physical touch within the clinical relationship. The legal and personal complications are a profound and ever present, reality.

Sadly, access to therapeutic massage among poor or low income, mental health consumers is largely unavailable and unfunded.

Perhaps, there is a work around for this obstacle. This author notes that many trade schools now offer formal clinical massage training. As part of this training students must log several hours of clinic time practicing the skills being taught them. Perhaps, this can be a win, win, situation for students and low income, mental health consumers attending informal drop in center as well as public mental health clinics and programs. The students would get the hours they need for graduation and low income, mental health consumers could gain access to a complimentary treatment that they do not otherwise have access to.

  Currently, while medication and talk therapy are accessible to the low income, mental health consumers the compliment of touch therapy is not widely available.

Respectfully Submitted,


Brian Patrick McLaughlin MS/CPS
MH Consumer Advocate
Erie County, PA.


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