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The importance of touch

Infants need to be handled, carried, cuddled and stroked for them to thrive. We all know this – right? Yes, but that hasn’t always been the case.

Up until the 1920s the death rate for babies under one year of age in American foundling institutions was nearly 100%. They died of a disease known as ‘infantile atrophy’ or ‘wasting away’.

In one study of 200 infants admitted to various institutions, only 10% survived more than a year. So what made the difference…why did these infants survive?

They did so because they were taken from the institutions for short periods and placed in the care of foster parents or relatives. This was the only difference – human contact.

It’s from scientific studies like these, that we (in the west) discovered that babies need more than food to keep them alive – that they actually need touch, care, human interaction.

It’s hard to believe that people didn’t know that – but in those days scientists, medics, child care experts, (and parents who listened to expert opinion) didn’t think much of soft stuff like emotion, love, relationships.

But it isn’t just babies and young children who need tender, loving touch – it’s fundamental to healthy life for ALL of us.

Many people live without having their skin touched in this way by another – or touched at all. Imagine the impact this has on our physical, mental and emotional health.

(Historical information from: Ashley Montagu Touching: the human significance of the skin 1978.)

Behaviours that kill relationships

Dog and cat lying together back to back

Sometimes, black clouds of tension and conflict hang over a relationship. You try your best, but nothing you do seems to make any difference.

If only your ‘loved’ one wasn’t so defensive….so critical….so contemptuous…so good at ignoring you!

Well, you’ve just put your finger on the four behaviours that kill relationships or – the ‘4 horsemen of the apocalypse’!

In their research on couples, Drs Julia and John Gottman identified criticism, contempt, defensiveness and stonewalling (withdrawing and ignoring) as common features of failing relationships.

In contrast, where relationships are successful, it’s because couples listen to each other and show appreciation.

Dog and cat snuggling together on sofa

So, if you feel unhappy in your relationship and want to do something positive about it, then you could:

  • notice the next time you feel contemptuous, critical, defensive or you’re doing your best to ignore your partner…and…
  • pause a moment…remind yourself of something you enjoy, like or appreciate about them
  • turn to them…find your warmth…and tell them!
  • see what happens next…..

Seeing a counsellor in your own home

It’s unusual – but why?

It’s normal to receive home visits from health care professionals. When you’ve just had a baby, or are physically ill or in recovery, its hard for you to leave the house so your midwife, occupational therapist, physiotherapists (and so on) will visit you at home.

When it comes to emotional and psychological support, however, you’re usually expected to travel to the counsellor. Why?

To some extent it’s to do with how we’re trained and what we’re used to. But it’s also to do with what the counsellor is responsible for and feels comfortable with.

Given the nature of the work, the counsellor needs to create a space that is safe enough for both client and counsellor to build trust and focus on the client’s concerns (e.g. no interruptions, predictable environment, confidentiality) .

These matters form part of our training and we learn more from experience about why they’re so important. If the counsellor works from their own familiar room, then they can control the environment for their own comfort and provide a safe place for the client away from their everyday life.

For many counsellors and clients this is their preferred way of doing things, and it works very well. But it’s not the only way.

Counselling outside the consulting room

There have always been therapeutic approaches that explore different environments (e.g. Wild Therapy) and individual counsellors who prefer to work outside the constraints of the consulting room (e.g. walking in nature).

For these therapists, safety, confidentiality and comfort are just as important, and these matters become part of what is negotiated with the client from the outset.

So if I see you in your home, then these are the things we’ll discuss together. You’ll be in your familiar space and it’s I who will be a stranger to it. What will that be like? What do we each need? There may be other people around, so how will we manage interruptions?

When we work in your home, we create and manager the working space together.

The benefits of home based counselling

You may choose home based counselling for the benefits it offers.

  • Access – your circumstances may mean that it’s hard for you to leave the house, so the only way to access support is if the counsellor comes to you.
  • Discretion – if the counsellor comes to you, then you have complete discretion; there’s no danger of bumping into someone you know and having to answer awkward questions.
  • Convenience – the travel time to and from sessions is absorbed by the counsellor rather than by you.
  • Comfort – you know what you need to feel comfortable and to manage any anxiety; if we meet in your home space then your environment is familiar, you’re in control and you can organise it the way you want.

If home based counselling appeals to you, then please contact me.

Breathing for Brexit

For those of us struggling with Brexit stress, Thich Nhat Hanh offers a simple breathing exercise. You can try it anytime…anywhere…to feel calmer.

“As you breathe in, you say to yourself, ‘Breathing in, I know that I am breathing in.’ And as you breathe out, say, ‘Breathing out, I know that I am breathing out.’ Just that. You recognize your in-breath as an in-breath and your out-breath as an out-breath.

“You don’t even need to recite the whole sentence; you can use just two words: ‘In’ and ‘Out.’

“This technique can help you keep your mind on your breath. As you practice, your breath will become peaceful and gentle, and your mind and body will also become peaceful and gentle.”

So next time you feel anxious about Brexit, take a moment to breathe….in….and out.

This exercise is quoted from Thich Nhat Hanh Peace Is Every Step (1991)