What is cuddle therapy (and do I need it)?

Kat Nicholls
By Kat Nicholls,
updated on Jun 3, 2023

Two friends hugging on a beach

Many of us love a good squeeze from a friend now and then, but is cuddle therapy something we need?

How tactile are you as a person? We all sit on a scale here, with some loving any excuse for a friendly hug and others preferring touch to be kept to a minimum. For many of us, some degree of physical contact is needed. Whether it’s a loving hug from a friend, a hand on your shoulder to signify support or a hand on yours to say you’re not alone, these moments mean something.

When we think about physical touch, we often think of intimate, romantic relationships. And while these do provide important moments of physical contact, platonic touch is a human need that sits separately from sexual touch.

Why do we need platonic touch?

Various research into the power of touch has found that it impacts us positively, from birth right through to adulthood. Regular hugs have been found to boost self-esteem, reduce stress, ease depression and even boost immunity. This is largely down to the cascade of hormones released when we’re touched, such as oxytocin, serotonin and dopamine.

As well as feeling the benefits during the moment of touch, the effects stay with us after the person has gone. This means a good hug from a friend on Monday could be having positive effects on you throughout the week.

What can happen when we don’t get the physical touch we crave?

‘You don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone’. This well-known adage can apply to many things in life – including physical touch. For many, the various lockdowns during the pandemic revealed a gaping hole where hugs, back pats and hand-holding once were.

Known as touch deprivation or skin hunger, this lack of contact can increase stress and tension in our bodies and may even make us less resilient to infection. During the pandemic, we had to find DIY solutions for our touch deprivation, such as self-massage, weighted blankets and certain yoga practices.

Now we have moved out of lockdown, many of us are getting our fill of platonic touch through regular socialising. Some people, however, are not getting what they need. This may be because they have fewer people in their life, or crave more touch than their friends are willing to give. When this happens, cuddle therapy (also known as platonic touch therapy) can step in to fill the gap.

What is cuddle therapy?

It is, pretty much, what it sounds like. You pay a cuddle therapist for a session which involves platonic touch, such as cuddling, stroking and hair-play.

Sessions typically start with some relaxation exercises and breathing techniques. This can help you relax into the session and move past any nerves or tension you may have about cuddling up with a stranger. Trust is key in these sessions, with you trusting your therapist and them trusting you.

Therapists may use subtle physical or verbal cues to check in with you regularly, to ensure you’re comfortable. At any point during the session, you can ask to stop or change positions, depending on what you need. Usually, it will be the cuddle therapist taking the lead and doing the holding, so you can relax and feel safe within their arms.  

Do I need cuddle therapy?

If you are a naturally tactile person and you feel you aren’t getting what you need in this department, cuddle therapy might be right for you. While it is a more niche type of therapy, there are organisations that certify and train cuddle therapists, such as Cuddle Professionals International.

For peace of mind, you may want to go down the route of finding someone specifically trained in this type of therapy. It might not sound like you need qualifications to cuddle, but there are boundaries to consider, safety protocols and holding space in what can be a vulnerable moment.

Give the therapy a go and see how it makes you feel. It could be something you come back to sporadically to fill touch gaps in your life, or it may become a therapy you attend regularly.

If the idea of cuddle therapy doesn’t feel good to you, you could speak to friends and family and ask how they would feel about increasing physical contact (remember to honour any boundaries they set here). You could also explore regular massage therapy or even yoga to see how these impact you. Pets do a brilliant job of giving you the touch you need too, so don’t forget to give your furry friends a cuddle.

The power of touch is something many of us benefit from tapping into, and it’s great to see the various ways we can reach those needs. Will you be trying cuddle therapy?

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