Disability and the Cuddlist
Nurturing touch helps us feel connected to the human experience - a connection many people with disabilities have lacked throughout their lives. Steve has spina bifida - a defect in the growth of the spinal column at birth - causing him to experience functional and sensational difficulties. Before finding his Cuddlist, Ilya, he rarely experienced any touch apart from the transactional touch that occurs between a patient and doctor. Similar to many other people with disabilities, the people in Steve’s life tend to be touch-avoidant, depriving him of vital nurturing touch. Ilya’s sessions with Steve involve addressing his touch needs by practicing safe and caring touch. Their sessions are emotionally healing because they are a space where Steve is able to voice his touch needs. It takes bravery to be vulnerable but, as a Cuddlist, it is Ilya’s job to create the space for her client to be brave and then meet his needs in a way that other people in his life cannot.
“For me touch can be as important as air or food. Touch is pretty much what I need most and what hasn’t been in my life the most.” -Steve, Cuddlist client
Social isolation is a universal problem. We all have a need for connection and the pain we feel when we are deprived of this connection is real. People with disabilities compared to people without are much more likely to be socially ostracized for looking or acting differently; people with disabilities are often excluded from relationships, both platonic and sexual, and feel like they don’t fit into social norms. This isolation can compound into feeling worse about a person’s self image and worsening mental health. In a study for Social Psychiatry John Collette found that “Physical limitation, dependency and social isolation were all found to be associated with poor mental health.” As Cuddlist we intend to provide a safe, communicative and respectable space for people with disability by providing a destigmatized environment for self expression.
“Steven’s story is incredibly touching and tugs at my heart strings. It just goes to show that many people,especially those with chronic illness, are often touch deprived----whether it’s because of stigma, physical deformities, “looking different”--- of this fundamental and unmet human need. In fact, the deprivation of touch and intimacy can actually be more difficult than the challenges of the disease condition itself. This is observation is both powerful and poignant, as it highlights how “simple” yet inaccessible the remedy has been. Often bereft and isolated, patients with chronic medical conditions, like Steve who has Spina Bifida, can derive tremendous health and psychological benefits by establishing human connection through touch.” -Dr. Dan Yadegar
Cuddlist sets itself apart as an opportunity for people to explore what it means to set boundaries and listen to needs in order to create a consensual experience of bonding and growth through touch. People with disabilities often have damaged self-image and find it hard to be comfortable due to times in life meant for discovery and evolution being replaced by stress and medical tests (Coleridge, 1993). The Cuddlist experience creates a space where people with disabilities can decide what they want. By breaking the mold of an objectifying and broken system we hope to give much needed touch to people who usually do not have access to such a basic need. Another problem for many people with disabilities is a lack of opportunity to express their emotional issues. (Morris, 1989; Swain 2001). At Cuddlist we value all of our clients as holistic human beings and realize problems physically or mentally does not mean you are broken. We understand that being disabled is never easy and we intend to provide people with a safe space where they can truly embrace themselves for who they are rather than defining them by their disability.
Coleridge, P. (2001). Disability, liberation, and development. Oxford: Oxfam.
Ludwig, E., & Collette, J. (1970). Dependency, social isolation and mental health in a disabled population.
Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2FBF00594719?LI=true.
French, S., & Swain, J. (n.d.). The Relationship between Disabled People and Health and Welfare Professionals.
Handbook of Disability Studies. http://sk.sagepub.com/reference/hdbk_disability/n33.xml
Cuddling Our Way Towards Wellness
“We’re wired to be gregarious, bonded creatures. So the more tactile sensation there is in our world, the better we feel.”
-Dr. Carla Marie Manly, clinical psychologist, Santa Rosa, California
We all understand that certain acts of human touch create deep and often profound feelings. As infants we crave the embrace of our parents, in fact all throughout our lives physical connections bring powerful emotions that transcend the words we have to describe them.
Cuddling as a practice taps into the very real biological acuity that humans possess. There is no ambiguity about how that happens either. This “somatosensory” aspect of our bodies produces chemicals such as oxytocin and these produce a physical sensation of well being. This, in turn, creates mental and emotional well being.
The approach we have developed is based on years of experience in working with mind/body practices put into the hands of very dedicated people that bring elements of focus and individual intention to this work.
