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  • Writer's pictureRMTC Team

Skin Hunger: The Importance of Touch for Mental Health

Counsellor, Counselling, Mental Health, Waterloo Region

By now you’ve probably heard of the five love languages, and you might even know how you would rank them for yourself. Well unsurprisingly, physical touch is thought to be one of the more common love languages, with 19% of people naming it as the most important to them of the five (Stavraki, 2024).  Human touch is more than a sensation, but rather plays a crucial role in reducing stress, building trust, and strengthening emotional relationships. This blog aims to emphasize the importance of physical touch and reveal some of its’ potential value in the therapeutic approach! 


The Biological and Psychological Importance of Touch 

Physical touch goes far beneath the skin, there is a biological significance to physical touch, as oxytocin is released, which is also considered the “bonding hormone”. Beyond oxytocin, dopamine and serotonin are released, which are considered the “feel good hormones”. The release of these hormones can be considered a neurological change, which will have you feeling happier and less stressed, and have also been shown to lower your heart rate and blood pressure, relieve stress, anxiety, and depression, boost your immune system, and even relieve pain (Holland, 2018)! The neurological changes that come with physical touch play a key role in improving and maintaining good overall mental health.

Even in the most platonic of situations, a handshake, hug, or pat on the back conveys warmth, empathy, and understanding (Cygnarowicz, 2024). Humans are hardwired to connect, dating back to days when community meant everything- safety in numbers. Today, this sense of community typically means more to our emotional security than our physical security, but is important nonetheless, and is strengthened by physical touch. 


The Therapeutic Value of Physical Touch 

There are many forms of therapy that include physical touch such as massage therapy, acupuncture, or cuddle therapy, but the value can also be seen in your everyday life, beyond the clinical setting. Consider petting a dog and the emotions or raised affect that so many people achieve from such an interaction. The rise in popularity in recent years of weighted blankets also operates on a similar principle of the security that a strong sense of touch can bring. Consider also parenting methods that emphasize the importance of skin-to-skin time between mother and newborn which have been shown to increase cortisol levels and growth compared to their touch deprived peers. The therapeutic value of touch can be seen far beyond the clinical setting, however touch therapy, where a clinician works with the energy fields around your body, is growing in popularity. Given the biological and psychological importance of touch for humans, it would not be surprising to observe a continual growth in touch related forms of therapy! 


Overcoming Cultural and Social Stigma Surrounding Touch 

Have you ever brushed up against someone accidentally in public and become embarrassed or ashamed? Have you ever cringed at an overly affectionate couple out in public? This is some of the stigma that is working against the physical touch movement, and things that would be better off put way to the back of your mind. Normalizing the value of physical touch and the mental health benefits it brings will go a long way to reducing this stigma. Another thing to consider in promoting the value of physical touch is how different cultures see things. Broadly speaking, the world can be divided into “contact cultures” and “noncontact cultures”. The Middle East, Latin America, and Southern Europe are examples of contact cultures, while the Far East, North America, and Northern Europe are examples of “noncontact cultures” (Mikkola, 2021). Think about your experiences with people from various parts of the world, and you’ll begin to truly feel these cultural differences relating to touch. Although a generalization, it is important to consider different cultures’ viewpoints and values on the topic. 


Incorporating Touch into Therapeutic Practices 

Touch can be a tricky thing for a therapist to work into the therapeutic process, however if it is deemed likely to be helpful and clinically effective, it could be seen as unethical to withhold it. Therapists need to consider many things if they choose to implement touch in the therapeutic process, including the context of therapy, their client’s past experiences and traumas, boundaries, and consent (Zur, n.d.). However, beyond the many considerations therapists must make, is the possibility that it will be greatly beneficial to their client’s mental health journey. Simple, platonic touches from a therapist can make you feel comforted, welcomed, nurtured, valued, and can build the connection with your therapist, allowing you to open up more naturally (Muller, 2017). 


Scientifically, touch lowers stress, anxiety, and depression, among other biological benefits. However, consider exploring the impact that physical touch has on you in your own life. Look inward at your stress levels, mood, and anxiety and consider the differences in times where you have neglected touch vs. times you have sought it out. Consider also discussing the benefits of touch with your therapist, and gain insight from them regarding their opinion of the value it brings on improving mental health. 

Relationship Matters Therapy Centre is a private therapy practice in downtown Galt, serving Cambridge, Kitchener, Waterloo, and Guelph in-person, or Ontario-wide online. If you’re looking to book an appointment with any one of the therapists at Relationship Matters you may contact us via email at, or by phone at 226-894-4112. 


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