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Thesis

The psychological effects of touch: An overview of the empirical literature

25 July 2005

Abstract

Among psychologists today, the efficacy of touch in a psychotherapeutic setting is often debated and discussed, but is rarely researched. In order to provide therapists with more objective knowledge on touch, this paper presents an overview of the empirical literature on the psychological effects of touch through two modalities: The currently minor role that touch plays in psychotherapy, and the major role that touch plays in massage therapy. Variables such as the client's presenting problem, the client's age, gender and cultural background, as well as the training of the massage therapist or psychotherapist, are discussed. Five major similarities were observed across the research on touch, which are that touch: (a) Increases feelings of self-acceptance and self-esteem, (b) is a way to demonstrate caring, (c) is related to positive body image, (d) increases client self-disclosure, and ( e) decreases anxiety. The paper concludes with a presentation of a model developed by the author titled "the three stage theory of integration", which addresses the appropriateness of integrating psychotherapy and touch-oriented body therapies and the different ways in which psychotherapists can integrate these practices.


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