The result is a unique space/place where a practitioner and client work together to create those powerful, nurturing and healing feelings. This is what The Cuddlist does... guides a client back to the place where the body becomes a full partner in promoting greater wellness, strength, serenity and resolve.
It is not surprising when we remember how much we have drawn from these connections in times of crisis or celebration. Our reactions are not accidents, they are the faculties we have inherited as part of our humanity and their purpose is to help us respond to the warnings emanating from our bodies and to address our negative emotional conditions.
The other names we use for ”negative emotional conditions” are anxiety, loneliness, depression, and low-self esteem or self criticism. They often follow periods of isolation, grief or in the wake of relationships that fail or expectations that we fail to achieve. Over time these protective responses to stress and dysfunction become in fact the “who we are”. None of this is true, of course, it is simply what we innocently come to believe about ourselves and thereby become stuck in.
These are not timid emotions. To address them The Cuddlist brings the full powers of concentrated awareness and intention. Most of our experiences with the healing power of touch occur spontaneously or instinctively.
The Cuddlist knows however that the practice demands bringing ALL their techniques awareness of our inherent well- being to bear on the present moment when working with a client. The goal technique is to introduce a set of rules and boundaries that empower the client, enlisting their full consent and partnership in the session as it proceeds. The Cuddlist and the client set out on a path towards re-awakening these faculties, to give and receive through the process of touch. To experience our “wellness” with one another. It is simple. It can be profound.
Now The Cuddlist understands that the nature of this practice leads to questions about sexuality. This is branch of human touch that serves a totally different function. Cuddling heads down a unique path that nds expression in the transfer of respect, encouragement and full engagement of our bodies as a source of healing. The Cuddlist knows how to steer keep encounters focused in the direction on the intention of emotional connectivity by not letting not arousal become a distraction or take focus.
From here very different things start to happen. The client is given the validation and respect that is often lacking in their daily lives. The Cuddlist demonstrates that the highest priority of the encounter is to project the strength, support and love we remember from our deepest familial ties and friendships. These are the feelings we were sent out into the world with which to encourage us, protect us, inspire us.
Wellness follows in many directions from these starting places. The science is there, but so too is our deepest sense of memory. Consciously or unconsciously we recall how important our critical connections are and will forever be in helping us arrive at our best.
As we examine our boundaries through this process of consent we learn to trust, and to value our prerogative. We count matter!... and are worthy of this sharing process. We also begin to see ourselves as worthy of the health and wellness we are entitled to and willing to work to achieve it. This is us putting self care into action for ourselves. We are the only ones who can do it, but we achieve this willingness through an encounter with someone who helps us remember what we lost touch with — literally!
We become more compliant in monitoring our overall health, dealing with our issues and relating to the world around us. People become assets not liabilities to be avoided. Intimacy is to be sought after welcomed and allowed not grasped at or pushed away.
But the most basic and critical aspect of what The Cuddlist does is to bring all of their training, skills, self awareness, energy and intention to bear on the client at that key moment of the encounter. This is the when the system responds and produces the physical response that drives towards enhanced wellness.
This wellness that the client experiences in real time, fully present during the session with The Cuddlist, can stay with us. We understand that we can achieve greater well being, more fulfilling lives when we open ourselves to a little risk, and accept the need we all instinctively share, the need to connect.
By Adam Lippin, CEO and Co-Founder of Cuddlist, and Madelon Guinazzo, Director of Training and Co-Founder of Cuddlist.
Additional Studies with Citations
Holt-Lunstad, Julianne; Birmingham, Wendy A.; Light, Kathleen C. Influence of a “Warm Touch” Support Enhancement Intervention Among Married Couples on Ambulatory Blood Pressure, Oxytocin, Alpha Amylase, and Cortisol. Psychosomatic Medicine, Vol. 70(9). (November/December 2008): pp 976-985. http://journals.lww.com/psychosomaticmedicine/abstract/2008/11000/influence_of_a__warm_touch__support_ enhancement.4.aspx
Pattison, Joyce E. Effects of touch on self-exploration and the therapeutic relationship. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, Vol 40(2). (Apr 1973): 170-175. http://psycnet.apa.org/journals/ccp/40/2/170/
Kertay, Les; Reviere, Susan L. The use of touch in psychotherapy: Theoretical and ethical considerations. Psychotherapy: Theory,Research,Practice,Training. Vol 30(1), (1993): 32-40. http://psycnet.apa.org/journals/pst/30/1/32/