To complement “Massage for the Frail and Dying: Communicate Care Through Touch” in the September 2015 issue of MASSAGE Magazine. Summary: Massage therapy is a form of healthy touch, which all human beings need in order to thrive both physically and psychologically.
As a massage therapist, I am grateful for my life experiences, good and bad, that have helped guide me in the direction of massage therapy and shown me just how powerful touch can be.
My passion for touch may have come from the fact that it did not happen to me much when I was growing up—not with my family, friends or neighbors, all within the stoic German and Mennonite culture that made up most of the area of Pennsylvania I lived in. Lack of touching or being touched didn’t sit well with me. I felt like an outsider.
To quench my need for physical contact and the benefits that came with it, I babysat for my neighbors, cradling babies and holding little kids. I volunteered at the Humane League as an official dog petter. I worked as a nurse’s aide in a local nursing home; when I had time I brushed the patients’ hair and gave them backrubs.
I saw positive responses from every person and every dog I touched; and providing and experiencing healthy touch made me feel good myself.
Born for touch
Research, including several studies conducted by the Touch Research Institute, has shown that every living being needs to be touched in a loving and compassionate way to thrive and survive—but it is all too easy for babies, children, adults and the elderly to suffer most of their lives from touch deprivation.
I remember being on the pediatric rotation at the local hospital where I went to nursing school. Student nurses weren’t allowed to do too much with babies and children back then because the rotation was so short, so most of us just held babies and played games with the children during our shift.
There was one baby—I’ll call her Crystal—who I became extremely attached to and held every time I got a chance. Crystal was a couple of months old and had a severe intestinal problem. She suffered terribly and cried incessantly. The head nurse told me Crystal’s parents had dropped her off at the hospital two weeks earlier and never came to see her.
Most other parents stayed with their children all the time, even slept overnight in their hospital rooms, but for whatever reason, Crystal’s mom and dad weren’t able to do that, and she was alone. Crystal wasn’t getting any better and the doctors were worried, so we nursing students decided to schedule ourselves so that someone was always available to hold this baby around the clock. (Mrs. Blazer, our instructor, was so proud.)
By the time we student nurses moved on to another rotation, Crystal had gotten better and left the hospital. Could that abundance of loving touch have had something to do with her recovery?
Sadly, about 20 years later, when I was working with families and children in a local homeless shelter, Crystal came there to stay. I recognized her name, as I had never forgotten her. I introduced myself and told her how I knew her long ago, and how much she had loved being held when she was sick in the hospital. She stayed at the shelter for quite a while, and I was happy to see she had turned out to be a very loving, touchy person who gave great hugs.
Healthy touch benefits everyone
Touch is a two-way street, and the benefits go both ways. Every career I’ve had—and I’ve had many—has involved some form of touch. I remember how it felt during difficult times in my life, when I really wanted to be hugged or held, have my hair stroked, or have someone wipe away my tears instead of telling me not to cry. I loved when my kids were young and held my hand, clung to my arm, snuggled on my lap or were tangled up in bed with me.
Being touched lovingly and with compassion is the best feeling in the world to me, and I want to pass it on; realizing that not everyone wants to be touched, but that everyone deserves to be touched. When the feeling is mutual, everyone gets his or her needs met, and it’s a wonderful—and powerful—thing.
Lindy Roussel, L.P.N., L.M.T., B.C.T.M.B., works as a nurse-massage therapist for hospice, and has a private oncology massage practice. She is director of Sage Continuing Education for Massage Therapy & the Healing Arts LLC, located in Lancaster and Easton, Pennsylvania. She is a National Certification Board for Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork Approved Provider, and is a preferred provider for the Society for Oncology Massage. She wrote “Massage for the Frail and Dying: Communicate Care Through Touch” for MASSAGE Magazine’s September 2015 issue.